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Volunteer Overseas

Staff Profile: Roger Bruget - Diving & Marine Conservation In Cambodia Project Manager


February 9th, 2016Travel, Volunteering, Gap Year, Culture, Asia, Conservation
By Samantha Evans

Project Manager, Roger Bruget

Image courtesy of Roger Bruget

What started out as a volunteering adventure has now turned into a fully-fledged career for Projects Abroad’s Roger Bruget. The Norwegian native arrived in Thailand a few years ago as a volunteer on our Diving & Marine Conservation project, with no diving experience at all. Fast forward to today and he’s now Conservation Project Manager at our Diving & Marine Conservation project on the island of Koh Sdach in Cambodia. On a recent trip to Cambodia, I was fortunate to spend some time with the project’s fearless leader. When we weren’t diving and doing beach clean-ups, we chatted about his role as an official member of staff and his journey to this point in life. This is what he had to say…

You initially started out as a volunteer on our Conservation project in Thailand - what made you decide to sign up and why that particular project?

I heard about Projects Abroad through a friend of mine. I was talking about how I wanted to do some volunteer work and she mentioned Projects Abroad. Later that week I visited the website and was torn between Archaeology in Peru and Conservation in Thailand. I had never done scuba diving before, and frankly the idea of it was a bit scary to me. I have always been fascinated by the ocean and facing my fears has always been rewarding to me, so after some consideration I decided that the Thailand Conservation project was the project for me.

Where were you living and what were you doing before you joined Projects Abroad as a volunteer?

I was living in Oslo, Norway, and I had a job as an electric technician at the biggest hotel in northern Europe, Oslo Plaza. The building is massive, with 36 floors, 670 rooms, pools, pumps, ventilation systems, lighting systems, kitchens, restaurants, ballrooms and so on. My job was to make sure everything was running smoothly on the technical side. The fun part of the job was that I got to talk with a lot of people throughout the day and see some big celebrities here and there. But in the end the job and the place got monotonous and I needed to move on.

Did you always have a passion for marine conservation or was this something that came to you later on in life?

I’ve always been fascinated by the ocean, thanks to my dad and our many fishing trips along the Norwegian west coast as a child. The ocean was rich with life and I could sit on the pier for hours and look at the crabs and fish doing their thing down there. When we caught a small fish it was always thrown back in so it could grow bigger and produce more fish, and throwing plastic into the ocean was a big no-no. So I guess my father had some good values that he passed on to me, even though he also taught me that fish could not feel pain, so I should not feel bad about killing them for food. For the record - fish do feel pain!

He also talked about how there were much more fish when he was younger and his concerns about how little there would be by the time I was an adult. He was pretty spot on. I’m not sure I even knew about the concept of marine conservation before I joined the project in Thailand. Volunteering for me was more about helping people directly, not being a part of a scientific study or collecting marine debris. So this was definitely something I discovered when I went to Thailand.

The results of a beach clean-up

Starting out as a volunteer paved the way for your current position as Conservation Project Manager in Cambodia – how did this come about?

When I started as a volunteer in Thailand it was amazing to meet all these people with a genuine passion for the environment. Everyone had a drive to take care of the terrestrial and marine environment, this was very inspirational to me and I wanted to be a part of this somehow.

I already had a newly ignited passion for diving and I wanted to dive and learn as much as possible, so I continued my dive education right after the project in Thailand. After half a year with diving almost every day I received my instructor license which was a very proud moment for me.

Then I started to work as a freelance instructor for different dive shops in Ao Nang. I approached Projects Abroad and let them know that whenever they needed me as a freelance instructor or divemaster I would make sure they were my top priority before other dive shops. This led me to work with Projects Abroad as a freelancer almost every week for nearly one year. I learned a lot about diving and the underwater world during this year!

One day on the boat I met the former manager of Projects Abroad Conservation in Cambodia, Florencia Bibbo. She was visiting to see how we were doing things in Thailand. We had a casual chat and half a year later she contacted me and asked me to come to Cambodia and work as an instructor for six weeks. I accepted and in June 2015 I arrived at the project in Koh Sdach, Cambodia. The life on the island was quite different from what I was used to, but I really enjoyed my time there and got along great with all the staff.

It was after my departure that someone mentioned to me that there was going to be an opening for the manager position and I was encouraged to apply since I knew the island and the staff, and got along with everyone. And here I am today!

To sum up, it is a series of events that have given me this opportunity. I guess it’s about being interested in what you are doing, being where it happens and making good connections with the people you meet. I believe it was Woody Allen who said 80% of success is just showing up and the rest is work and a dash of luck. I would never be here if I did not keep an open mind to whatever opportunities came to me, or more importantly, if I did not show up at all.

How has this job inspired you? Has it made you reassess your own personal life goals?

