Over Labour Weekend, I was privileged to be part of a team of conservation volunteers, working on the island sanctuary of Tiritiri Matangi off the coast of Auckland. We were all members of the Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi, a conservation volunteer organisation that celebrates its 30th anniversary this month. Every long weekend, a group of Supporters will be seen working at various projects all over the island. The one I was involved with this weekend happen to be working on one of the island’s tracks. (That’s me, above, wielding a shovel!)
So what takes a group of people away from what so many of their friends and colleagues would have done, working away rather than lazing on a beach by the sea?
Tiritiri is undoubtedly a beautiful spot, surrounded by the sea, and famous for its wide range of rare and endangered birds. But that’s not why we went.
I believe most of us have a desire to be involved in something where we can make a difference, an opportunity to work with others towards a common goal. I call it working on something that’s “bigger than me” – bigger than our egos, bigger than our day-to-day issues. The Tiritiri Matangi project is nothing less than an attempt to recreate a part of New Zealand the way it was before humans came. It is not a multi-year project, it’s a multi-generational project, but it’s something we each can lose ourselves in and contribute to the best of our abilities.
It’s also something else: the chance to work with others in a sense of fellowship towards a common goal. The hard work is not a drawback, in fact it only serves to bolster the sense of achievement we all feel at the end of each day.
Of course, there are many side benefits – to walk through the bird-full forest the end of each day, to have a swim at a secluded beach, go out at night to see kiwi and tuatara, and in particular to share a potluck dinner with our fellow workers, with lots of laughter and conversation. All good causes need to have these sorts of things, a reward for a day well spent. But most of all, being involved in something that’s “bigger than me” gives a real sense of satisfaction and of making a positive and permanent difference in the world. And in its thirty years, the Supporters group has achieved huge things for the island, helped translocate rare species, built structures and funded equipment and guided tens of thousands of visitors, each of whom will have gone home with a sense of inspiration and wonder. And its work continues.
Can our day-to-day jobs be like that? Why not? Why should that sense of commitment to something bigger or more important than us be limited purely to something we do in our non-paid work time? Many organisations already act that way. I think the challenge for each of us is to think: is there a way to achieve it where I work? If not, why not?
Peter Lee, CEO of C2C Partners, is a current board member and former chairperson (twice) of the Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi, a major conservation volunteer organisation, as well as being a regular guide and volunteer, and has been a member since 1991.
You can read more about the project work and progress on Tiritiri Matangi by visiting their website here