The past seven days have been a complete whirlwind of exciting and inspiring projects and, for some, a roller coaster of emotions. Today we have begun editing the videos we have compiled over the past week, and having some time in the cool shaded cottage has given me some time for reflection and recollection of the time we've spent here so far.
The Wildlife Handshake has certainly been different to how I envisaged. I was imagining it to be more wildlife and less community focussed, but that is not to say I have been disappointed - not in the slightest. It has really opened my eyes to how strong the link is between communities and wildlife with regards to conservation, and that unless human rights are considered in conservation projects and that local people support the work that is being done, conservation projects for wildlife will never be sustainable. There have been so many examples I have seen and heard about over the last few days, but I think one that most sticks in my mind was some inspiring words from the chairman of Pasha Community Self Help Group, John Monroe Kioko: "Wildlife has a right to live, just as you have a right to live. It's non-negotiable. An elephant cannot mitigate human wildlife conflict; we have the intelligence and tools to do so, so we must use them."
Another thing that will stay with me, is how hard people work here and the extent to which they want to learn and make a difference to their own, their families', and the local wildlife's lives. We have visited more projects than I can count on both hands, but one of my favourite ones have been a tree nursery set up for somewhere for blind people to learn, work and earn a living. Regardless of their disability, these people are using their other skills to make a life for themselves and not relying on or blaming other people, which arguably has become a common theme in the UK. Another project that stood out for me was the Lima Self Help Group where women in the community own and plant tree nurseries.The women are then able to sell the by products of the trees and leaves, including herbal lotions and potions (which I purchased and look forward to using), which in turn enables them to earn money to support their families and pay for their children's education.
< Along with all of this and more, I have been blessed to see an array of wildlife during this trip. I am constantly surrounded by colobus and Sykes' monkeys, who I have become as used to being in the trees as birds. I have been lucky enough to see rare and elusive bush babies close up, and a troop of baboons in a sacred forest. A lot of people asked me before I came out here how seeing them on safari would be any different to seeing them at a zoo in England. It is hard to put into words, but seeing animals roaming around where they are supposed to be, just takes your breath away. During the previous trip I went on safari and was lucky enough to see elephants, giraffes, buffalo, vultures, and warthogs. An elephant even strolled right in front of us across the road, and what surprised me the most, was how quiet and graceful he was. For such a large animal, he disappeared into the trees and shrubbery on the other side of the road without a sound. We will be going on safari through Shimba Hills again tomorrow, but with a twist. This time we will be joined by an armed guard as we try to track and capture elephants and sable antelopes on film - I can't wait. It has also been great to be working on projects for the WWF. The WWF is such a large and global organisation, but we are here to do something a little bit different; to see the progress and promote the work of smaller, less reported projects which are nonetheless making a positive difference to wildlife and communities alike. As a result I have been lucky enough to meet and speak with some of the most inspiring people I have ever had the pleasure to meet, and made some life long friends in the process. I could not recommend the Handshake enough. It is the perfect way for you to experience a different country and culture, whilst also giving something back, and feeling safe and cared for within a friendly and varied group of people. The staff are always on hand to ensure everyone is happy, healthy and feeling like part of the handshake family. After 5 weeks here, I am feeling ready to go home and be back with my family, but I will miss everyone dearly and will treasure the memories I've made for the rest of my life. I will certainly be returning to Africa to re-visit Kenya and explore other countries in the near future, and hope that following this experience I will be able to inspire others to do the same.