LWS ALUMNI: BELINDA STEWART-COX
In 1996, I brought a team of six Thai colleagues to Lapalala with support from Cathay Pacific Airways to help them strengthen their conservation education programme. In the photo below, I am second from the right. At the time, we all worked in Thailand’s premier conservation area, the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary. My colleagues were responsible for developing an education programme that aimed to teach visitors about Huai Kha Khaeng’s unique conservation value but also to inspire them to support environmental protection elsewhere too. Unlike most government ‘study trips’, this one did not involve senior officials, but only those who actually did the outreach work on the ground.
The value of Lapalala as a training site was its well-established environmental education programme being delivered in social, economic and ecological conditions that were different, but comparable, to those in Thailand, allowing us to compare and contrast methods, and prompting much discussion on those items that would work well for us. Above all, what was enlightening was the Lapalala philosophy of ‘learning by doing’ because ‘we must educate, not merely instruct’, an important distinction we had not realised before we came to South Africa. Thailand’s traditional way of teaching is to instruct.
Our lead instructor, Hanneke van der Merwe, was inspirational. We spent four days at Lapalala but learned the lessons of a lifetime, experiencing new teaching techniques, new educational games, new ways to engage students, new ways of seeing, appreciating, thinking. All the while, we had tremendous fun doing diverse activities from catching water insects to climbing cliffs, stemming soil erosion, and solving environmental issues wearing six different hats to identify facts, emotions, ideas, judgements, advantages and effective processes to understand the problem and pinpoint needs. The whole experience was as eye-opening as it was mind-expanding.
On our return to Thailand, our environmental outreach programme was transformed. Student groups became smaller, activities more varied, exercises in active discovery replaced hours of passive listening, an interactive visitor centre was built, and other people were trained to join the growing band of environmental educators who followed the Lapalala way. In time, the trainees on this trip were promoted to other conservation areas and other programmes, taking with them and sharing the philosophy and skills they had learned at Lapalala. One became Director of Wildlife Conservation, influencing policies and approaches nationwide, and another set up an environmental education training team which still uses lessons learned at Lapalala to enlighten trainees, students and government officials all around the country. One short trip, one great legacy.
LWS ALUMNI: BOAZ TSEBE
As a young boy who grew up in the Waterberg, I have always had a huge passion for wildlife and the outdoors which as was instilled in me by my family from a tender age. While studying for my Game Ranch Management diploma at TUT, we went on a camp at the Lapalala Wilderness School (LWS). The experience left such a profound impact on me that when I later applied for experiential learning in 2008 and was given the opportunity to either attend at Lapalala Reserve or the Kruger National Park for game capture, there was no doubt in my mind where I wanted to go. The experience thereafter was life-changing.
I was afforded an opportunity to learn and grow beyond what young students are normally offered, by being given room to explore and take charge from the onset. Having exposure to highly experienced professionals in the field – the likes of Roger Collinson, John Hanks and my mentor to date Clive Walker – has been career changing. I made a point of gaining as much experience from all the people I came across, leaving no stone unturned as I exploited every opportunity presented. I was fortunate to work both in the Lapalala Reserve and at the LWS and environmental education still remains close to my heart.
As a very practical hands-on type of person, I felt constantly driven and motivated and was rarely bored. I challenged myself to do everything that could be done at Lapalala, from driving tractors to even manning the security gate. I sought a strong foundation as I and everyone around me knew I was destined for greatness. I didn’t wait for things to happen: I created opportunities and always stepped up to any challenge. However, I found that I hit my ceiling in terms of growth quickly.
I was exposed to the highest level of environmental education, facilitating everyone from school learners to educators and tertiary institutions. Lapalala opened up my world to reserve/wilderness/ranch management as we worked through various management aspects such as utilising fire, capturing game, bush-clearing, erosion mitigation and infrastructure placement.
I am grateful and thankful for the opportunity to have lived and worked on the most beautiful piece of wilderness where the sun shimmers on water oozing from the aquifers in the Waterberg and the area still beams with hope and monumental possibilities.
