The weather in Port Elizabeth was rainy and chilly today — but the warm welcome by our colleagues at the Wilderness Foundation made the day bright!  Andrew Muir, Executive Director of the Foundation (a partner with us in the Wilderness Network — a close collaborative group of organizations world-wide all founded by Dr. Ian Player), met us for breakfast.  We caught up briefly and then a little field trip!

We drove to the coast, and stopped in Donkin, a neighborhood in the historic area of Port Elizabeth right on the coast.  The old lighthouse for the port is now a visitors center with an adjoining coffee shop.  Within the next few months, the Wilderness Foundation will begin operations in the coffee shop, employing graduates from the Umzi Wethu program and serving food from the Umzi Wethu catering team.

The goal is for this shop to be the pilot for a micro-enterprise social program.  It’s a very cool building and a very innovative program.

We then went to the Foundation’s office and had a series of very inspiring and engaging discussions about their current programs in conservation, leadership & education, social intervention, advocacy & awareness and the green leaf eco-standard.  We also talked at length about the current rhino poaching issue, their campaign work on the issue and possible long-term strategies.   Talks on the next World Wilderness Congress, communications and Nature Needs Half rounded out the afternoon.

Before dinner, we had the opportunity to talk with two of the first graduates of Umzi Wethu.  The program, which now has two academies and  is on its 9th in-take of students, has graduated over 100 students from the program with an 89% success rate of graduates who are still employed within the field they received training. Talking with the two graduates, it was so apparent that the many wilderness trails that are an integral part of the program were really important to their development as leaders and to their personal development.  I shared with them that I was a bit nervous about sleeping among the big African wildlife…and they laughed and reassured me that it would be amazing.

No matter how many times I hear about the Umzi program, I am continually amazed by how successful this model is.  Seeing the graduates in action reaffirmed this!  Many thanks to everyone at the Wilderness Foundation for making today a great day and for all of the hard work you do!

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