What I find the most inspiring about the job is seeing the positive developments many of the volunteers have while they are on the island, especially the younger people who are at a point where they are about to decide what to do with the rest of their lives. Most volunteers brake barriers and climbs obstacles when they are here, maybe doing something they never imagined themselves doing. They grow, gain new friends, learn about new cultures and find inspiration for what to do next. This is truly what I find most rewarding about this job.

I also have to mention my team, they are all dedicated and passionate about their jobs and they definitely make me want to do a good job every day. My life goals are pretty simple - I try to make everyday a good day and I want to live a good life. This job is helping me do just that.

How long have you been in this position for and how are you finding life on Koh Sdach in comparison to Thailand?

As I am writing this I have been here for three months in this position. When I first arrived I was expecting something very similar to Thailand, boy was I wrong!

The fact that we are living in an authentic fishing village on an island with almost no tourists or foreigners, compared to Thailand where you are based on the main land and everything is based on tourism, makes it almost incomparable. We are virtually doing a lot of the same activities, but the execution is different.

In Thailand there are more distractions that can steal your focus, while here on the island you have more time to relax and reflect. On the island everything is also in close proximity, so we don’t waste any time on transportation. On the other hand, we need to plan everything in good time if we need specialised equipment. Everything takes time here, and if I need something special, I cannot just go out the door and get it. The atmosphere of the island makes everything more intimate, closer and “real” if that makes sense. We are definitely the little brother of the Thailand project.

Volunteers prepare to go diving

Tell us more about the project – what can volunteers look forward to getting involved in when they arrive?

First of all, they can look forward to starting or continuing their dive education through the PADI programmes. This is the first thing they will do when they arrive at the project. After that they will learn a lot about the marine life and environment, fish/invertebrates/coral identification and assessment. After some training they will start conducting our reef surveys, seahorse surveys and DAD (Dive Against Debris).

They will go to the school at least once a week to teach English, do beach or town clean-ups, participate in various workshops, cooking classes, and visit the mangrove forest. It can be anything from analysing data to working on our species list to making a piece of art.

Currently we have one volunteer who is building a raft out of empty bottles and materials found on the beach. The area faces many challenges and only your imagination will prohibit you from contributing to the project, the Koh Sdach archipelago and/or the people of the island in a positive way.

You will make new friends and have an experience that will shape you for the rest of your life!

What is your vision for the project going forward?

Florencia Bibbo paved the way and set a course in many ways during the first year of the project. The project is still young and I want to continue most of the programmes that are already running. We are working closely with the school and through education we can plant seeds of ideas that will have a positive ripple effect far into the future.

The bigger goals of the project are to contribute in making parts of the archipelago into marine reserves, supported by our research material. Also we would like to contribute in establishing a solid waste management system on the island. It is very important that we make clear to the local citizens who we are and why we are here.

I also want to ensure that my colleagues and the volunteers feel that they work in a relaxed, positive and comfortable environment.

What is an average day like for you?

The day starts with breakfast with everyone at 7am. I then do a briefing about what is going to happen that day. At 12pm we eat lunch and after lunch we have a one hour siesta during the hottest period of the day. At 1:30pm we continue our activities until they are done and at 6pm we all eat dinner together, either at the base or at one of the islands three restaurants.

Every day is somewhat different, but I try to participate in one of the activities either in the morning or the afternoon and the rest of the time I spend in my office, answering e-mails and other admin tasks. One day I can spend the whole day doing a dive course, and the next day I will spend in the office. It’s very difficult to give an accurate answer since every day is different, and that is a good thing!

Cleaning up the community with the local children

What motivates you?

My colleagues, volunteers, food, diving, the ocean, maths (yeah), music, art, science and love.

What is your favourite part of your job?

This is an easy one - every time I get the opportunity to go out and dive. Either it being surveys, DAD’s or courses. We are so lucky to live in this day and age where the technology allows us to strap on a tank and visit the underwater world for an hour or more at a time.

My favourite part is when you are teaching someone to dive and they have never dived before. To see the fear turn into confidence and the smiling faces returning to the surface after a dive is very rewarding to me!

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as Conservation Project Manager?

I have not faced any huge challenges yet, but the language and getting integrated with the local community are what I consider the biggest challenges. Oh, and the plastic - people just love single use plastic items over here, and it breaks my heart to see all that ending up in the ocean. This is something we all as humans have to address and not sweep under the rug.

What advice do you have for volunteers who are interested in signing up for Conservation in Cambodia?

If you are interested in the environment and looking for an adventure different from anything else you have previously done in your life, then sign up. We are here waiting to welcome you with open arms!

A diver inspects a seahorse

Image courtesy of Roger Bruget

Roger’s story of career success through volunteering abroad is certainly an inspiring one. Has your volunteering experience led to the job of your dreams or helped you at work or university? Please feel free to share your comments below.

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