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Yesterday we arrived at Homtini Eco-lodge in Knysna! The owner Jeremy gave us a talk about food security/sovereignty as he specializes in community development and intercultural communication. His talk was super interesting as it incorporated women’s empowerment (or lack thereof) within the grand topic of socio-economic fabric in these communities. Then we hiked through the woods to go to our honey lecture about sustainable honey farming. We got to try four samples: one raw, two commercial, and one “unknown” (which turned out to be golden syrup). His raw honey was less sweet but had the most heath benefits and least preservatives. He also said that human kind could learn a lot from bees because they are teamwork oriented and get a lot done by working together. However, this is based on a purely physical standpoint and doesn’t include the ethical complexities of humans (religion, class, gender, etc.) that hinder cohesive teamwork. We followed the lecture with one of the best restaurants in South Africa owed by Brett Garvie called Vege-Table, a vegetarian restaurant that centers on local food production and consumption that took eight months to book the reservation! Locavorism can be good because it theoretically lowers carbon footprints and supports local businesses, however it also discourages the free trade movement, discourages the interaction between cultures on the food platform, and forces the water imports for local foods in a drought. Locavorism is a growing movement with a lot of potential, but its disadvantages should not be overlooked, as some can be unsustainable.
Today we went to TSiBA College, which is an experience I will never forget. We talked about sustainability and what it specifically means to us on both an individual and global level. We came up with concepts like economy, goals, education, responsibility, culture, consciousness, etc. The economic consideration emphasizes a main incentive for sustainability: the long-run economy. These goals can be met through a mix of education and responsibility; education acknowledges what needs to be done and responsibility acknowledges the action of following through. Sustainability and related concepts need to translate through cultures on a global level because sustainability must be a group effort for fully effective outcomes. The TSiBA students taught us about their sustainable initiatives with regards to their school gardens and communal activities; these align with TSiBA’s four principles of integrity, tenacity, communication, and initiative. They are so proud and passionate about what they do, which inspired me to get involved in my own community.
After TSiBA, we went on a beach walk to a tree-house resembling vacation home owned by an environmental law attorney. I asked her about economic incentives of conservation and she talked about combatting unemployment in a sustainable way. Usually developers use unemployment as a justification for development, but she counters this point by saying that the employment rate can improve if locals can get hired to remove alien species. She does this work for free because she knows the poor economic situations of the people who need it most.
We went to a French restaurant for dinner to meet Gareth Patterson, an author and lion enthusiast who lived in the bush with lions and elephants for many years. He spoke about his near death experiences, his time after his lioness gave birth, and many other moments that shaped his life throughout the years. Everyone on the porch could feel the passion coming out of his pores when he talked about his lifestyle, which helped many of us shift our preconceived notions about lions from an intimidating animal to a compassionate animal. Tomorrow we have a full day of driving and Cape Agulhas before leaving South Africa.
My week spent on Gondwana Game Reserve with Conservation Global was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I was fortunate enough to travel to South Africa with Franklin University Switzerland on academic travel in the spring of 2015. Bonding with the staff and learning about the animals in their natural environment made for one incredible week. Each day was filled with activities and lectures that were as entertaining as they were educational. As a group we had a lecture in the morning either from a member of the knowledge staff or from a local expert. We learned about native bee populations and were treated to honey samples from the region and were given a demonstration on the practice of tagging and tracking animals on the reserve. Perhaps the most memorable was when we were taught how to properly handle a tranquilizer gun and had a competition to see who could get a bullseye! After the morning lecture, the group would split up for the safari in which the staff took great care to make sure we saw as many animals as possible. Later in the afternoon we would regroup for a drink and to admire the scenery. I have the utmost respect for Conservation Global and the work they are doing—hoping to return to South Africa soon!
Conservation Global provided a comprehensive and engaging travel experience for a group of seasoned travelers. My expectations were exceeded due to the organization’s ability to strike a balance between learning and fun, academics were firmly grounded as the motivation for all activities. We had access to sustainability focused thought leaders who were great privileges to learn from; many of whom were only accessible through this fantastic organization and their vast network of environmentalists. From a beautiful sunrise hike of Lion’s Head in Cape Town to spending time with the students at Tsiba college in Knysna, I would happily relive this trip in a heartbeat. I am grateful for Conservation Global and the time and energy they put in to ensure a memorable, inspiring and educational South African adventure for all involved.