‘I just decided I needed to hit the pause button and re-evaluate the road I was on,’ she explains. But it hasn’t been easy. The step down from a high-powered marketing job, where she was responsible for her own decisions, juggling clients and planning campaigns, to being an assistant in the People & Conservation office – charged with taking the conservation message to the underprivileged communities surrounding the park – hasn’t been all that easy, especially when her creative new ideas haven’t always met with enthusiasm.
One look at her very basic accommodation in the pre-fab ‘blikkiesdorp’ behind the tool shed, hot in summer and freezing in winter, is enough to put any future interns off – if they only knew. She has no car, so she’s pretty much stuck 250km from Upington, even when she’s off duty. Shopping for foodstuffs has become a luxury she almost hallucinates about, the Twee Rivieren tourist shop being rather limited in its selection. Fruit and vegetables are rare, represented largely by potatoes and onions, and luxuries are just a distant dream.
But Rebecca is thrilling to some breath-taking new experiences. She’s been out with predator boffin Gus Mills, at Twee Rivieren for a five-year study of cheetahs, to test a prototype of a gadget to record the cheetah’s energy expenditure and acceleration. She’s even seen two week-old cheetah cubs in their den, little fluff-balls with eyes still closed, mewing plaintively for mum to return to feed them. And whenever she can, she’s become a sort of unofficial assistant to filmmaker Johan Vermeulen of Skekek Productions, at Twee Rivieren to film a wildlife documentary.
She’s also been promised a place on the next Imbewu outing, run by the Wilderness Foundation. This initiative, founded in 1996 at Kruger, is now operating in a number of our national parks, with Kgalagadi the latest to join last year. Youngsters from the surrounding areas are taken into the community-owned ‘heritage’ section of the park for a few days, to learn about conservation and have some fun at the same time. The idea is to give the kids pride in their heritage and make them feel the connection. Leaders from the local San community are an integral part of the project and campfire sessions help to keep the old stories and culture alive. One such outreach has already taken place this year and another five are planned.
Excited at the prospect of meeting the other Global Vision International volunteers for a week in Marakele and Mapungubwe national parks soon, Rebecca’s not sure where life will take her when her year at Kgalagadi comes to an end. ‘I’m the sort of person who is always pushing myself, always looking for challenges. I’d like to travel but I also want my life and work to mean something,’ she says. No doubt a tame return to Bath is unlikely to be on the cards.
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