From 22–24 August 2023, Global Conservation Corps (GCC) led an all-female leadership camp for 16 learners from our Future Rangers Program. This was held at Koru Camp, located inside the Greater Kruger National Park. Hailing from Dayimani High School in the village of Gottenberg, all learners had expressed a keen interest in pursuing careers in conservation on finishing school; and as top-performing students in their region, they have also shown outstanding skills in their various subjects. For many, leaving their families, homes, and communities for the first time to attend the camp was a massive step. And for all the learners, this was their first experience sleeping in tents, inside a ‘Big 5’ area, surrounded by the sights and sounds of African wildlife.
Day 1: Identifying and Addressing Fears
To kick off the adventure, the students were picked up by Joel Sithole at the main gate in Koru’s large game viewer. Learners’ belongings were loaded onto the vehicle and off we all went! It took about two hours to wind through the bush before arriving at camp, in time for lunch. After a warm welcome by Dineo Chiloane and Tinyiko Ngobeni – that included a brilliant induction and tour of the camp – everyone was treated to a healthy lunch.
The afternoon’s activities revolved around learners disclosing some of their fears with our facilitators Lefa Malapane, Promise Mkhatshwa, and Mbhoni Mzamani. Students wrote down these fears, discussed them in groups, and then agreed how we could best support one another. Many fears were about the unknown: lions, snakes, spiders, the dark, and being alone in the bush. Our facilitators led discussions on addressing these fears, and we then ventured on our first game drive.
Joel expertly navigated a route taking us to the northern border of the property where the mighty Olifants River runs through the landscape. This was the first time learners had seen such a big river, and to top off a magical sunset, we found a breeding herd of elephants browsing along the tree line.
After supper, learners gathered around the fire and revisited the fears they held, then let them “burn” in the fire pit as a symbol of overcoming things that weighed heavily on their minds. By 9pm, we’d all settled into our respective tents, with the sounds of lions calling in the distance and a nearby leopard rasping in the riverbed rocking us to sleep.
Day 2: Rebuilding
With learners’ fears exposed, we dedicated this full day at Koru to rebuilding confidence and self-esteem. The morning began with a game drive. We found fresh lion tracks, and spent the morning trying to locate them (sadly without success). Upon returning to camp, Joel took students on a tree tour of the camp, discussing medicinal properties of trees and showing us how to cross-reference tree identification books.
After breakfast, we ran a yoga and guided meditation session under the shade of a massive jackalberry tree. During the meditation session, learners focused on their breathing and were asked to visualise a loved one giving them wisdom, guidance, and words of encouragement about their future and where they saw themselves going. We harnessed those powerful messages, and after lunch ran a session with the learners on how to identify their skills and talents and then map out their career aspirations on a blank sheet of paper. We then broke down those lofty dreams into tangible and achievable steps.
Around the fire that night, the girls had deep discussions on the importance of role models, dealing with the real pressures of life, and the value of having a strong support group to help one through difficulties.
Day 3: Emergence
As we packed up in the morning, many learners expressed their desire to stay at the camp. No one wanted to leave. Hugs were held extra-long as the learners said farewell to the Koru Camp staff. Valuable memories had been created and important bonds formed while immersed in the beauty of nature. Healing could take place, conversations encouraged, and dreams for the future fortified – all thanks to the conducive learning environment made possible by Koru Camp and its dedicated, nurturing team.
Learners returned home with massive smiles on their faces, stories about wildlife to share with their families, and most importantly, a sense of pride that they had returned victorious from an adventure to a new part of the country; their perception of the world changed, along with how they viewed themselves as an integral part of protecting and promoting nature. We cannot wait to return again in a few short weeks!
By Bea Asuncion