March 14, 2013

TAKING HANDS – CONSERVATION EDUCATION ACROSS THE GLOBE


A model for the Middle East. With some help from Africa. Taking conservation education across borders, a handful of different role players are adhering to the notion that in nature all is connected in some way, shape or form.

For the last three years EcoTraining, a leader in field guide training for 20 years in Africa, the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature in Jordan and Tetra Tech, a consultancy firm, have been working together to transform the conservation and guiding sectors in Jordan.

An opportunity like this, for conservation bodies and training facilities across the globe to strike up partnerships, recently resulted in the graduation of four young Jordanians after they successfully completed a yearlong professional field guide course at EcoTraining’s wilderness camps across South Africa.

From an extensive internet and social media campaign that attracted hundreds of applicants, Abdullah Abu’Ramman, Osama Alsomadi, Osama Alrabay’ah and Nadia Alalul were in the end the fortunate ones. With the knowledge acquired during the last year, armed with and fully certified under EcoTraining and South Africa’s guide qualification system (FGASA), these four are now task to go back to Jordan where they will practice as guides and trainers in their own right. In the process they will not only be transforming the guiding experience in Jordan, but also serve as the foundation for the next generation of highly qualified Jordanian nature guides.

(From left) Tall Osama, Short Osama, Abdullah, Nadia
The next phases of the program will involve the setting up of a training academy. This academy, currently being built in Aljoun about 80km outside of the Jordanian capital, will serve the urgent and vital need for building capacity in the whole of the Middle East to protect and manage its environmental resources in the face of ever increasing development pressure. Here expertise and skills would be developed at vocational level and a resource base for the region would be established.

Upon their graduation, Chris Johnson, the program director for new projects for RSCN and mentor to the foursome, said they feel strongly that nature be one of the drivers of economic opportunities not only in Jordan, but the whole of the Middle East.

“We’ve come to realize that the need for a project of this magnitude is far greater than we initially anticipated. The need for capacity building in Jordan and the whole region has snow-balled and we have just started on the path to grow this into something big and truly meaningful and longstanding.”

Ahmed Hassan, a director from Tetra Tech, said he knew EcoTraining would be the best fit for the project.

“I’ve known EcoTraining from previous visits to South Africa and realized that what we wanted to achieve in the long run, could not start on a better footing than using their method of training as a model. But hard work still remains, it is indeed only step one of a long journey.”

(From left) Short Osama, Tall Osama, Nadia, Anton Lategan, Ahmed Hassan, Chris Johnson, Abdullah

During their yearlong course, the two Osamas, Abdullah and Nadia were exposed to the diverse ecological and geological terrains, landscapes, wildlife species and so much more in places like Makuleke, Karongwe and Selati where EcoTraining has its wilderness camps.  For the first six months, the company’s highly experienced instructors shared and imparted their wealth of knowledge on a variety of subjects – geology, astronomy, ecology, botany, taxonomy, animal behavior and conservation management, to name but a few. Then they got a taste of what life as a field guide really is like with their placement at a lodge.

Apart from being amazed at the amount of knowledge they accumulated in the time since taking those first tentative steps a year ago, Nadia said she is fully aware of the huge responsibility now resting on their shoulders, to transform and help shape the guiding industry in a different part of the world.

Nadia
“We have had the privilege of living in an environment that few people nowadays get to experience, living among wild animals in their natural environment, and being able to study and observe from only a short distance away.

All in all this has been an amazing adventure and I had the time of my life! Make no mistake, it has been grueling and the amount of information that I have absorbed has been enormous but I have learnt so much and everything has been interesting. I can recognize hundreds of bird calls, achieved a track-and-sign level 1, can tell the difference between a black and white rhino by looking at their dung, which way a leopard is moving and whether it’s a female or male by looking at its tracks in the dirt, and I know which tree can ease my pain and which one could kill me.

But most importantly, I have an appreciation and deep respect for all creatures like I have never had before. I wouldn’t have realized all this if it weren’t for those special people we have had the honor and great privilege to meet along the way. The dedication and knowledge of these highly experienced instructors in promoting conservation and helping to educate others on why our environment and everything in it is so important, has made a big impression.”

Tall Osama
‘Tall’ Osama said his dream to travel and explore the world came true when the RSCN awarded him one of the coveted spots in the yearlong professional field guide course with EcoTraining.

“I am not sure if it was normal for a little child of four years old to answer the classical question of what you do you want to be when you grow up with “Emperor” but this was my answer. I couldn’t even pronounce it right but since then, I learned to dream big. And now I am prepared to go back to Jordan and teach this art to others. In the end I would thank my beloved parents, brother and sisters, the RSCN, Chris Johnson and all the people that build up my story with pieces from here and then.”
Short Osama

Every single person that he met in the last year, has marked his life forever, is how ‘Short’ Osama reflected on his time with EcoTraining.

“And I have to also give thanks to every impala. From the very first one that we saw and didn’t even know what it was. We were just amazed by its beauty, taking pictures and posing with it. To the very last one that we took for granted and thought to ourselves it’s just another impala.”

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step, and Abdullah may have summed it up best when he said that their lives have now been changed forever, and for the better.

Abdullah

“It has been an amazing year spent with great people with an absolute love and passion for nature and all that happens out in the wild. I can honestly say that I never could have imagined an experience like this. I am now very much looking forward to the rest of the journey and sharing what I have learned.”
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