The role of Voluntourism in making a difference!
Wearing (2001) who defines it as “tourists who, for various reasons, volunteer in an organised way to undertake holidays that might involve aiding or alleviating the material poverty of some groups in society, the restoration of certain environments, or research into aspects of society or environments.”
Conservation Guardians (CG) is not a volunteer organisation, but rather an organisation committed to biodiversity conservation, the welfare of wild animals in captivity and establishing sustainability models within systems that are in a downward spiral.
Working in these various fields, one often asks, “Where to from here?”
These words, often uttered in sheer exasperation, refer to what path or trajectory Africa is on? Nonetheless we soldier forward, always taking the path least desirable and left by many, but that path which will achieve the biggest results.
And so Quo Vadis Africa (QVA) was born: Where to – Africa?
That arm of Conservation Guardians that will enable change to be made in the areas most needed.
Why is QVA so unique?
QVA was designed to provide a resource to the work CG does, to enable CG to achieve its objectives. CG has unique collaboration agreements with Universities and various governmental organisations, however the red tape and various caveats to funding that exist hamper progress.
A sound volunteer program working in sync with CG achieves so much, and it achieves this in areas where it is desperately needed. To date CG has been working in collaboration with a University based in Europe. Volunteers from this university working on CG projects have benefitted in many ways including returning to Europe with a rich CV that has enabled them to get significant positions within conservation organisations in Europe.
CG’s work at the coal face of sustainability exposes volunteers to ‘real life’ dynamics that enriches the lives of those volunteers in a unique way. Volunteers do not just muck out stables and clean fences and do stuff that in the real scheme of things are just designed to entertain the volunteer. No, through QVA volunteers will work on projects, participating in a meaningful way, conceptualising, designing and innovating.
Volunteer contribution will have a legacy, and this legacy will be tangible.
Our key pillar of uniqueness is our honesty and integrity. We do not present a case to you (the volunteer) promising you the notion that you will save animals and children!
What does Conservation Guardians do and how does Quo Vadis Africa sync with Conservation Guardians?
Conservation Guardians works from a premise that assumes the following point of departure:
“We all belong to one system and that system has three key pillars: A social pillar, an ecological pillar and a economic pillar. A collapse in any one of these pillars could create a collapse in the entire system”
So the word ‘sustainability’ is key to our approach in biodiversity conservation. CG;s slogan is, “We practice what we teach” and as a QVA volunteer, this will place you at the coal face of making a difference, a difference that is tangible and one that creates a foundation for further development to take place.
Committed to achieving Aichi Targets*, CG ventures into systems with a high diversity index, however those systems are threatened.
Identifying the threats to the system in question enables QVA to target the projects most needed to make the change and to get the ball rolling.
Sustainability (Sustainable natural resources conservation is a process of rational use and skilful management and preservation of the natural environment with all its resources. … Lack of environmental education awareness, human greed and careless attitude are threatening the natural resources to their extinction.)
Each system we deal with has different challenges and creating solutions to those challenges requires critical thinking.
QVA volunteers become hands-on in the critical thinking process towards designing sustainable concepts, building the models and establishing the solutions and then most important of all – teaching local people how to implement these systems.
Join us on a QVA Journey!
Our next post will begin the process of taking you on our journey, discussing what we have done, what we intend to do and how we are going to do it with your help!
HOW ELEPHANTS INSPIRED QUO VADIS AFRICA
The Blogs that follows will be very personal whilst this flies against my concept that not much can be achieved operating alone. The aim of writing these blogs is to highlight what and how my thoughts were shaped to inspire the Quo Vadis Africa concept.
Conservation Guardians (CG) is the father of Quo Vadis Africa, a partnership that will certainly shape the work we do going forward. CG has achieved a lot thus far working in the field of captive elephant welfare, and it has only achieved this by working with researchers, volunteering their services towards gathering the data that has enabled the collaboration between Padova University, elephant facilities and CG, to put together the scientific assessment model for elephant care.
Through the eyes of elephants, I saw nature and eco-systems for the first time. Spending 1000’s of hours beside them, year in and year out, they taught me what it meant to be engineers of habitat. They taught me about human concepts and they taught me how people (society) think about them.
Whilst animal rights groups on the one side of the human elephant spectrum used elephants to attract donations, others hunted these creatures for financial gain. My experiences with these creatures revealed the fickle nature of humankind, and how man placed them in a sandwich, squeezing them from the extreme left and right, claiming their views were superior to the others and promising society at large that they knew best.
24 years ago, society in general lauded the efforts of an organisation to save two elephants that were orphaned unnaturally (probably). Nonetheless, they were orphaned and in need of care and good welfare. They were taken in by an organisation and over the years, other orphaned elephants were bonded with the first two to form a herd. This little herd had a matriarch who had a knack of taking in and adopting and acting for the orphan newcomers. Again, the facility doing this was lauded and many claimed the facility director to be heroic and an angel.
