Category Archives: Education

Extraordinary voices of ordinary women: Carla Geyser

Longing to experience the real, authentic Mama Africa in all her grit and glory? Love a good road trip? What about great banter around a campfire, sipping a gin and tonic, pausing every now and then to listen to the soundscape that only a night under the African sky can bring?  How about magical sunrises and sunsets? Or an impromptu coffee stop in the middle of somewhere intrepid?  Want your African experience to include some boots on the ground time for wildlife conservation and community empowerment?

That all important coffee break along the way…. Maputo Special Reserve, Mozambique

Then you need to meet my gorgeous friend, Carla Geyser.  Her Journeys with Purpose are all of the above and then some!

Carla with Izzy (another kindred spirit) on a boat… a day exploring the waters of Maputo Bay, Mozambique

I first came across Carla’s story in 2016 when she embarked on her epic Elephant Ignite Expedition – travelling 16 000km across 10 countries. Carla and her team visited 37 conservation organisations, engaging with communities along the way and distributing 20 000 educational booklets. The idea for this expedition was sparked by the plight of elephants across Africa – their plummeting numbers due to poaching and human wildlife conflict.

Then in 2018 I followed Carla’s next adventure, The Rise of the Matriarch, on social media.  This time an international all women crew set out with Carla for a 50 day, 11 000km journey through 4 countries.  This expedition raised global awareness for the plight of African wildlife, raising funds for conservation groups and empowering local youth, especially girls. 

I still have the diary from that time and scribbled in a margin is “Blue Sky Society Trust – next time”.

In May of this year I got to meet Carla in person.  She picked me to be part of her crew for a 2019 Journey with Purpose.  I have recorded this incredible adventure in previous posts:

Carla is a great expedition leader – the perfect blend of happy-go-lucky and down to earth pragmatism.  She knows Africa well and understands how to travel wisely.  Able to go with the flow while at the same time being uber prepared for every eventuality – a real skill in this environment!

Carla overseeing production of a delicious potjie… on top of the world in eSwatini

I love Carla’s attitude to life which is incorporated into the name of her not-for-profit – The Blue Sky Society.  Read here how the name came about.  She is a kindred spirit… we share a passion for Mama Africa, our birthplace.  Yet Carla’s personality is such that anyone from anywhere could not help but enjoy her company and be swept away in her enthusiasm for life and her work.

I consider it one of the greatest experiences of my life, that May Journey with Purpose.  I also consider it an honour and privilege to have shared the road with Carla Geyser and her fabulous landy, Dora.  And I cannot wait to go again and be a part of another Blue Sky Society Journey with Purpose!

Dora the Landy in Kruger National Park… this photo taken shortly after two spectacular leopard sightings

Carla is an ordinary woman just like me.  But her big dreams, her belief in the infinite possibilities of life and her “just do it” attitude make her voice extraordinary….

Four incredible Journeys with Purpose are planned for 2020 (click on the links to find out more):

Chasing Waterfalls

The Great Zambezi

Aqua Earth

Trekking Giants

Go!  Travel with Carla. Let Mama Africa embrace you.  Wander the road less travelled.  It will change your life.

To Sustainability and Beyond!

On Friday 27 September 2019 I had the opportunity to participate in the Schools Strike 4 Climate Change in Auckland, New Zealand. As a conservation educator it was a thrilling moment to be able to march alongside my colleagues and the youth of the world as we speak up to secure our World’s future.  To continue to walk my talk of many years.

Image from Bitmoji App

Now not everyone agrees with Greta Thunberg’s or Severn Suzuki’s type of action.  But this is just one approach that supports countless others as we each work or fight for change in our own way.  The future of our planet really does rely on every individual, mindful action as well as policy change at the highest levels of government.

I was sixteen years old when 12-year-old Severn Suzuki gave her moving call to action at the UN Earth Summit in Rio 1992.  The South Africa I grew up in was only just emerging from the evil, tragic grip of apartheid.  Rio’s Earth Summit certainly did not play out widely in my troubled environment.  I didn’t even hear about Severn and the Rio Summit at the time.  I only got to hear about her and the Earth Charter at university a few years later while completing a degree in Environmental Science.

There was no such thing as recycling of rubbish while I was growing up.  But I did have an inspiring Geography teacher who talked about CFCs and the hole in the ozone layer, rising sea levels and global warming.

An immense amount of Good Work has been done since then.  Voices for action can derive hope from that, I think.  I know I do.

