It’s been 10 days since I had to say goodbye to 34 new best friends – the courageous, gorgeous and dedicated youth delegates of IFAW’s Youth Forum for People and Wildlife. Despite having a big hole in my heart I am more inspired than ever – the combination of ideas and passion coming from these people (and many others all over the world) will ensure a sustainable and prosperous future for Mother Earth.
On #WorldWildlifeDay last year IFAW announced the final selection for their Youth Forum for People and Wildlife which has just taken place in Johannesburg, South Africa. The 34 delegates, aged 18 – 25, represented a whopping 24 countries from all around the globe. The aim was to engage the young people in skill building workshops, and to explore conservation and wildlife welfare issues, including the impact of wildlife trade. The delegates were chosen from a pool of over 1000 applicants based on criteria which demonstrated passion, commitment, diversity and energy.
I am still reeling from the experience and am so honoured and humbled to have been chosen – the experience was truly life changing! Read on to find out more about the incredible youth delegates, wonderful staff, what went on during the adventure and what I have taken away from the forum.
The forum officially started on 21 September but we all arrived a few days before (17 September) to get to know one another, to explore Ivory Lodge in Pilanesberg and to learn about leadership and respectful communication between cultures.We also had some time to wonder around Braamfontein and scout out the vibrant Neighbourgoods Market.
Day one was super intimidating for me as I was one of the youngest delegates and I desperately wanted to prove myself to the group. However, there was nothing for me to worry about because after a few minutes of conversation with any of the delegates or staff I was completely at ease – I have finally found my tribe! People who share my passions and dreams but with totally different personalities and inspiring success stories, not to mention the myriad of different accents!
Visiting Kliptown in Soweto was one of my favourite experiences because I felt more connected to my country than ever before.The comparison to the foreign delegates made me realise that I really am a South African and feel at home with the culture, people and place. It was also incredible to see how quickly the delegates jumped on board to help plan projects to assist, in particular, Kliptown Youth Program.
[Read Township pity vs. empowerment to hear more about our trip into Soweto and to learn about how to be an informed civil servant]
We were then treated to a 2 night stay at the incredibly luxurious Ivory Tree Lodge in Pilanesberg. Here we had various workshops on team building, leadership and breaking stereotypes as well as the privilege of learning about how anti-rhino poaching units actually work. We were also treated to an anti-poaching training drill and simulation with the K9 unit (sniffer dogs).
I think the most important lesson that I learnt here is that there is a very big distinction between subsistence poaching for smaller game (i.e. impala and kudu) and poaching for the international billion dollar trade in big-ticket-item endangered species i.e. rhinos and elephants. This is something I would like to look into as many poor communities who boarder game parks desperately need food and the younger men (often teenagers) are forced to enter these parks and poach what will end up being a families nourishment and livelihood.
The official forum consisted of three intense days of debates, informative workshops and talks from incredibly inspiring people; Pat Awori, Kelvin Alie, Bryan Christy, Jolynn Minnaar…just to name a few. (Btw if you don’t know who these people are but can name more than two Kardashians then you should be ashamed…very ashamed!).
The forum concluded with an evening dedicated to the delegates work and highlighted the incredible success of the entire youth forum. I will admit that I was rather overwhelmed with the amount of networking I did and would never had thought it was so difficult to approach my conservation heroes. See the pictures below of some of the super cool people that I met.
The day before I flew back home the youth delegates went to the opening event for CITES Cop 17 – another great networking opportunity as well as learning more about the complexities of international trade. If you want to learn more about CITES or my experience at the event read these: CITES Deconstructed and My CITES Experience.
It was also great to meet up with a few of the delegates who decided to travel around South Africa after the closing of the forum. We met at a really cool restaurant in Cape Town called Masala Dosa and chatted for ages!
For those of you who are interested, the Youth Forum includes an online community that anyone can join by registering at the Youth Forum site. If you do this you can watch many of the workshops that we did, you can engage with the delegates, network, and learn more about a range of issues.
I have just realised how long this blog post has become and think I may have to do another one (adventure of a lifetime part 2) highlighting the delegates & their unbelievable work, what I learnt and include lots and lots of thank yous…but for now, enjoy the following videos. The first one was made before the forum and the second video was made after the forum.