First published on our facebook on February 28th 2015
Introducing Phil Stanier!
“The 9th October 1998 is a very special date for me. Not only was it my 19th Birthday but it was also the day that I saw an Opwall poster on my way home from Uni stating that there would be a presentation that evening for expeditions to Indonesia. Now, being a council estate Brummie, trips further than Faliraki or Magaluf were not commonplace and the costs seemed pretty much out of my league. The presentation really inspired me and explained to me that I could also complete my undergraduate dissertation whilst there. How could I make this happen? Long story short I wrote a million letters for sponsorship and tapped into some grants/funds that where there for people like me and amazingly I raised over £2K of the total costs. I worked for the rest! This trip was happening and I was about to undertake an eight week trip of a lifetime. This was a major turning point in my life.
I will never forget the feeling of arriving into Makassar to the organised chaos. The expedition was fantastic. Eight weeks of trekking, seeing tropical wildlife, meeting new people and learning a new language. The latter was an interesting by-product of the expedition. I was told at school by my French teacher that I was ‘rubbish at languages’ and I had genuinely believed this. After a few weeks in Sulawesi I was starting to understand and could make conversation with the locals, something that made my experiences more magical! The gaffer noticed this and pulled me aside a couple of weeks before the end of my expedition and asked me to come back the following year to help out with the logistics on the project. I was ecstatic. So at the end of the eight weeks I had made many new friends (many of which are still friends today), the basics of a new language (of which I’m now fluent), had a 1st class (literally!) dissertation that examined the differences in population numbers of the Buton Macaque (Macaca ochreata brunnescens) in primary and secondary rainforest, and a job for the following summer! I returned back to the UK and to my final year of University a changed man.
Amazingly I eventually ended up running the Indonesian expeditions for a few years until I decided to go back to the UK and progress with my secondary school teaching career. I have always kept my Indonesia links active and visit the sites as often as possible to catch up with friends. I also still feel part of the Opwall family and am in regular contact with some of the staff and [Tim Coles] the director himself. In fact I took a short sabbatical from work (where I was Assistant Head teacher) to lead on the Cuban expeditions in 2011. Another fantastic learning experience for me and more close friends made! Last year I decided on a move from the UK and was offered a job as Pastoral Care Coordinator at the British International School in Hanoi, Vietnam. My experiences as an Opwall volunteer in 1999 gave me confidence, ambition, independence and leadership skills. The amount of new skills I developed as Operations manager are too long to list. Nevertheless I still have all of those qualities and skills and they have helped me achieve what I have today. I hope that one day, when time permits, I will be back in the field running some expeditions for Opwall – What could possibly go wrong?”