My personal journey with Sustainability started as a child, privileged to be surrounded by the magic of prolific wildlife.  Though back then I would not have described my passion as ‘in aid of Sustainability’. 

Wildlife conservation is my original passion.  For me, the heart of my desire to make a difference in the World has always been derived from my intense love of all things wild in Africa – wild, pure, open spaces and all the marvellous creatures that are so precious, deserving of their right to life and their perfect role in a thriving ecosystem – simply because they are, like I am! 

As I hit my tweens, I started to realise that the human world I had been born into was messy.    I became aware of the concept of Ubuntu.  In light of this ancient truth I could see that South Africa was in a dark place.  I am because we are – for me “we” is all aspects of Mama Africa, and by extension, Mother Earth.

The ‘wildlife’ concept of conservation had to be expanded to include human communities.  Some decades later I guess we would now refer to this more holistic approach as ‘Social Sustainability’.

My degree focused on Environmental Science and Conservation Biology.  I began to understand sustainability – the complexity of unsustainable human practices that focus on technological advancement, convenience and to some degree simply because we can…. pushing the human brain to its creative limits.  This level of advancement and focus on economics, profits and convenience is energy-intensive, to say the least, and the highest cost has been to Mother Earth.

Even to people whose compassion doesn’t extend beyond their own family it must be becoming alarmingly obvious that the outcomes of unsustainable practices, particularly since the start of the Industrial Revolution, will affect their future – health, ability to generate wealth, perhaps even their whole way of life.

You would think that I would be a sustainable living Champion, with all the information I have gleaned in my education and in the course of my professional life as an environmental scientist and conservation educator!  But it has been a journey of years to put  the picture puzzle pieces together and genuinely start living sustainably.

To be honest, my practical buy-in started really simply with the 3RsReduce, Reuse, Recycle.  What’s possible in terms of recycling looks different in diverse parts of the world, depending on infrastructure and resourcing.  It varies greatly between urban and rural areas in New Zealand, where I am currently living.  And it will continue to change over time, hopefully rapidly and for the better.  Even just getting the 3Rs right can be confusing, frustrating and certainly inconvenient, depending where you live.

Image from Bitmoji App

So here’s what I’ve learned … being mindful of how I tread on this planet, and making environmentally conscious decisions, has to supersede convenience.  I recognise that it is not my right to live conveniently at the cost of All around me.

These days I work with the 7Rs in mind – Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rehome, Replant, Rot.  Here is an image of what that looks like, taken from ubuntunomad.com.

The 7Rs of waste-free living – ubuntunomad.com

I also like this image (below), with RETHINK at the centre, taken from a Google image search – Be mindful of your consumption, your relationship with “things” and your relationship with the Earth.

Google image search – difficult to trace the source of this image.

From a place of Rethink anything is possible.  This is motivation to mindfully, actively, continuously pursue the 7Rs strategy.  For example, we can find out about composting in our area.  For me a recent delightful discovery has been that my hair salon belongs to the Sustainable Salons initiative – I’m very happy to support ingenious organisations like this. 

There are so many amazing examples like this now.  Yes, it does take a little extra time and energy to do the research, but I believe it is worth it in the long run. Spending money with local businesses that have sound sustainability initiatives is a simple and practical contribution everyone can make.  I have found social media to be an invaluable tool in connecting with environmentally conscious groups and organisations I can support.

So that’s it in the daily micro-moments of my life. Turning off lights and electronics on standby, separating out the soft plastics for recycling, refusing disposable cups or straws or single use plastic bags, thinking about water use and saving where I can, being a mindful consumer as much as possible for everything from clothing to cosmetics, being aware of the palm oil predicament and only purchasing products containing certified sustainable palm oil.

The list goes on and I will make it longer as I learn to tread as lightly as I can.  I have to believe that each of our small mindful actions will make the necessary difference in the end.

In my bigger picture, I try to make my mark by taking my conservation education career very seriously – and I never forget about the beleaguered African wildlife that planted this seed in me that lead to greater knowledge of the plight of life everywhere . 

This year my focus has been to look at conservation and sustainability when travelling, which is another great love of mine.

I spent a number of years working in high end ecotourism lodges in Botswana.  Such an incredible time in my life!  What particularly stands out for me is the environmentally sensitive architecture used to construct these lodges –  the temporary footprint they are able to create, completely off the grid and very sustainable.  If this can be achieved in extremely isolated areas of the Okavango Delta, I think there is little excuse for organisations based in areas of the world which are better resourced!