10 years later, societies’ mindset had changed and this facility was no longer cool and no longer the carer and saviour of elephants, but rather described as a ‘terror’ facility that stole elephants from the wild. How could this be? How could they go from hero to zero in a few years? This phenomenon is very easy to explain, and the answer lies at the foundation of mankind’s fickleness.
It was this herd of elephants that shaped my understanding of the plight of elephants in southern Africa.
MANIPULATED: DREAMS VS REALITY
Standing with the herd and talking to visitors from all around the globe – sunrise to sunset – day in and day out for weeks, months and years about elephants, wildlife and conservation, one gets a sound good understanding of society’s grasp of biodiversity conservation. Sadly, the dominant theme is, “Save the animals.”
Visitors from Europe, the UK and to some extent the US, do not have a firm grasp on what biodiversity conservation is. Their understanding of land ownership, biodiversity and threatened species and the distribution of these threatened species across land masses, is poor. This is understandable because it is a highly complex discussion that most South Africans do not even understand.
This discussion however is VERY relevant to the volunteer who is committing a gap year or a professional who decides to make a commitment to the greater good for six months or a year. Any person making a commitment to travel across continents, should have a clear understanding of what they are coming to do, why they are doing it and what the need is; bear with me whilst I attempt to unpack the boring details that will ultimately assist you the volunteer, to make a decision that aligns with projects with integrity. It is here that you should be asking who the referee is that determines this level of integrity. The honest answer is: There is no official referee and there is no official ‘integrity’ score. This is sad but true…
So, back to saving animals! I can assure you that projects related to saving animals very seldomly require the hands-on experience that a volunteer can offer, unless that volunteer has experience in the field of wildlife management or rescue. And then I will boldly blurt out that the incidence or frequency of wild animals needing this type of assistance is not as high as volunteers realise. I believe that it is here where volunteers have been exploited and the real benefit a volunteer could offer is diluted because of the void that exists between what volunteers want and where projects need the volunteer resource.
Complicated but very simple – let me attempt to break this down into really simply terminology.
- Volunteers dream of working with, and saving elephants.
- The Reality: Working with elephants is highly dangerous and those people or facilities using volunteers to muck out stables, or doing other mundane jobs, are simply taking away the opportunity of work from local people, probably desperate for work.
- Volunteers dream of saving lion cubs so that they can be released back into the wild.
- Fact 1: Any lion club being hand raised will never be able to be released back into the wild.
- Fact 2: A deeper look into lion voluntourism will simply reveal a scam where volunteers are used to look after lion cubs that have been bred for volunteers to look after them, or that have been bred for other reasons.
There are few ‘real’ rehabilitation centres that function strictly to the rules and regulations prescribed for rehab centres. This dilemma or void that exists between what a volunteer wants and dreams of is mirrored by the void or gap that exists in the understanding of visitors coming to Africa to see the Big 5.
MANAGING FOR BIODIVERSITY VERSES MANAGING FOR TOURISM
Our conservation world needs you (the volunteer) but more importantly, our conservation world needs society to understand what biodiversity conservation is!
Brace yourself for a really controversial comment, and I apologise in advance for my direct approach!
A desktop scan of controversial issues in conservation will probably reveal:
- Trophy hunting or hunting
- Elephant abuse
- Canned lion hunting
Here comes the clammer. Never will you read about how animal rights groups compromise conservation efforts. It is almost inconceivable that one can imagine that an animal rightest can compromise conservation efforts?
The alignment between the global collective consciousness of volunteers coming over to save wildlife parallels the thinking of animal rights groups fighting for the right of an animal, when in fact that fight is actually causing more harm in the greater scheme of things.
Real biodiversity conservation has very little to do with animals and more to do with:
- Conservation education
- Social systems, and
- The economic pillar of the greater system.
Only once people neighbouring biodiversity rich areas understand the value of this biodiversity being conserved, will the animals have a habitat or ecosystems within which they can reside safely.
That is the ultimate goal and the global biodiversity targets aim towards us conserving biodiversity!
And now I ask the famous question: “How often do you hear a person say? ‘I am going over to Africa to save biodiversity.”
Or a visitor says: “I’m going over to Africa to experience the amazing biodiversity.”
If you have read this far, you are probably a candidate for one of our programs. I say this because since 2010, I have travelled to Europe to teach conservation ethics and welfare ethics at certain universities. Each year I am ‘blown over’ by people coming up to me after an intensive 9 day course, asking where and how they can come to Africa to work with lions, or elephants or other wildlife – THAT THEY WANT TO SAVE – I type pulling my hair out.
I scream out to the world, “Why are we as a global community not committed to saving the environment within which animals live?”
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