The end of the beginning
November 25, 2015

by Yanga Manyakanyaka

This is it, when one reaches adulthood they have to leave their family to make a start for themselves. They take with them their values and teachings to share with the world. The family name will forever be with them; it is a symbol they carry with them as a mirror to show their upbringing. This is me and the legacy I will be taking with me as I fly from the NVT nest. The moments in my life leading up to this point have shaped me into a fearless warrior that is ready for battle. Not the ancient kind of battles that have plenty of violence, here I speak of modern-day battle that is worn by just a simple hashtag on a social network site. I don’t even know why I brought that up; at this point, my emotions are running wild, so I’ll just get to my journey.

The end

I worked in the call centre industry for almost 5 years reminding people to pay their debt and educating them about the repercussions of not paying. As you can imagine this has sometimes been a challenging role: the negative feedback I received on a daily basis tested my character greatly. I ended up believing that people were inherently bad and started feeling quite hopeless about it. This feeling was exacerbated by my realisation as to how much we as people are destroying the planet. Since then I have wanted to be involved in training and educating people. I wanted to be part of the development of my country, South Africa, but I never knew how and what I would do. Suddenly things started to fall into place like fitting all the pieces of a puzzle. I decided being an environmental educator, was what I wanted to do with my life. I was doing this for the sake of my son, his peers and those who have not yet experienced this planet. I took the biggest risk and sacrificed 5 years of work experience to pursue my dream. It was unknown territory but I decided that if I was going to walk this journey with nature, I had to be amongst others with these same goals. People from whom I could learn and who could give me a proper starter kit with maps and everything cool that I would need on this journey. I was fortunate to be given an opportunity by Mark and Cindy to join the Nature’s Valley Trust.

I remember a scorching January in Cape Town when I went to submit my application for the Groen Sebenza programme. I at least was meeting the minimum criteria for 3 positions. My desire to be part of this programme made me walk all the way from Claremont to Kirstenbosch, along the way I got lost and ended up in Mowbray. I then turned around and started making my way back to Kirstenbosch. In total that day I walked maybe 20 km in 38 degrees of heat, and I didn’t even get that position. Instead, I was accepted by WWF-SA who placed me with the NVT team. The programme took 3 months after I accepted the post for me to come down to NVT. You can imagine I was starting to doubt that it was even real and I was starting to look at other opportunities. I even considered going back to my previous job to secure an income for the months to come; it had been 9 months since I left my previous job.

I finally got the go-ahead to come down, with no money at all to even afford a bus ticket. Mark whom I had not met at the time booked a bus for me, a stranger that I didn’t even know. Wow, what a great person he is. I remember the drive from the shell garage in Plett to the then-volunteer house at the Crags called the White House. I was in the car thinking to myself: “How far is this place and why are we going into the forest driving on a gravel road?” I saw the house and it was just amazing meeting all the interns that were already there. The following morning we had to drive to the office; Mark came to pick us up and we drove another long distance to this beautiful place called Nature’s Valley – I was amazed at how beautiful this place was and happy to call it home.

The beginning

I had convinced myself that I came to learn and I would go back home a professional in each and every skill I learnt here. We introduced ourselves and everyone spoke about these fancy qualifications they had obtained. I remember thinking things like: “what did I get myself into”, “I might as well just go back home” and “I have very little to offer”, but then I stopped myself and said to myself that I was chosen for a reason. The icebreaker challenge we played was fantastic I kept winning and eating the chocolate like crazy hahaha…  I won’t lie; it boosted my ego a bit. I can’t even remember the first lesson I did with the kids, what I said and how I said it, all I know was I was nervous and thinking to myself I hope my audience is receiving me well. At least I started out as an assistant and I was always with someone. Even though that can be scary because they know the lesson so well, it was great to plan the lessons and do the research. I always had my phone close by in case someone said something I did not recognise; I would then google it and read the meaning. I have plenty of exciting moments to share but it may take a while to write about each and every one of them, I will share as much as I can though. 

The small team we have in the office means sometimes one has to do other tasks also to make sure we all do great. I was involved in many research projects, and I was excited about fieldwork because it meant I was going to play outside. Bird-ringing is the best, although it’s an early morning start, being there is worth every moment. Even though I was not always able to join, I now know a few birds and I am proud of myself for that knowledge. We did mosquito fish research, where we sampled an invasive fish in the estuary once every month – even though it’s a bit of labour hauling the net back and forth it was great to do. I always enjoyed sampling and understanding the ecosystem of an estuary. I came here not even knowing what an estuary was and I now will leave knowing even the fish types that are here. It really has been a blessing coming here, not in a million thoughts I have daily, would I have imagined experiencing this much of great work and great fun? 

I was not expecting the day to leave to be this soon, but then again we have to go shine the light we have been given on to others. I never thought I would ever do snorkelling in my life, and I did that while I was here. I even did bungy-jumping today, wow what a great way to spend my last day! Please forgive me for not sharing everything with you, while you read this I am very emotional and reflecting on all the growth and experience I have gained while being here. To each and every person I have met along the way, you have contributed to shaping me into the person I am today, without you I would not have grown this much, Enkosi, Dankie, thank you.

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