Photo by Teresa Rafidi

Photo by Teresa Rafidi

Monday, January 16, 2012

Going the Way of the Dinosaur – Vanishing Animals

Our fridge filled with cards and letters from loved-ones
With January being the start of the new school term and the start of our final 9 months of service, we would like to take time to thank all of you who have supported our work over the last year. Some people have supported our projects financially through donations while others have supported us emotionally, mentally, and spiritually through emails, cards, letters, Face Book messages, reading and commenting on our blog, and even sending care packages. The simple act of just asking how we are doing means a lot to us and lets us know that people back home care. Therefore, we want to take this time to send our sincere thanks to all of you – you know who you are. It is because of support from family, friends, and organizations like you that we are able to continue our work here strengthening the education of local school children and keeps us going from day to day – even when some days are rough. We thank you all for your continued support and generosity. Hence, to you we would like to say 'ha khensa' the Shangaan phrase meaning “we thank you.”

~Robin and Woody

Hollywood Comes to the Bush (Article by Robin)

Woody and I get to meet Slater and his girlfriend
I never thought when I joined Peace Corps, that I would meet a celebrity. Who thought that by living in a remote rural village in South Africa, that you would get a chance to meet Christian Slater and Sir Richard Branson??. . . Well, that is exactly what happened to us!

Slater and Branson with
our village Indhuna and créche staff

In honor of Richard Branson's 61st birthday, Christian Slater flew down to South Africa to attend the opening of a new créche in our village that Slater so generously donated the money to build. A créche is the French word for what we call in the US a daycare center or preschool for kids. In preparation for their visit, many of the community members and the créche staff prepared entertainment. At the opening event, there was lots of traditional dancing performed by local kids as well as songs and nursery rhymes performed by the adorable children who attend the créche. We got to see amazing one-of-a-kind performances such as “I'm a little teapot,” “ten green bottles,” and “A sailor went to sea,” etc.

After the fabulous performances by the kids, Slater and Branson cut the red ribbon on the door and then proceeded inside to put their handprints on the wall making a tree of hands on the inside of the créche. Things got a little messy after that...

To see more photos and read more about the Akani créche opening, check out Richard's Blog on Virgin's website (where if you squint real hard at the last picture, you will see Woody and me) and Ulusaba's Bush Telegraph Blog.

Building a Swing Set (Article by Woody)

In late October, the primary school in our side of the village started a small construction project to build a set of tire swings in the playground area used by the lower grades. By mid November, the main structure had been built, but the school ran short on budget to get the needed tires, a few remaining chains, and tools to cut the tires to saddle-seat shape. With a little financial help from a media group visiting Ulusaba and working on building projects in and around the village, the school was not only able to purchase the remaining needed materials, but was even able to expand the swing set to double the number of swings from 8 to 16 total. In December, once school ended for the term, we spent 3 days working on the expansion to the swing set and hanging the remaining chains. In January 2012 we will receive the donated tires and should be able to complete the swings shortly after school starts.

Poverty and Poaching (Article by Robin)

Beasts kill for hunger, men for pay. ~John Gay

All of us have heard about animal conservation efforts – whether here in South Africa, back home in the US, or anywhere in the world. We've heard of well known organizations doing conservation work like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the The Nature Conservancy. We know that animal conservation is necessary. But it wasn't until I moved here to South Africa and have had a chance to see first hand the diverse species of animals that this continent has to offer that I realized how threatened the lives of these animals really are. It wasn't until I visited national parks, game reserves, and conservation centers here that I have come face-to-face with the imminent need for animal conservation. Woody and I live in a rural village just 5 KM from Kruger National Park and the threat of rhino poaching has continued to move into our area. Unfortunately, the illegal rhino horn trade is big business here in South Africa. Just last week, 8 rhino carcases were found in Kruger. Yes, I said 8 rhinos!! Eight rhinos?!... That is just insane! These majestic creatures are quickly going the way of the dinosaur. The thought of those beautiful animals not being here for my future children to see one day baffles my mind. 

Unfortunately there are many reasons why animal poaching still prevails – among them are government corruption, poverty, hunger, loss of cattle by carnivores and loss of crops by herbivores, and an international market for exotic products all have the incentive of ‘money’ embedded in them. One of the root causes for poaching game animals like the rhino comes down to the fundamental differences between the rich and the poor. The underlying factor for local people to get involved in poaching is, dare I say it – poverty.

Most of Africa’s national parks, reserves, and wildlife areas like Kruger National Park are bordered by rural communities - like our village - where the poorest of the poor are targeted by crime syndicates to commit horrendous offenses such as animal poaching. Subsistence poachers are usually from poor communities and are driven by poverty and hunger to poach animals. The opportunity to earn just a little bit of money by killing rhinos is difficult to resist when unemployment rates are soaring and there are few alternatives to feed your family. These small time subsistence poachers take high risks for comparatively little reward and will usually pass the horns on to kingpin syndicates after the job is done.

On a trek through the village with &Beyond
On the first day of the New Year, Woody and I participated in a Rhino Conservation Awareness Walk starting from our village through about 5 other communities. When we started out that morning around 7 AM on our 17 km journey, we had no idea what to expect. We joined up with rangers and staff from &Beyond and Africa Foundation’s FOOTPRINTS OF HOPE awareness campaign which aims to educate surrounding communities about the importance of rhino conservation. The goal was to walk through various rural communities – those especially surrounding the local game lodges and talk to people about their role in rhino conservation and ask community members to join in the fight to save rhinos from extinction. Our walk was guided by Mark Shaw, Regional Ranger Trainer for &Beyond South Africa. We were also joined by professional soccer player, Gordon Gilbert (Kaizer Chiefs, Moroka Swallows and Mpumalanga Black Aces, as well as the Scottish Premier League). 
Gordon Gilbert giving a rhino talk to the community

For more info and pictures about our rhino awareness walk check out the &Beyond Footprints of Hope Travel Blog.

Orphaned Juvenile Cheetah
After our rhino walk, Woody and I took a short holiday and went and visited the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre. The HESC focuses on conservation of rare, vulnerable or endangered animals. Cheetah conservation is one of their core disciplines. We got a chance to see cheetahs, wild dogs, southern ground hornbills, and many other endangered species up close and personal. We even got to see the beautiful and rare King Cheetah. Click here to see more pictures from our trip to HESC on our Picasa web album.

I hope that by reading this blog, it will inspire you to check out for more info on saving rhinos and to see how you can help raise awareness of this cause.

For more info on rhino poaching click here and check out WWF's Rhino Poaching in South Africa.

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