A day in the life of an...Environmentalist, Sara Juliana Monroy Valencia

Apr 25, 2024

“The only way you’ll definitely get a “no” 

is when you don’t try”




Born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia, in the mountainous area top far North of South America, Sara Juliana Monroy Valencia is rightly proud of her Hispanic roots. Sara’s family background is in banking, and she initially studied Business Management, alongside a degree in Anthropology. However, after working for a time in Business Management, she felt a “craving” for something else that would “make me get out of bed in the morning.” After a varied working life, she has now “manifested my dream” of working in the environmental field, and is working in the UK for Kent Wildlife Trust. Sara lives in Canterbury with her British wife, Lucy. Proudly describing herself as a “queer latina woman”, Sara is pleased to “add a bit of spice” to the mix in the area of environmentalism.

Read on to learn more about Sara!


My family background is in banking. However, I gradually decided to move away from that field as you can see. My older brother is an artist and my younger brother is a designer. So my family were looking to me to carry on working in the family business, so at University I studied Business Management. Parallel to that I also studied a Bachelor's degree in Anthropology. It took me 7 years to complete my 2 degrees. After studying I went into consultancy, and that was my first experience of Business Management. However, it didn’t fulfil my craving to do something that I felt would make an impact. Something that would get me out of bed in the morning and bring out the best of me. 


Around that time I was also part of an Anthropological research group on ethno-linguistics. This was to do with native languages in Colombia. We have over 70 ethnic communities in Colombia, some of them at risk of extinction. This research experience was very eye-opening and humbling. It allowed me to confront the reality of what I had studied - to take the textbook based knowledge I already had and put it into practice in real life. I really liked that but it was also really challenging.


Sara (left) with her wife Lucy (right)


In terms of my place of residence, there were complications caused by the pandemic and by my Visa situation, however, these issues were eventually resolved and I relocated officially to the UK last year. My time in Colombia came to an end when I met my wife. That was the closing of one chapter for me in which I was no longer dependent on my family. I was no longer seeking to fulfil family expectations in terms of my career path. I knew what the upper class in Colombia was like, and I knew that wasn’t what I was aspiring for. So I met my wife at a very critical time for me where I was beginning to envision a different kind of life and making it a reality. I had travelled but not lived abroad. But I trusted her. I trusted love. And I jumped the pond. 


Coming to the UK allowed me to change my country, my language and my future. At this point I decided to take the skills I had gained in Business Management and reapply them to the area of environmentalism. Being an environmentalist in Colombia is very risky. Colombia is sadly to date the most dangerous place to be an environmentalist. There you are threatened by official powers and para-official powers. You are threatened by illegitimate armed groups who would see those engaged in environmental work as a target to be held for ransom. So it is to date the most dangerous place to work in the environmental sector. One big appeal to coming to the UK was that I could do this line of work, where I could not do it safely back home. I trusted the process. 


“I think to me a successful career is a combination of 3 things; 

accountability, having the opportunity to grow, 

and knowing what you do matters. 

To me this is the magic triangle that makes up career success.”


The best piece of careers advice I’ve been given sounds better in Spanish but I’ll try to explain what it means. At one point in my life I was working two different jobs in parallel. My supervisor was an amazing human being. He gave me this piece of advice while I was navigating my own personal and working life. So the phrase in Spanish is “época de cambios y cambio de época.” It roughly translates as “there are times for change, and changing times.” “Times for change” is when you go chapter by chapter in your life, and your priorities change in your life, your timeline changes. Whereas “changing times” refers to the many changes that can take place within a chapter of your life - changing house, job, house renovations, and so on. This phrase means a lot to me.


Bogotá, the capital of Colombia


I had been following the work of Kent Wildlife Trust (KWT) for a long time, and I am now happy to work for them in two teams. The first is in a landscape restoration: Wilder Blean Initiative. And also in a species restoration project: South East Pine Marten Restoration. I’ve been at KWT for 9 months now. I’ve loved learning more about the local wildlife and geography during that time, and developing new contacts. I like it and I wake up - some days feeling more inspired than others - but always willing to put myself out there and that's what counts. 


In my current role as Landscape Community Organising Officer for KWT, a typical day in my job may involve a combination of field work and admin work. For example, this morning I met with West Blean Reservoir Neighbours to find out about various landscape updates. I also need to input that data in a meaningful and reflexive way so we can action different steps. So any given working day would be a mixture of going out in the field, meeting different people and organisations and doing the related admin. 


In terms of a success in my current role, last year when I started this role I was successfully juggling 3 massive projects relating to how people engage with the landscape. So I feel really proud that I’ve been able to multiply my efforts, and work efficiently. I feel proud that I’ve been able to keep up with that pace and workload. To give my best, 100% in all areas. To be able to meet with people at a speed that is sustainable for everybody so it doesn’t burn me out. Finding that balance and being able to succeed in this makes me really happy in the here and now. 


Sara with her beloved dog Bailey

 - the final piece of her family jigsaw


I think the biggest challenge in my role at the moment is reaching out to young people in the district. Not even in the county, just in the district. Kent as a county has an average population of about 40-42 years old. So seeking out young people, and then onboarding them to participate in the work of KWT is a challenge. I haven’t hit the nail on the head yet as far as this challenge goes, but I understand that this takes time, and building trust. And I’m putting in the effort. I can partly build on the foundations laid by other organisations, and develop pre-existing relationships. So hopefully over time those efforts will bear fruit. 


If you would like to follow the work of Kent Wildlife Trust, click here to view their website.

To read more “day in the life” articles and much more, click here to view the blog of The Careers Company.

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