I still call this place home, even after having left to manage Ndou Lodge and reserve, and then Modderfontein Reserve on behalf of the Endangered Wildlife Trust. I have gone on to start my own environmental company, Naledi Ya Thlago, which has a turnkey approach to protected area/conservation area (establishment, development and management) and addressing environmental issues (Alien Invasive Plants control, erosion, bush encroachment and land rehabilitation/restoration).
LWS ALUMNI: CHANTELLE WRIGHT (VAN HEERDEN)
In the year of 2010, I was lucky enough to be chosen as part of the dynamic Lapalala Wilderness School team. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity and experience. As part of the completion for my Diploma in Conservation at TUT (Tshwane University of Technology) I had to obtain practical experience in my third year. I was exposed to the conservation industry and the importance of education and facilitation. LWS played a massive role in my conservation journey and teachings. I was an Environmental Education Officer and taught children from various cultural backgrounds and ages about the importance of conservation and the difference they can make for present and future generations.
Our approach was hands-on, and the children really enjoyed getting their hands dirty when it came to various activities, which included an obstacle course, team building, tree planting and soil rehabilitation, and interpretive environmental walks, just to name a few. My knowledge about the Waterberg was extremely limited until I went to work at LWS. Here I learned a lot from the local communities and my team about respect and love for your natural resources and using it sustainably.
A lot of lessons were learned, and skills gained through my internship at LWS. I learned about teamwork, compassion, everyday challenges present in people’s lives through lack of access to basic human resources and security. LWS opened my eyes to the realities of life and the importance of environmental education. This opportunity made me fall in love with education and the impact it can have on people’s lives. In 2013 I had the privilege to become a Lecturer in Nature Management and continued in this career until I immigrated to New Zealand in 2018. I loved every part of my journey with LWS.
I am presently working in the Healthcare system as a Community Participation Programme Leader. I assist people with various disabilities, such as autism, cerebral palsy, developmental delay, and many other forms of special needs in the community. I am teaching these students various skills to become more independent and boost their self-esteem. I am applying skills such as programme development and challenging behaviour, which I gained at LWS, to my present role.
LWS ALUMNI: MMAREMANE JOHANNES MONYEKI
After matriculating from Meetsetshehla Secondary School in my hometown of Vaalwater in Limpopo Province, I found myself uncertain about which career path to follow. I wanted to do so many things, all for the wrong reasons. Then I came across a once in a lifetime opportunity – a 12-month Learnership Programme (LP) with the Lapalala Wilderness School (LWS). At that stage I knew nothing about nature conservation, or the Environmental Education (EE) offered by the LWS. The LP invited youths with a passion for nature and the natural environment to a life-changing training and learning experience.
During my first few months of the Programme, I had fun, and learnt a great deal, but, at the same time, I was intimidated by the savvy Environmental Educators at the LWS, who seemed to know everything! They could identify birds by their calls, feathers and habitat preferences, and identify different trees and grasses, and I thought I would never be able to do that. Until then, I had no idea that there are different types of grasses and trees; for me there was no difference, they all looked the same. As time went by, I began to really enjoy the LP. I was not ashamed to tell people about my newly established career, and I was able to answer questions about my career choice. I began to master all the techniques for identifying different species, from grasses to mammals.
I have done many crazy things (according to my friends) since participating in the LWS LP, including touching snakes (for the first time), clean-up campaigns, water quality testing, vegetation surveys, plant identification, soil erosion control, alien plant control and many more important things. I have begun to have a better understanding of these conservation activities, and I have developed a real passion for nature conservation.
The Programme provided me with knowledge and skills, which encouraged me to enrol for part time studies with UNISA for a Diploma in Nature Conservation. The course equipped me with more knowledge and more skills and enabled me to better understand nature and the processes that govern it. I believe that the immensely enjoyable LP was a personal achievement for me. I would like to thank everyone who helped to create such a wonderful experience for all the students on the Programme. Being part of the LWS family, for me, has been an empowering and enriching experience, and one that will last a lifetime. To quote Jennifer Nini: “You can’t force people to care about the natural environment, but if you encourage them to connect with it, they just might.”