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01869 338890

Teaching Environmental Studies in South Africa

Lauren Queen with one of her cleaases in South Africa

When Lauren Queen completed an environmental law module during her degree course, she knew that this was the path she wished to follow.  She realised also that she needed practical experience and so took a voluntary work placement with Lattitude Global Volunteering and was also grateful for Lattiude's graduate bursary scheme.

Even as I begin writing this, I know I am going to have a tough time reliving the wonderful experiences that I have had over the past six months. Although I am glad to be home with my family, it feels as though I have left behind a little piece of me with my second family in South Africa. When I first decided that I wanted to take part in a voluntary overseas placement, I did so in the complete knowledge that it would be one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I expected to feel homesick, lost, out of place and out of my comfort zone. I did - but I got so much back in return.

My last four years have been spent at university working towards my law degree. After undertaking a module in environmental law and writing my dissertation on the various environmental challenges facing the modern world, I realised that my professional calling was to become involved in environmental law. However, aware of the fact that true environmental awareness can never be attained by sitting behind a desk, I decided to spend a little time getting knee-deep in the very things that I would soon be spending my working life trying to protect.

When I first arrived in the Drakensberg I couldn't believe how completely remote it was. All around me were towering mountains, dark, brooding cliff faces, expanses of indigenous forest and miles upon miles of wetland. The nearest shop was almost an hour away. The first night I spent at Entabeni was both the most exhilarating and the loneliest night of my life. I was away from everything I knew and loved but could hear, see and smell things that I had never before experienced. Everything was new - terrifying and exciting!

After that first overwhelming night I quickly got into the way of life at Entabeni. As part of a small One of Lauren's classes on a field trip in South Africateam, I was responsible for designing, coordinating and conducting environmental education programmes to groups of school children on short-term residential courses. This involved a variety of different activities including forest and wetland projects, interpretive hikes, captive crane studies and also more adventurous pursuits, such as abseiling, wall climbing and camping expeditions.

Despite using a variety of teaching methods, all of the work that we did at the Centre was geared towards developing an awareness and passion for environmental and conservation efforts. Although the work was physically and mentally exhausting, experiencing a "light bulb moment" with even just one of the kids within your group made it all seem worthwhile (i.e. that moment where you actually see a child become imbued with the same passion for the environment that you feel).

Courses aside, the best thing about living and working within South Africa was the people you met on a daily basis. During my time there I experienced so many different forms of kindness from so many different people. When I mentioned that my feet were suffering from wearing hiking boots constantly, Sandi (my South African mummy), came back from the next town trip with foot cream. When I lost a bracelet, one of the maintenance staff, Thulani, searched high and low until he eventually found it lying in the dirt road. Knowing my weakness for all things sweet, one of our kitchen ladies, Nomusa, would keep me the mixing bowl from the chocolate cake. I will never forget how wholeheartedly and completely I was welcomed into the "family" at Entabeni.

Since returning from my placement I can honestly say that I have seen a massive change in myself. If it has taught me anything, it would be that when things go wrong you simply "make a plan." When problems arose on placement, there was no time to cry, envisage the worst case scenario or phone my dad! I simply had to accept the problem, formulate a solution and get on with it. South Africans pride themselves on their ability to "make plans" and this is definitely something that I'm bringing back with me to the UK!

I am due to begin my postgraduate diploma in September and will then begin a job in Edinburgh involving environmental litigation. Spending six months in South Africa, getting knee-deep in wetland, lost in indigenous forest and watching endangered wild Wattled Cranes flying above me, has taught me more than I could learn if I spent a lifetime in a classroom. Not only that, but I have also learned that basic, simple acts of kindness can connect people, regardless of culture, race, background or life experience. When I said that I feel as though I left a little bit of myself behind in South Africa, I genuinely mean it. Perhaps I'll need to return in the not-too-distant future to put myself back together again!

Hamba kahle South Africa, it's been amazing!

I would like to thank the Lattitude Global Volunteering Bursary Scheme for providing me with the means to have such a fantastic experience. I would never have been able to afford to go otherwise and I am hugely grateful for their assistance

 

 

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