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A world of good

25 October 2017

John Knowlson believed in the transformative impact of travel so much so that he left a legacy to the University to provide students with that opportunity. Over fifty years later, the Knowlson Trust award is still changing the lives of students like Sarah Munro (MSci 2015-).

My month-long trip to the Cusuco National Park in Honduras, Central America was priceless. With Operation Wallacea, an organisation that conducts biodiversity surveys around the world, I helped to collate data from surveys of the park for their funding application. The work they do is so important. Cusuco is rated in the top 100 most irreplaceable forest sites and the 25th most important site in the world for the protection of amphibians.

Habitat surveys were the most challenging; these involved measuring the type and number of trees as well as habitat data such as canopy openness, soil depth and leaf-litter depth throughout a sample site. That sounds pretty straightforward, right? Add to that though the fact that many of the sample sites were basically cliff faces in mountainous cloud forest! I loved habitat surveys as everyone worked as a team to pull each other up the steepest parts, and yell warnings: ‘Watch out for that ants’ nest!’

Cortecito was the most beautiful camp, enveloped by forest and cloaked by an ever-changing chorus of toucans, toucanets and howler monkeys over the sound of the river bubbling away. It was so peaceful, it felt like home. This was one of the best places to see birds; I saw my first toucans, green honeycreepers and barred antshrikes while sitting on a felled ancient tree. It was so unexpectedly beautiful, not like the desolate propaganda of deforestation that everyone my age has grown up with.

We stayed with different families in the village who didn’t speak English. I had great fun teaching a local doctor how to play the card game ‘Cheat’ in Spanish (‘Tramposo!’) using a well-used phrasebook and a lot of miming! A proud moment for me was being able to ask someone how to make refried beans and then understanding the answer! It’s encouraged me to continue learning Spanish.

I am so grateful for the Knowlson Trust award. Moving back to the UK from abroad a few years ago coincided with the most stressful school year, which triggered a bad year for me; I slipped into an eating disorder and came out the other side but I still wasn’t who I used to be. Everything about this trip – the people, the teamwork, the difficult trekking, a new country, language and culture and living in the beautiful wild forest – brought me back to who I was before the worst year of my life.

Further information

Bristol’s past achievements, and those we hope to celebrate in the future, have been made possible thanks to the legacies of our generous alumni and friends through scholarship programmes and the Alumni Foundation. For more information please visit bristol.ac.uk/leave-a-legacy

You can listen and download the audio version here (mp3).