Graduates were passionate and disciplined as they celebrated the conclusion of six months of training at the Southern African Wildlife College with their families, friends and trainers on 29 August, 2019, leaving all who attended inspired and hopeful about the future of conservation.
The 16 students (8 men and 8 women) enrolled in the Youth Access Bridging Course each attained a certificate of achievement, which qualifies them to work as unarmed field rangers and environmental educators and monitors in national and provincial parks in South Africa. Alternatively they can go on to further study having now gained the necessary credits via CATHSSETA, the sector education and training authority, to do so.
The course is a collaboration between the College’s Protected Area Integrity and Community Development and Youth Access departments. It’s designed to bring young people into the conservation sector in support of sustainable livelihoods by providing NQF L2 Unarmed Field Ranger and NQF L5 Environmental Education certificates. “It exposes them to the life of a field ranger, the practical application of environmental education, and leadership skills,” said project administrator, Zanele Mathonsi.
“This foundation course is a critical bridge into the conservation sector for young South Africans and we are exceptionally proud of the quality of this year’s students,” said College CEO Theresa Sowry. Over the course of six months, the students completed six weeks of training at the College’s Ranger Training Base, several months of theory work in the classrooms, and a two month work experience placement with partners from the Limpopo Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism (LEDET). During the placement learners actively participated in daily patrols, field operations, field data collection, compiling field reports, game capture operations, and other conservation and education related activities.
As well as setting them up for careers as natural resource custodians, the course has also created passionate ambassadors for conservation.
“You are now tasked with protecting and serving mother nature,” said Mr. Altin Gysman, Division Manager at the College’s African Field Ranger Training Division, in an insightful speech that revealed a deep appreciation of challenges facing young people in a rapidly changing world of climate change and resource depletion. “There is no limit to what you can achieve if you maintain your passion, and your discipline,” he added, telling the graduates, who come from Mpumalanga, North West, Limpopo, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, to go out and apply what they have learnt.
The course, which the College has offered since 2010, is all donor funded, a fact acknowledged by the students in their vote of thanks to supporters that include the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust (which has helped fund this course since its inception), Friends of African Wildlife, and the Timbavati Foundation. Other speakers and special guests included, Ms Sibongile Cibi, a bridging course learner whose career at SANParks has been on a steady upward trajectory, Mr. Marhumgana, provincial reserve manager at Modjadji Nature Reserve, Teresa and Frans Tintinger and Charles and Ingrid de Villiers from the Timbavati Foundation, as well as Chief Mnisi, from the local community.
“By funding our studies, you have allowed us to focus on them instead of on making ends meet. Now we are graduating and we will go on to make you proud,” said graduate Lucia Monedi , who spoke with humour and appreciation about the rigors of training and the way each student has grown and developed with the support of their mentors.
The ceremony included a slick drill demonstration, various inspiring speeches, and the awarding of their certificates and trophies for exceptional achievements by three of the students, Jesse Louw – Best Overall Student, Patrick Ngobeni – Best Environmental Education Student and Chalain Mkhonto- Best Field Ranger student.
While some students expressed a desire to study further, others are seeking immediate employment in the environmental sector as field rangers, environmental monitors and as educators. All are ambitious though, and their excitement about the future was contagious.
“There is no doubt it was a tough course, but it was brilliant,” said Jesse, who received the award for overall best student.
The course is open to matriculants between the ages of 18 and 25. If you’d like to sponsor a student, you can donate online here, or contact Jeanné Poultney, the College’s Executive Manager, Marketing, Fundraising and Media Relations