I finally managed to get back to Mama Africa this year.  Previous blog posts cover this absolutely amazing Journey with Purpose.  I chose that particular trip because it ticked so many of the environmental and social sustainability boxes that I am trying to be mindful of in my travel choices.

On my bucket list, since always, is to visit East Africa, the birthplace of safari, so I constantly search in hopes that a perfect option and opportunity will arise.  I am looking for tourism organisations that focus on wildlife conservation, community conservation and sustainable practices in their delivery to guests.  My experience in Botswana tells me exactly what to look out for.

I have been following Asilia Africa on Instagram for a while now, and I find their authentic community conservation initiatives utterly inspiring.  Of course, their tourism offering looks stunning, too!  And Yellow Zebra Safaris appears to be a good bet to organise a truly caring, conservation-conscious safari in Kenya!  Their concern for solo travellers backs that up.

And so my journey dreams continue … next on my agenda is how to tackle the carbon footprint of air travel, especially from this part of the world?  For such a vast distance,  I’ll have to look further than contributing to the planting of thousands of trees.

I will finish off this rather long post with a thought-provoking excerpt from The Infinite Game – How to Live Well Together by Niki Harré:

“Well, changing the behaviour of other adults has always seemed to me both patronising and misguided. What we need, if we are going to promote human and ecological flourishing, is people working together on creative solutions, not experts training others like circus animals. The enormous beauty and power of our species lies in our capacity for collective innovation. It is an endless, uncertain task, improving this world of ours and trying to do so with love and joy. It takes both big, powerful players and small, discrete players each working within their sphere of influence – experimenting, adapting, and negotiating new practices; and the policies, laws and technological innovations that help hold these practices in place. We need to ignite that creative capacity in each other – not smother it with assumptions that ‘we’ (whoever ‘we’ may be) know best.”

Image by Bitmoji App

 

Dreaming

I am so excited to work through Dr Tererai Trent’s wonderful book, The Awakened Woman, a second time.

I first heard Dr Tererai speak on a podcast with Kikki K founder, Kristina Karlsson.  I loved listening to her delightful accent and the rhythm of her voice sent me right back to childhood and growing up in Southern Africa.  Listening to her read her story as an audiobook was a revelation.  Dr Tererai is a poet and wordsmith, the way she uses the English language is beautifully lyrical.

In The Awakened Women she shares her incredible story of dreams come true.  Using her experiences and insight to provide a guide for others which is so profound and yet so accessible.

So I now have the print version of the book along with the gorgeous journal that goes with it from Kikki K.  I have reread Chapter 1 and am now putting pen to paper in the matching chapter in the The Awakened Woman Journal… what dreams may come…

While I’m here I thought I would mention how very inspiring I found Kristina Karlsson’s book – Your Dream Life Starts Here

Ooh, also Melinda Gate’s book – The Moment of Lift – this is definitely worth a read!

Hey World!  How lucky are we to have these strong, empowered, beautiful women’s voices who grace us with their hard won wisdom!  They are so open and honest with their ordinary struggles, just like you and just like me.  They give me hope and I take comfort in that as I walk my own path.

Journey with Purpose: The Bigger Picture

What is the significance of finding your tribe?  You are in your element, time stands still leaving your open heart to soak up all you are experiencing, really seeing the people in front of you and really hearing their stories.  There might be no other purpose to this than for those people to be seen, to be heard.  But it could be that in this flow you are being given access to knowledge and understanding which moves you forward on your path.  For me those 14 days on our Journey with Purpose was the latter.  I feel compelled by all I have seen and heard to champion these stories, to spread the word about the incredible work of these passionate individuals working for wildlife and community.

Now I love nothing better than seeing the “bigger picture” and some of you reading will know how I love a good map!  And I didn’t see this straight away as we progressed through our itinerary, but I think I see it now…. What connects all our conservation and community stories from this expedition together is the increasing collaboration and building towards recognising the increasing value of Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs).

The Dream! Map source: https://www.peaceparks.org/about/the-dream/

Here is where I mention the Peace Parks Foundation.  Their single purpose is “to restore a tomorrow for life on Earth”.  Their dream – “to reconnect Africa’s wild spaces to create a future for man in harmony with nature.”  What does that look like in action?  Helping, guiding, supporting, facilitating TFCAs.  Creating a hub for a conservation collective in a particular region.  This hub transcends national borders and helps take these seemingly small, individual actions and bringing them together – the dragonfly effect

Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith are a husband and wife team who have applied what they term the dragonfly effect to using social media to affect social change.  Their book – The Dragonfly Effect: quick, effective and powerful ways to use social media to drive social change –  is an interesting read.  They talk about the dragonfly being the only insect to move deftly in any direction when all four wings work in unison.  This effect is similar to the ripple effect and is used in sociology, psychology and economic circles to show how small actions can create significant change.  While their focus is the use of social media, I think the effect applies to the situation I am describing here.

