I suppose it’s not surprising but I’m filled as much with apprehension as excitement. The 10 short days between leaving the comfort and security of my Surrey-based job at WWF-UK and flying off to work with WWF in Cambodia – with all the unknowns that will involve – has been a whirlwind of packing, catching up with friends and, hardest of all, saying goodbye to our grown-up children.
Without a doubt this is one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced – a new country, a new language (Khmer), leading a team of 70 people with responsibility for protecting an area of forest nearly twice the size of Cornwall.
But this is exactly what I wanted. This was my chance, after nine happy years at WWF-UK, to get closer to the field work – to bring my stamp and energy to a programme and, without trying to sound too trite, to try and make a difference.
So what can I expect in Cambodia? I know I’ll be based in a small town a six-hour drive from the capital, Phnom Penh, and it only recently had its access road tarmacced. With a population of just 6,000 or so people and very little in the way of facilities, it means we’ll have to be pretty self-sufficient for our entertainment, and will have to get used to a much quieter and, in some ways, simpler life.
Having said that, the town does have a busy local market, good electricity and water as well as mobile phone connections and broadband, so it’s hardly remote. But I do get a feeling it’s a sort of frontier town – in the sense that, now the road has been completed, the area is opening up for business and for land speculation.
What this means is that any pressure the forests were already under from agriculture, poaching and illegal timber extraction, which was already considerable, has suddenly increased significantly. Hence the apprehension…