I’ve been lucky! I’ve had the opportunity to see some extraordinary parts of the world and experience the animals and cultures that originate from them. In 2007 I was lucky enough to travel to Africa for the first time and headed to Namibia. Being only 17 I wasn’t prepared for the impact that this would have on my life. A year before this I had travelled to the Yukon to follow in the footsteps of the gold prospectors, an experience that had changed my life unimaginably and yet, only a year later I was in a situation where my view of the world would be tested again – in more than one way.
Firstly, this would be my first experience of true poverty. The type that threatens life and challenges a community’s existence. The people of the village we stayed in were split into two distinct groups separated by a dried up river. One side lives in houses build using scavenged wood and scraps of material (if anything) while the other lives in relative prosperity in houses that, though simple, more resemble our own. Each side ignores the other and while half the village’s people cling onto existence the rest choose to ignore their plight knowing that they can do nothing to alter the balance. Despite their obvious difficulties, their situation by no means rivals that of the most poverty stricken communities of the world and this realisation would come to change my perception of the world. As an individual there was nothing I could do to better this situation but in those few short days I did everything I could to improve their lives. For the group I was with, that meant renovating their school to provide a better environment for them to learn, but, I know, since then more groups like our have visited and done what they could to improve the lives of the people that welcomed us so openly. One day I hope I will be able to go back and see the changes that I hope are ongoing in this community.
The next stage of the journey took us North where we would trek some of Namibia’s canyons. This time was incredible but not an experience I want to spend much time on. Every time I travel I keep a diary so, instead of butchering this experience with new words, I thought I would instead share some old ones. This is all I could write at the time and, to this day, it remains true:
“…. As I reached the top of the ridge the land beyond came into view. The magnificence of the scene that stretched out before me was beyond any words in my vocabulary and I can only hope that one day I find the words that escape me. Until then I can only hope that the memory stays as fresh as it is now…. I’m not sure I will ever get used to such beauty…”
Finally, we travelled north still and eventually came across Etosha National Park, the place I hold most responsible for my love of African wildlife. This was a time of many firsts and, though I wouldn’t see my first lion in the wild until filming Safari Vet School in South Africa 4 years later, it was here that I first experienced the joy of African wildlife. From the majestic giraffe to the cheeky warthogs, I was infatuated, and with my growing experience I fall only deeper in love. As most of you know, following my experience in South Africa in 2011, the rhino has a special place in my heart but I actually met my first rhino at a watering hole in Namibia 4 years earlier. It was Namibia where I first became aware of the importance of conservation and the efforts that need to be made to safeguard these vulnerable habitats against a changing world. And so, a couple of weeks in Namibia helped mould me into who I am today. My outlook changed as I was confronted with the poorest yet happiest people I have ever met, then introduced to species such as elephants and rhino, that are being decimated due to human greed. It taught me about the fragility of life and that we must actively strive to conserve it, whether human or otherwise. We are responsible and we must learn to act as such if we want to be proud of the world we create for future generations to inherit.