Many of our volunteers have met Rachel, and for many Rachel is the first contact at EHRA. Needless to say she is a devoted, inspiring and highly appreciated person among her colleagues, friends and our volunteers. We asked her to tell us her story.
Rachel working on our School Project at A. Gariseb Primary School at Anixab village. There’s always time for a chat.
So we asked Rachel: how did you end up in Namibia and working with EHRA?
“I am originally from the UK from a village in Oxfordshire. I went to the University of Brighton where I gained a business degree. When I was younger I thought I wanted to be a hi-flying business woman! During the degree we had to complete a compulsory year in industry, and I worked in the Marketing Department at the Bank of New York! After this year I realized that it was really important for me to work towards a cause, it didn’t make sense to me to spend so much time and effort working for something that wasn’t making a difference towards making people’s lives or the world a better place. I thought about changing my studies but in the end I went back to University and finished my degree and decided I would head towards the charity sector. A friend of my brother in law was heading up the charity department at Capital Radio in London and they were looking for a fundraising assistant which became my first job.
During the interview I was told that one of my main responsibilities would be coordinating the overseas sponsored challenges, which were week-long trekking expeditions where we would take groups of up to 80 people to various different countries. At no point was I told or even dared to think that I would get to go on these trips! So after I had worked at the charity for over 6 months, we had a meeting and I was told I would be the charity representative on the expedition heading out to Namibia, which was a smaller group of about 30 people. The only exercise I had done in the last 4 years was late night dancing! So this was also a challenge for me too!!! I also hadn’t camped since girl guides (which I didn’t like much anyway!).
Johannes (who started EHRA) was guiding for the expedition company we used and so we met on this trip. At this time I was 21. We kept in touch and lost touch and got in touch again about 5 years later and at this time Johannes had started EHRA and I could see there was a ‘job’ that I could do and was already thinking to try and change my career so that I could work for overseas charities. I was heading up the fundraising events by this stage, we had all types of events from film premieres, music events, balls, fun runs in Hyde Park, abseils and of course the sponsored treks. I had managed to buy a flat (back in Brighton so I commuted every day) so I felt like I could take a risk and if it didn’t work out, I could pick up from where I left off!
So I took a deep breath and decided to leave the UK and head to Namibia. To Uis from Leicester Square in the centre of London! Before I left the UK I had meetings with agents that were helping recruit volunteers, which was a relatively new traveling concept at the time and as luck would have it we started taking bookings straight away from one large company, along with another agent Johannes had already organised.
It was hard for me living in Uis, there was literally no one there but the dogs as Johannes was working on the project full time, but I was luckily stubborn enough to stay and try and make the best of it! We started EHRA with nothing, really no money and just Johannes’ landcruiser, so I couldn’t even leave Uis if I wanted to!! After a while we had rented a small bachelors flat in Swakopmund so the dogs could come with us on the weekends (we had been camping on the beach!!!) and I soon figured out that the supermarket truck left Uis every Wednesday for supplies, so I used to hitch a lift with the dogs on the back of the truck now and again!!!!!! So funny to think of that now!
After maybe 2 years we moved to Swakopmund and then it was much better for me, I made friends and felt much happier! ”
Rachel receiving the Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards: Winner of the best Volunteering Organisation in 2012.
“At EHRA I am responsible for the overall running of the organisation and my work is really varied, from all aspects of marketing, web site SEO social media, working with our agents, diversifying the services EHRA provides, such as the PEACE Project and this year we plan to launch a 7 day Elephant behaviour and tracking course, to coordinating the schools, university and family expeditions, coordinating with the government and conservancies on our conservation work, planning new research and conflict prevention work, to accounting and HR and everything else in-between! Luckily I have Victro and now Aippi in the office to help me with the ever expanding work load.”
What do you think is the best or most important part of your work?
“The best thing for me is always going to be the times when I am out in Damaraland, even if it’s just to go up to base camp. To be from the UK, but have access to a wild, natural life is amazing. To be in camp, sleeping outside under those stars, especially when elephants wander past you is just incredible.
I still am fascinated and love meeting all the people that come to EHRA every year. I really love the school trips which is the one time in the year that I am out in Damaraland for 3 weeks! I enjoy being part of the community around the EHRA camp, especially at the school.
I also have the responsibility of managing the EHRA team, it’s a responsibility that I like and looking after everyone and making sure everyone feels valued and happy is important to me.
I think everything that I do is important, it feels like every area of my work is intertwined and all important in making the organisation run as best as it can. ”
If you were not with EHRA, what do you think you would be doing?
“Hummmmmmmmmm I wonder………….I think Johannes and I were always going to be together and both of us would want to be doing something similar.
If I had stayed in the UK and had not met Johannes, perhaps I would be living in the countryside, goodness knows what I would be doing. I honestly can’t imagine what I might have done!”
Tell us about the first time you met elephants in the wild?
“We have a belief that for people and elephants to live together, people need to understand the elephants and know how to behave to keep themselves and families safe when they are around. It is simply not OK to have dangerous elephants living amongst people, especially for the Ugab area where there are relatively a lot of people, and a school which the elephants walk straight through! So it is so important that the elephants get to know people as calm and peaceful and non-threatening. When we first started EHRA we were charged at all the time, it was so frightening!!! So my first encounters with elephants were often terrifying! Nowadays the elephants have calmed down so much, having learnt that people are OK and thanks to EHRA and especially the PEACE Project, people have started to take an interest and ownership of these interesting neighbours, so we have definitely made massive progress in helping to restore the balance in nature. “
Rachel with her dog Tsaurab in the camp.