By Nande Notyalwa
“There are no second chances for first impressions.”
These were the words Louis Willemse left the recently graduated field guides after an extensive six-week course hosted at the Haarwegskloof Renosterveld Reserve. Interviewed and handpicked, 12 young participants hailing from Khayelitsha and Mitchell’s Plain in Cape Town left behind their homes and families to follow their dreams of becoming field guides under the tutelage of retired naval officer, Louis Willemse and co-commander, Joslin Bauer.
Above: Louis Willemse and Josline Bauer
Above: Happy smiles with Mr Donald who lectured on Computer Literacy
The Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) is a well-respected and globally known association that promotes and develops distinguished graduates. The goal is to produce graduates of a superior standard when it comes to guiding in the tourism industry – and Louis’ cadets were exposed to just that.
Every day was jam packed with content from a variety of environmental fields, including Climatology and Geography, Botany, Zoology and other subjects such as Astronomy. The attendees even had to acquire certification in first aid and had to show they were able to do scientific sketches.
There was little to no sleep for the cadets, working into the wee hours of the morning as they had to prepare for the following day’s schedule. The group also had classes on hospitality with food preparation and presentation.
The group made extensive use of Haarwegskloof’s updated facilities which included the large conference (or teaching space) and catering area known as “The Shed” where delicious and nutritious meals were served three times a day. The group were also able to carry out the in-depth academic activities within the research centre which boasts a large flat screen tv and another open space for learning while still accommodating the cadets.
I had been invited to some of their dinners where I was formally introduced as a guest. Louis and Joslin ran a tight ship with all the cadets being in tip-top shape. They even went as far as always addressing each other as “ladies and gentlemen”.
Above: Food preparation in The Shed
When I would have conversations with the group, they shared their experiences as to how they came to join FGASA. I learnt that in their communities, they had simply never been introduced to the content they were currently learning. And they told me that the veil of blindness towards the natural world had forever been lifted. These were truly changed people: being complacent about nature was a luxury of the past.
Their learning experiences would further be cemented by their field trips and excursions to nature reserves such as the De Hoop Nature Reserve. They also visited Agulhas to get a first-hand experience of being at the southern-most tip of Africa. During the field trips, they would put all the content they had learnt into practice, as they interacted with experienced guides.
For the cadets, however, this was more than just a career-changing opportunity: this also greatly influenced their personal lives as well. The life lessons they learned during the course were some of struggle, perseverance, hope and the pursuit of a more fulfilled life.
These were the lessons that the now graduates learnt! So it’s no wonder that three of the cadets are now employed as Field Guides at the De Hoop Nature Reserve.
Congratulations to Neliswa Gowa, Zane Janodien, Mzwandile Stisi, Nomfundo Mngadi, Siwaphiwe Langa, Sindiswa Mbayeka, Asiphe Mbobo, Dilshaaad Janodien, Vincenzo Neethling, Nazeer January, Tembakazi Mbobo, and Khanyisa Koyo on their new journey!
A special thank you to Birdlife South Africa and Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) who organised and funded this programme including arranging for, and bringing in, various experts from different environmental fields to ensure the success of this programme.