By Celimpilo Ngema
I come from a small village called Maphabili. Life in this village is rural and isolated – bordering the community-owned Somkhanda Game Reserve which lies to its north. Growing up in this village, I had never visited the reserve (nor any others) and didn’t have a connection to wildlife or an understanding of what conservation was. Then Wildlife ACT entered into my life.
Wildlife ACT started running conservation-focused education camps, targeting the primary schools in our area with the aim of connecting people to nature, building in us an understanding of wildlife and conservation. Thankfully for me, they started working with the school that I attended.
The first day at the Kids Camp was so exciting. I remember clearly the nervous energy of our class – keeping us awake so that we only fell asleep late after such a good time with our friends. For us, it was the first time we had experienced a class excursion and the first time to all shared dormitories together. The excitement did not end there; continuing right through the full four-day experience.
The game drives, monitoring and tracking experiences in Somkhanda were amazing. The Wildlife ACT guides were such good teachers and were so funny, making us feel like we were home away from home. This experience built in me an emotional connection which will remain for years, being brought to light again when I reconnected with Wildlife ACT in our community after I had completed my matric.
Zama Ncube, the Community Conservation Manager, wrote a message to our group on Facebook asking if all previous students of the Kids Camp would like to form Conservation Ambassador Clubs within their area. I just jumped onto my phone and replied YES, because the love of nature had stayed with me since the Kids Camp.
Through this ambassador network, we continued to learn more about wildlife and how to pursue a career in conservation. It was through this network that Wildlife ACT then put me forward to apply for a conservation course through the Southern African Wildlife College in Limpopo. With the small amount of money that I borrowed from my parents, I put all my effort into submitting my application to the college in time, hoping for acceptance for their scholarship programme. Amazingly, I was accepted! With the help of Zama and the Wildlife ACT team, I was then able to travel up to the college to start my formal studies.
I will not forget Zama, together with the Conservation Ambassador Club, for their continued guidance. Their friendly and kind support helped to continually motivate me towards success – always remaining positive and always encouraging me until I finished the course. We worked very well with them.
Although I was not aware of what I first experienced at the college (Rangers Camp) like crawling, rolling, and facing the bush physically, I learnt a lot. Today, I can work under pressure, patiently understanding the situation and focusing on what needs to be done. Working as a team is a better weapon to make work easier and more successful. It is these skills and great experiences that I received from the college.
I have been very fortunate to learn and grow under good training and mentorship, learning about conservation and wildlife behavior and I still want to keep exploring more about nature conservation. I think we all have to know that “to get something you never had, you have to do something you never did”. I am thankful for the support and trust that has been given to me. I am very proud of who I am now because of Wildlife ACT.
Text by Celimpilo Ngema
Celimpilo Ngema has been a beneficiary of Wildlife ACT’s Community Conservation Programme (CCP), and has since been employed as part of the team. Through the CCP, Wildlife ACT works to develop an awareness of, and empathy towards, wildlife and conservation among children and youth from communities bordering game reserves in rural KwaZulu-Natal. We work at various age and experience levels in an effort to transform the conservation sector, providing links, guidance and opportunities for those inspired by the environment to enter the sector formally. By creating opportunities within the conservation sector, we can move to a point where the benefits of wildlife can accrue locally rather than the status quo, where local residents experience few benefits and many of the costs.