Here’s what she had to say:
1. What hooked you about the sector?
I saw the need to combine social and natural sciences to bridge the divide between humans and nature and the way we interact.
2. What’s the coolest project you’ve worked on?
Working closely with the Gumbi community in northern KwaZulu-Natal was an inspiring moment. This is a community who had given up on all hopes for a better environment and better livelihoods- the CBNRM project opened their eyes to greater possibilities that lie ahead and realise the benefits of conserving wildlife. Nkosinathi Gumbi said “Now we know that our Somkhanda Game Reserve will not grow unless we (community) grow (education) first. I got to draft a funding proposal to the Disney Conservation Fund for community-based natural resource management with Shela Patrickson. It involves communities taking the management of the natural resources around them into their own hands. It challenged my ability to communicate our work more clearly with specific objectives to achieve conservation goals. It also opened my eyes to the intricacy of the work being done in the sector by comparing our work with those who have been funded previously.
3. What value has this experience brought you?
Applying simplicity in communication. If you can’t explain your work to a six year old, you probably don’t know what you’re talking about.
4. In what ways have you grown during the internship?
I have developed my project management skills, planning, budgeting, reporting against targets, re-projecting and reviewing project activities and adapting to change. This can’t be taught in the classroom - it takes real world experience.
5. What has been your biggest learning experience?
Before the internship, I wasn’t aware of the translocation of black rhinos to boost population numbers. The species’ future depends on these projects to return nature to its original state.
6. What is your fondest memory of the internship?
I went rhino tracking with one of my mentors. Due to the territorial nature of black rhinos, we were advised to find a tree to climb should the rhino charge. Instead of admiring the beautiful animal, anxiously, my mentor kept saying “Neli, this is my tree, this is my tree”.
7. What is the most challenging thing you’ve encountered?
Three months into the internship, I attended a CBNRM learning-by-doing training session. I thought I was there to observe but I was told, instead, that I had to facilitate the session, focusing on the South African Protected Area Act. The challenge was finding a way of teaching the Act considering the low literacy rate among community members.
8. What words would you give graduates entering the field?
“You can only love what you do when you do what you love”.
9. What do you plan to do after the internship?
My goal is to empower communities to conserve the environment and realise its potential for their own benefit.
10. What do you think makes SA’s environmental future so bright?
Our work focuses on biological problems but the solution lies with the people. People experience environmental challenges but rely on us to translate the scientific information in their daily lives. Being more involved in the people space grants us the potential to change attitudes towards the environment.