A filmmaker and travel enthusiast embarks on a global volunteering journey that takes her from the coral reefs of Fiji to a wildlife sanctuary in Uganda. What results is the film Volunteer.
Volunteer is an eco-adventure showing the perils and thrills of remote travel, and the excitement of having a hands-on experience in promoting natural preservation. Frustrations, triumphs, and anecdotes are all caught on camera, including how to approach an angry 15-foot python, what to do during a tsunami warning, how to tickle a chimpanzee...and the best way to have your teeth cleaned while 70 feet underwater.
Follow the journey and see how - for the price of a plane ticket - you can help affect global change.
Follow us:
There's no denying it: we've botched the job.
By we, I mean our species. Homo sapiens. Human beings. We've made a terrible mess of things. As the lucky recipients of higher cognitive function, we are arguably the only animal that can perceive of a 'future' - and we are the only ones who truly understand the cause-and-effect relationship between what we do today, and what results we'll have down the road. Because of this ability, we have been tasked with the stewardship of our environment - the seas, the skies, reptiles and amphibians, felines and bovines, and all animals lacking the jar-opening handiness of an opposable thumb.
And we've let them down.
Across the world, there are many who want to turn this trend around; for whom the call to help cannot go ignored. I feel strongly that my generation has an opportunity and duty to do something. We're living in the era that saw environmental awareness become the norm, not the exception. But there is a vast difference between volunteering to plant a neighborhood garden, or doing a local beach clean-up, and flying halfway around the globe to help preserve a species or habitat from destruction.
The latter is the world I dove into. (Pun intended)
After stumbling across a sea turtle conservation program while on a trip in Costa Rica, I was inspired to embark on my own environmental adventure. In 2009, I set off on a volunteering voyage to two conservation programs on opposite sides of the world. One program focused on endangered and threatened animals, the other on coral reefs and oceans. Not knowing what I might find, I decided to bring a small camera along and make a volunteering video diary of my experiences in order to inspire others to make their own cross-continental conservation excursions.
Volunteer is the result of that journey - I hope you find it informative, inspiring, and that it makes you giggle a bit along the way. I mean, if chimpanzee farts can't make you laugh, what can, really?
- Mariah Wilson
Mariah Wilson - Producer/Director
For over ten years Mariah Wilson has worked on various documentary TV shows for channels like National Geographic (Doomsday Preppers, Lockdown), A&E (Intervention), Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, PBS, Cooking Channel, History Channel, Travel Channel, and The Weather Channel. She has also produced content for VICE Media and The Smithsonian Institution.
In 2009 she completed her first feature-length documentary REVEALING HATE about the white supremacist movement in America. REVEALING HATE has aired on PBS, LINK TV, and Russia Today. It was distributed by Cactus Three Films and Indiepix.
In 2011 she completed VOLUNTEER, about eco-volunteering trips in Costa Rica, Fiji, and Uganda. VOLUNTEER is currently playing at festivals around the country, and is being distributed by Optimum Television.
Amy Enser - Editor
Internationally recognized editor Amy Enser has worked in documentaries, narratives, promotional videos and motion graphic design for over eight years. She has worked closely with local production and new media company, beingMEdia, on commissions for The Wyoming Channel, City of Bellevue, Institute for Systems Biology (ISB), and Refugee Women's Alliance (ReWA).
Among her award-winning films are Ars Magna, which was nominated for National News & Documentary Emmys in 2009, Beyond Greenaway, which received the Royal Reel Award for Excellence in Filmmaking at the 2010 Canada Intl. Film Festival, and A Healing Art, which received the 2009 International Documentary Challenge POV Short Film and Audience Awards and was recently featured in Filmmaking Magazine. Learn more at higherames.com
Preston Hart - Composer
Preston has been making music since he was a kid. Originally from Maryland, he now lives in Brooklyn, NY and works as a composer for Pulse Music in Manhattan. He has written music for all kinds of projects including films, hip-hop albums, and TV commercials. You can hear more at prestonahart.com
Eve Cuyen - Sound Mixer/Designer
Eve Cuyen is a composer, sound designer and a filmmaker who plays violin, piano, programs synths and also plays a guitar. She has worked in independent cinema, TV, and theater you can find her work in many film festivals in Europe and USA. You can learn more at dreamsounddesign.com
Winona Daily News: Learn a lesson through volunteering
Emirates Diving Magazine: December 2010, Page 14
Tree Hugger: We Want to Wake Everyone Up
Reef Check News: Volunteer Documentary to Feature Reef Check Fiji Experience
PADI "Sea The Change" Contest - Alternate Volunteer trailer used to promote the contest
Kaya Volunteer: Documentary on Conservation Volunteering in Costa Rica
So you want to Volunteer? Great idea! Here's some more info on the programs featured in the film:
Volunteers can stay onsite in 'bandas', small huts that are on UWEC's property. The bandas are delightful and very clean, but are not completely sealed fr om the outside... so for those scared of roaches (like myself!) be forewarned that you may have some of these insects as roommates. Program length ranges from days to months, and volunteers rotate between animal groups (birds, reptiles, carnivores, primates, and hoofstocks). Lots of exciting hands-on experience with wild animals. For more information email volunteer@uwec.ug
Volunteers spend part of the time in the town of Savusavu, and part of the time in the small traditional village Waivunia. This all takes place on Vanua Levu - one of Fiji's less touristed islands. You'll be trained on how to perform Reef Check surveys with the wonderful and engaging Johnny Singh, and you'll get your first (or next) level of dive certification too. Enjoy the local brew, Fiji bitter, and the kava of course! For more information email: info@diving-fiji.com
Volunteers stay in the ranger station at Cahuita Beach, 2 km from the nearest paved road. It's a remote and wonderful place, and volunteers work on beach trekking to look for nesting turtles, and monitoring the hatchery...which is quite exciting when a nest hatches. So many baby turtles! For more info: latinamericanseaturtles.org/contact_us.php
Also recommended:
Volunteers stay at Hotel Parkside, an eco-lodge in the Terai region of Nepal, near Chitwan National Park (known for its rhinos, leopards, and elephants). There are opportunities to participate in a number of environmental awareness programs in the area, and to help with making paper products from elephant dung (not as gross as you'd think! Trust me!)
If none of these projects grab your fancy, then check out these websites for other ideas...there are so many options out there. Happy travels!

A shout out to...

Steven Pierce
Adrian Muys
Kim Vagner
Jenn Sacks
Chris Reid
Tonya Williams
Emily White
Eric Siegelstein
Dan Kuvalakis
Anna Cruz-Morales
Eva Talmadge
Cait Rosengarten
Anna Duren
Mike Kelly
Jessica Tait
Kelly O'Neill
Cara Lowry
Jonathan Palmer
Doris Mosimann
Frank Wejmelka
Chris Hunt

Volunteer has been acquired by Dark Hollow Films for educational distribution.

VOLUNTEER will be airing on First HDTV in Russia in 2014 - stay tuned!
Honolulu Film Awards honored Volunteer with a Special Jury Prize!


Whaleback Film Festival
Portsmouth, NH
May 21, 2014
Green Unplugged Film Festival
June 2013
Anthology Film Archives Theater
32 2nd Avenue, New York, NY
Sunday, January 6th, 2013, 7pm
Frozen River Film Festival
Saturday, January 26th. 10am and 8:30pm
Going Green Film Festival
April 17-19, 2013
Williamsburg International Film Festival
Screening at 4:30 PM at El Puente on Saturday, Sept 22nd, 2012
Red Rock Film Festival
November 9th, 2012