What it takes to get involved in conservation work

October 12, 2020

By Nova Regalario, Shalimar Ilejay and, Annafe Yparraguire-Coralde

Basic ecology session for Bantay Gubat. Photo by Shalimar Ilejay.

Working for environmental conservation takes more than just passion. Between engaging communities of different cultural backgrounds and the enormous challenge of influencing people to step up for the environment, the work of conservation and development goes beyond fulfilling duties laid out on a standard job description.

Take the community organizers of Haribon Foundation for instance. For them, getting involved in conservation work meant having a deep connection with the environment and the dedication to empower people towards becoming better stewards of it.

“Nature and forest are very important to me since I grew up in a hinterland area. It served as my school and my marketplace because it offered free food such as fruit-bearing trees, vegetables, and fish that anyone in our community can easily access,” shared Annafe Yparraguirre-Coralde, a Haribon conservation specialist in the Mt. Hilong-hilong area in Surigao del Sur.

Forests of Mt. Hilong-hilong.

Annafe added that her childhood experience and involvement in disaster response programs propelled her to take the path of conservation work. But her vision for the next generation to fully enjoy the benefits of nature is what ultimately inspired her to pursue an active role in environmental conservation.

Fellow conservation specialist Shalimar Ilejay shared that the inspiration for her conservation work came from witnessing nature in its pristine state to its eventual decline.

“I have also had the chance to interview farmers back then and was able to listen to their stories about the degradation of their forest land. We were constantly reminded of what will happen to our forests if we fail to protect it,” lamented Shalimar, who helps organize communities in Mt. Siburan in Occidental Mindoro.

She also noted the challenges brought about by the work including conflicting interests and nonchalance of key people towards forest conservation despite adequate information and education campaigns.

Annafe and Shalimar are among the community organizers who are now working towards engaging and empowering indigenous peoples and local communities in forest management through the Haribon-led Forest Governance Project (FOGOP) funded by the European Commission.

For Nova Regalario, also a conservation specialist assigned in the Mt. Irid-Angelo area in Quezon, working on FOGOP helped her understand the importance of taking part in discussions directly affecting Haribon partner communities and appreciate the simple lifestyle of indigenous peoples.

Nova Regalario with People’s Organization Samahan ng Nagkakaisang Magsasaka ng Magsaysay or SANAMAGMA.

Being raised at the heart of the Sierra Madre mountain range, Nova added that the project helped her become more proactive and committed to her cause for nature while also having an opportunity to impart her learnings to others.

Suffice to say, people working on environmental projects like FOGOP are striving for an aspiration that drives them to press on amidst countless (and oftentimes unspoken) challenges along the way.

From empowered local communities taking action for nature to key policies in place that will ensure the promotion of sustainable forest management for generations to come, it is the ultimate vision that inspires a day’s work.  

Environmental conservation is an uphill battle, but people like Annafe, Shalimar, and Nova demonstrate that there is much to gain in this crusade.

And so, while the realities of ‘saving the environment’ take a lot more than one could offer, the fulfilment that comes with attaining milestone every milestone is beyond measure.