Donna Cameron used to have what some might consider the perfect job – working in a toy store.
But she grew tired of being indoors all day and yearned to do something more challenging outdoors.
Now, thanks to studying through SIT2LRN, she’s starting to achieve that dream. This summer she’s volunteering as a warden at Forests and Bird’s cabins in the Catlins, something made possible by completing the New Zealand Certificate in Study and Career Preparation (Level 4) and getting straight A grades in two Certificates of Horticulture (General and Landscape Construction strands). She’s also now working on a Bachelor of Environmental Management.
“I’ve been in the Catlins since mid- November and it’s been great so far.
My main interest is native plants and birds and there are loads of those around the reserve.”
Donna is keen to work on restoration projects that enhance native bird life and native plant species, and potentially wetland restoration, maintenance and monitoring.
“Our wetlands provide a huge amount of ecosystem services to humans and are so important to our wellbeing. I would like to see people’s awareness of those enhanced. The connections between land and sea are taken for granted. "
“If we want our beautiful coastlines and marine ecosystems and species to thrive we really need to focus on land activities and how land and marine interact.
“There’s a Māori proverb that I think sums it up for me: ‘if the land is well then the people are well’.”
Donna grew up in Invercargill and, after meeting a dairy farmer at age 22, spent 10 years farming. After they separated in 2012, Donna returned South with her children to start again, working in retail – including the toy store – until deciding she wanted a change. She began looking for horticulture courses, and found SIT2LRN’s offerings.
She didn’t realise she had a passion for the environment, but looking back has realised it was always part of her life.
“My mum used to raise tadpoles and I remember finding their life cycle stages fascinating – watching their tails disappear is pretty cool when you’re five. We spent loads of time at the park...Mum loves plants so I think I inherited that from her."
“My love for home gardening growing tomatoes and cucumbers and DIY amateur landscaping is what started me on my current path. I enrolled for the general horticulture certificate with the intention to maybe start my own gardening business.”
Once she’d completed the study, she wasn’t ready to embark on her own business but had a taste for studying so decided to continue to gain as much knowledge as she could.
She completed the landscaping strand and when the environmental management course began straight after that, it made sense to continue, she said.
It hasn’t been easy fitting her study in around a busy family life, but she’s passionate about what she’s learning and the future that’s opening up in front of her.
“I can honestly say I haven’t looked back.”
She has some simple advice for anyone contemplating the studying remotely: “Just stick at it because it’s worth it in the end.”