From cheetahs to change, what conservation means to me… by Jenna L Testa

Red dirt. Dry air. Vastness. Wild animals. Safari trucks. Paw prints. Tall grass. Starry nights. Laughter. Strange howls. Glowing eyes. Dusty wind. Pureness. Passionate people. Galloping cheetahs. Challenging thoughts. Life changing experiences.

NAMIBIA.

I have countless beautiful memories of my time on my last Earth Expeditions class, as part of my incredible Project Dragonfly graduate journey. Namibia gave me such a new, challenging, and inspiring perspective on conservation and on change. I am forever grateful.

Working with the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), I learned what it takes to establish a successful progressive conservation project to preserve the amazing cheetah. Dr. Marker, a true icon in cheetah conservation, created a unique cheetah haven, right in the middle of the African savanna. Not only a place where rescued and rehabilitated cheetahs can thrive, CCF is a place where Otjiwarongo locals, Namibians, international students, and tourists are inspired by a true community driven conservation initiative.

I was blessed to befriend Annike, who, like many others, had grown up learning about the importance of cheetahs here, and now runs the education program. CCF works with all parts of the surrounding community, from farmers to school kids. Understanding the role of the cheetah, the importance of predators in the wild, and how to coexist with them is something that is being introduced into local culture. Seeking the needs of the local community, CCF has created wonderful outreach programs from a preschool to a sustainable “bushblok” fire wood product that helps restore the natural landscape, providing education, jobs, and resources to Namibians.

Conserving the cheetah, or any species, land, or habitat, for that matter, is no simple task. Conservation isn’t created by a quick fix or even a strict protocol. From my unique Project Dragonfly experiences, I can tell you there is no one solution to our world’s declining biodiversity and environmental issues. But what I can tell you, is that there is hope, just like the hope I found in one of the driest places on earth, after viewing cheetahs run past me up to 70 miles per hour.

Hope stems from projects like CCF, that seek long term relationships with communities, advocating for locals to be a part of a sustainable projects that provide for their people. It’s no coincidence that ideals such as inquiry, community, and voice lie at the very center of the mission of my grad school Project Dragonfly itself.

In my last months of my Dragonfly journey, I find myself thinking more and more how Namibia helped me shape my understanding of how to bring sustainable change to the world, to conserve Mother Nature while alleviating injustice. In our last night in Namibia, we stayed in a beautiful village run by women of gritty pasts filled with abuse, hurt, and abandonment. These women now make prestigious textiles, providing a sense of purpose, income, and hope to all they reach. When I walked through the doors, I will never forget the words painted above the door: “Penduka Means Wake Up.”

Wake up. Wake up, Jenna! The words spoke to me. Realize the opportunities all around you. To turn tragedy into opportunity. To turn poverty into potential. To take one environmental issue and foster goodness, kindness, and hope. Ultimately, as a “conservationist” that is what I want to bring to the world. And thanks to my adventure to Namibia and experiences in Project Dragonfly, I truly believe that I am agent of social and environmental change.

This story was originally published on https://jennabelleadventures.blogspot.com.

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