An ‘office’ in the tropical sea – British teacher swaps music lecturing for diving in the Seychelles
Underwater master: despite never having dived before volunteering for a marine conservation programme, Charlotte Orba now feels more at home and at peace underwater than anywhere else (Charlotte Orba)
(Seychelles News Agency) - After being made redundant from her job lecturing in pop music at the Leeds College of Music and breaking up with her partner of 20 years, 45-year-old Charlotte Orba was faced with the bleak prospect of starting all over again. But Orba, determined to use the situation to make a big change in her life, started looking for opportunities elsewhere in the world.
After casually Googling the words “international volunteering”, she saw something that really caught her eye – an opportunity to do marine conservation in the Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 islands in the western Indian Ocean.
She had never been diving in her life before and had no background in marine biology, but as crazy as it seemed, she began joking to her friends that she was going to leave England to go and dive in the Seychelles.
Eventually, the joke began to sound serious to her and she finally went and signed up for a three-month voluntary programme. Orba sold her house, packed her possessions into boxes and took them to her mother’s place.
“Everyone thought I was incredibly brave, but I wasn’t scared,” she told the Guardian in an interview. But Orba reasoned that she would be back when the volunteering programme ended after three months.
However, after her first three months were up, Orba wasn’t even thinking of going home yet. SNA caught up with her to find out exactly why she decided to stay on in the Seychelles.
|It's a tough life, but somebody's got to do it - Charlotte came to volunteer in the Seychelles, but later discovered she had no desire to return back home to England (Charlotte Orba) Photo license: All Rights Reserved
SNA: Tell us a bit more about your early life and background (for instance where you grew up and how it was that you found yourself teaching a degree on pop music?)
CO: I grew up on the south coast of England in Southampton - right by the sea. I spent many years playing in bands of all types (including three years in a Tom Jones tribute band!) and ended up living in the north of England which led to me working at Leeds College of Music, initially part-time but eventually full time and running the Pop and Music Production degrees.
SNA: What made volunteering to do marine conservation in the Seychelles sound like an attractive option for you - what were some of your other alternatives?
CO: Initially I won't deny it, it sounded the most glamorous and the most different to my life in England. Seychelles had a real mystique to it - many people didn't even know where it was when I told them I was going (although they all knew it was a beautiful place). I've always had an affinity with the sea having grown up right next to it and I used to do a lot of kayaking.
I did consider some teaching volunteer projects but they seemed too similar to what I was doing already and I was really looking for a change. In the end I knew marine conservation in Seychelles would give me that sense of adventure and of course unparalleled marine life.
SNA: Which organisation did you volunteer with and where were you based?
CO: I volunteered with GVI [Global Vision International] and was based at Cap Ternay. I was impressed by the length of time GVI had been in the country and how their research directly contributed to the Seychelles' management of its marine life.
SNA: How did you get along with the younger volunteers?
CO: Really well. I have always been involved with young people in my job in education and I love being in contact with people of all ages. I think if you only socialise with people who are similar to you (not just in age) then life gets very boring. Of course there were times when I would roll my eyes at their antics but we've all been young once! The main thing was of course our love of the ocean and it doesn't matter what age you are for that.
SNA: Was it difficult to learn how to dive and what do you like most about it?
CO: I won't deny that the first time I went underwater in SCUBA gear I didn't like it very much but I very quickly got used to it. There was so much diving on the conservation project at Cap Ternay [on the western coastline of the main Seychelles island of Mahe] that being underwater quickly became second nature to me.
I feel more at home under the water than out of it. I love how relaxed you can be underwater. You can hear your breathing and that's about it. No mobile phones or internet - you can just focus on what's in front of you.
|Off to work: Charlotte and her colleagues get ready for another day at the office (Charlotte Orba) Photo license: All Rights Reserved
SNA: What was the most difficult part about adapting to the new lifestyle?
CO: I didn't really find it difficult as I'm pretty adaptable but certainly the communal living arrangements on a volunteer expedition can be challenging. You have to work hard to find your own space. Now I live and work at the Four Seasons Resort Seychelles and while the living conditions are completely different to that of Cap Ternay it is still important to have time to yourself when you live and work together in the same place.
I know some people find island living hard after a while and sure, there's things you don't have access to in Seychelles but I focus on things you do have like the amazing beaches I can just go to, and it's beauty above and below the water.
SNA: What made you decide to stay on after the volunteer programme?
CO: I initially came out here for three months with the intention of figuring out what I was going to do with my life. At the end of three months I hadn't even begun to think about it as I was having way too much fun! I was lucky enough to stay on as a scholar (like an intern) at GVI, Cap Ternay.
I was eager to stay on to carry on improving my diving skills as well as continue my training in fish/coral and invertebrate studies. I particularly loved coral and was passionate about sharing my going knowledge about these amazing animals with the next generation of volunteers.
Whilst I was doing this the opportunity to apply for a job as a marine educator with WiseOceans, based at Four Seasons Resort Seychelles came up. This seemed perfect, marrying my background in education with my new passion for marine life.
|We wish you a merry Scuba? Charlotte, who now works as a marine educator at WiseOceans, which is based at the Four Seasons Resort Seychelles, is obviously a joy to discover the mysteries of the ocean with (Charlotte Orba) Photo license: All Rights Reserved
SNA: Which organisation are you with at the moment and where are you based?
CO: WiseOceans, a specialist marine conservation and education company based at Four Seasons Resort Seychelles. I help to educate guests about the amazing marine life in Seychelles though taking them on guided snorkels, giving marine talks and generally chatting with them. Sometimes I take people for their very first snorkel, which is such a privilege. More than one person has thanked me for opening up their eyes to a whole new world.
We also operate a staff training scheme which allows all staff at the resort to experience what we offer to the guests. I've particularly enjoyed helping Seychellois staff experience the wonderful marine life - so many locals don't (for one reason or another) get in the sea and it's been great to help to spread the joy of snorkelling and enabling them to experience a whole other side of their island life.
SNA: What would you say is the most difficult or unexpected thing about living in the Seychelles?
CO: You certainly have to get used to a different kind of shopping. I describe shopping in Seychelles as an art form. You have to know all the shops, including the ones in hard to find places to find what you need. While it can be a bit frustrating at times, I've enjoyed the challenge (thank goodness for the many Facebook groups which make this easier!) and you always have to remember where we are and how far away the mainland is. It makes you appreciate things.
When I do return to the UK am I normally a bit overwhelmed when I go to a supermarket! Of course being away from friends and family is hard but the wonders of modern technology make this easier - lots of Skype sessions and Facebook make everybody a little closer.
|Tough comparison: Charlotte's former office at the GVI base located at Cap Ternay [above] and her new office at the Four Seasons Resort Seychelles at Petite Anse [below] (Charlotte Orba) Photo license: All Rights Reserved
SNA: What have been some of your most memorable moments so far?
CO: So many...
Diving in Baie Ternay
Seeing my first shark
Swimming with sea turtles
A micro-lite trip round the island
Going to Bird Island
Boat trips and picnics on my days off
Discovering Police Bay for the first time
Rescuing turtle hatchlings
SNA: How much longer do you think you will be here and have you made any decisions about your next move yet?
CO: Nothing's certain at the moment. I love being in Seychelles but at the same time I love to travel so there's a probably a move on the horizon but where to I'm not entirely sure. One thing for sure is that Seychelles gets under your skin and I know if or when I do leave I will be returning at some point. I can't imagine not being a part of this incredible country.