‘Don’t give up’ is the message that Kathleen Retourne wanted to share when she took a chance on entering Travel Blogger of the Year. Having won Second Runner Up in the Judges’ Choice competition for her story ‘Where the sky meets the earth’, it’s clear that her message of hope hit home.
On the surface, Kathleen’s story describes the resilience of nature to rebound after a storm, but underneath lies an even more important message: that we shouldn’t give up hope for the planet, or on our own dreams.
In this interview, Kathleen explains why she gave up her life and career in London to follow her passion for conservation in South Africa; why we need more positive messages about global issues like climate change; and why it’s never too late to go chase your dreams.
When did you first become interested in travel and travel writing?
Despite not getting on a plane until I was 17, travel was something that always interested me. I am naturally curious and wanted to experience as many different countries, cultures and types of wildlife as possible.
In my old life as a financial journalist I got to travel to places such as Asia, South America and Europe. It was often the case, however, that I would only see the inside of conference halls and hotels. The travel sounded glamorous but, quite frankly, the most I saw of the country was when I would fly in/out of it.
This was not enough for me. So, after becoming increasingly disillusioned by corporate life, I decided to follow my heart and passion for conservation. I quit my job, sold my part in the house and went to South Africa to be a conservation intern with GVI.
People back home thought I was crazy. Some thought I would “get it out my system” and return to my old life. Others thought at 35 I was too old to go switch-up my entire life. They were all wrong!
It made sense to me to combine my love of travel, wildlife and writing with a blog. I wanted to inspire others, who may be disillusioned with their life, that they could do it too.
How have things changed for you since travelling to Africa?
It’s a cliché, but Africa really does get under your skin. The people, the landscape, the drama, the animals. You can never be bored in Africa. It is a beautiful place which at times can be frustrating but in equal measures is captivating.
I knew from the moment I stepped into the African bush that I never wanted to return to London. Instead I interned for six months in South Africa, before going to Zimbabwe for a month volunteering in human wildlife conflict.
My journalist past drummed into me the importance of networking. So, I grafted and spoke to as many people as I could. It paid off. I ended-up getting a job as the business manager for African Impact in Livingstone, Zambia, where I lived for two years.
It was hugely rewarding. I would help write curriculums to inspire children, or blogs to encourage people to come and volunteer.
As part of my writing, I interview people for Conservation Careers. These interviews can create awareness of projects that people would otherwise not know about. Following publication, I have had NGOs email me saying that because of the article they received donations. This is amazing for it is these donations that allow organisations to survive.
You bring up topics like climate change in your story, but leave readers with a positive message in the end. How do you think we can do a better job of communicating global issues in general?
With this blog entry, I wanted readers to walk away with a more positive note. It can be hugely depressing when all the news on climate change is negative. Even worse, it can have the adverse effect of making people lethargic: when you are constantly barraged by negativity there is a tendency to think it is too late, so what is the point?
I wanted people to know that big moves come from small steps. I believe there should be more positive news on the climate change, more focus on what is working, rather than what is not. This allows people to see that others are making a difference and they can too. Maybe a story could spark an idea for a new way of recycling or harnessing energy. Or they could become aware of an initiative in a remote part of the world that would also work for them.
What positive role do you think travel writing / storytelling can play?
Writing in general plays a huge part in shaping people’s opinions and attitudes get passed down the generations. Of course, people should be angry and frustrated at governments for them to do more. But they also need the inspiration to try make a difference for their legacy.
It is unfortunate that bad news sells, so often this is what the press will lead with. How many times have you seen a positive environmental news story on the front of a national newspaper?
What do you most hope that readers will take away from your story?
We need people to wake up and take action. This takes a can-do attitude and requires a bucket-load of positivity and belief. That’s what I wanted to communicate with my writing. Education, age, finance, background should not be a barrier to following your dreams. Self-belief can take you to places you never dreamed and open doors you didn’t know existed. So, don’t sit there and think “one day”, make today the day to make a difference. It’s not too late. Don’t give up.
Curious to learn more about Kathleen’s journey or need a little inspiration to follow your own dreams? Check out her blog What Does the Giraffe Say for raw and honest reflections on living, loving and working in Africa.