Greater Limpopo TFCA. Map source: https://www.peaceparks.org/tfcas/great-limpopo/

Our JWP01 South expedition took us into two significant TFCA areas – the Greater Limpopo TFCA and the Lubombo TFCA.  The people we got to meet and spend time with, the projects we got a little glimpse of on our journey were some of these small pieces working to their strengths and their passions.  Placed in the bigger picture of the TFCA landscape there is more than a little hope of significant, lasting change both for wildlife and wild spaces as well as the human communities coexisting here.

Lubombo TFCA. Map source: https://www.peaceparks.org/tfcas/lubombo/

For me this sort of hope is especially inspiring as I am on my own journey where I am currently planted to demonstrate how this dragonfly effect can work for conservation and community upliftment anywhere in the world.

The conservationist

Very introspective at the moment…. a middle age thing perhaps? Today I have been thinking about the label “conservationist”. I have thought of myself as a wildlife conservationist since I was probably 10 or 11 years old.

At 3 maybe 4 years old, sitting on the back steps by the kitchen door looking out over this part of the Highveld that would one day soon be taken over by the southern suburbs of Johannesburg.  Our house was one of the first in the new subdivision, still surrounded by the grassland and mixed acacia bushveld typical of this area.

It’s May on the Highveld and everything is tinder dry.  A black patchwork shows where the veld fires have been this season in the Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve just across the road from our house.  Walking through one of these patches bits of burnt grass crackling underfoot.  Then the dull thud of footsteps on dry, baked red earth.  But always life – the titter of a group of red-faced mousebirds in the acacia, the screech of the fiscal shrike, the various species of dove cooing, the flash of red from the black collared barbet darting by, a rustle in the grass maybe a snake or the flash of a tail as a mongoose disappears deeper into the bush and, of course, the black-shouldered kite sitting on the powerline surveying all.

As I got older we ventured further afield, driving during family holidays to protected spaces to witness this life, to immerse ourselves in it temporarily.  The most natural thing in the world, where else would you want to just BE? Kruger National Park, the Soutpansberg, the Drakensberg, Umfolozi, Mkuze, Karoo National Park, Tsitsikama National Park to name a few.

By the time I was a teenager being back at home in the big smoggy city felt strained.  I felt cut off from the natural world where I belonged.  Even in a city like Johannesburg where the wildness of Africa still finds its way in to the urban space, I still felt uneasy. And so I came to understand the fragmentation of wild spaces and how I would want to spend the rest of my life speaking for the voiceless.

What a strange journey it has been and continues to be… my conservationist journey.  It certainly hasn’t been a linear career path and there have been many times when I thought I had lost my way completely.  Thinking how could where I am and what I am doing right now possibly be about following my passion.  But what I have realised recently is that every apparent detour I have had along the way has equipped me with a rather unique world view.

It quickly became clear that my work was not going to be that of the traditional conservation ecologist.  I have had to come to terms with the educator within.  To work through the discomfort I feel as an introvert to relate to people of all ages and stages in the course of sharing one all important message – wild lives and wild spaces matter.

The upshot of all this is that the model of conservation I was immersed in as a child is no longer valid, if it ever was.  We cannot hope to make a difference for wildlife and wild spaces by putting fences up and keeping human communities out of the picture.  Wildlife conservation should be an everyday practice for all of us wherever we find ourselves on this planet.  We need to learn to live in harmony with the other living beings we share this planet with.

Sometimes in my more selfish moments I think over the incredible moments I have had in wild spaces and those magical close encounters with elephant, hippo, leopard, and cheetah – wild ones in wild habitat.  Not ones that I had to pay an awful lot of money for in a contrived 5 star luxury safari setting.

But more often I want people to have these sorts of magical encounters with wildlife in their own backyards so to speak.  Let it be a normal, everyday occurrence – reconnecting humanity back with nature.

These days my original passion for wildlife conservation feels closer, my course more true…. My journey as a conservationist continues…

Part of the journey – no entry road, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, 2007