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Introducing Ms Helen Newmarch – Heading our Conservation Through Education Programmes

An introduction to Helen Newmarch . . . .  head of education:

"It is rather strange having to write about oneself . . . . but "one has gotta do what one gotta do" . . . . so here goes!

Helen Newmarch Africat helen with her africat environmental education class Namibia

I am Tammy, Wayne, Donna and Rosalea’s youngest aunt. Their mother, Rose Hanssen, was my eldest sister and my dearest friend. Consequently I spent a great deal of my youth on Okonjima with Rose and her family. Many long hot but happy hours were spent droving cattle when Okonjima was still a cattle ranch and walking home in the dark (no doubt past many leopards!) after putting our horses out in the paddocks. I have always loved being out in the "bush/veld" which intrigued me from an early age. This is probably due partly to genetics but definitely largely due to my mother, Mrs Edith Bagot-Smith, who always had time to stop and investigate and to ponder over the many amazing mysteries of nature. "A HUGE THANK YOU, MOTHER"

I am a Namibian by birth and did my primary schooling in Windhoek at St. Georges Diocesan School. I attended Victoria Girls High School in Grahamstown, South Africa for my secondary education. After a year as a Rotary Exchange Student from South West Africa to South Australia I did my B.Sc. degree at the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg. My Higher Education Diploma was done at UCT, SA after which I returned to U of N to do my Honours Degree in Zoology and Ornithology. My first teaching post was at Swakopmund Secondary School and I was planning to work on my Masters Degree under Prof. Gordon Maclean on the Damara Tern at the same time. However Cupid won the day at the end of that year and I married my Zimbabwean sweetheart instead in the garden at the current Main Camp! . . . . much to Prof Maclean’s chagrin!!


helen with an adult paws pupil Safaris Most of the next 34 yrs were spent in Zimbabwe either teaching or farming except for a few years in both Zambia and Cape Town due to the political situation in Zimbabwe. Sadly Barry, my husband, passed away in 1996 but as I had 4 children to educate and did not want to add yet another trauma of moving I decided to stay on and continue farming. We managed to survive the Zimbabwe Land Acquisition Programme until September 2010 when the Zimbabwe Government gave us 6hrs to evacuate our home and farm. To date not a cent of compensation . . . . ? !
Fortunately for me and my two younger children my nephew and nieces, the Okonjima Hanssen Family, invited me back home to take on the Okonjima/ AfriCat Education Programme! So here I am and that briefly is my history but what about our Programme?

As a result of many factors during the last 20 yrs, Okonjima and AfriCat have come to realize, as have many other people and organizations, that the most significant contribution one can make to conservation is through education.

How do we propose to do this ?

Education can be and should be a life-long process. We are never too old to learn and in fact discovering new concepts and ideas helps to keep us young at heart and our minds active even though the body bit is rather more tricky! Consequently we have used the usual division of primary, secondary and tertiary (including adult) components. The Education programmes are run from 2 bases, Okonjima and the AfriCat North Base

helen with a grade 1 graduate Holiday AfricaOur PERIVOLI OKONJIMA COUNTRY SCHOOL is our PRIMARY section. Here we cater for our staff children from the age of 2 to 10yrs and hopefully, in the future, up to the end of the normal primary school. We put a lot of emphasis on our pre-primary section because, as we all know, this is the most critical learning phase. Naturally we also concentrate on environmental education and our pupils have 2 afternoons a week dedicated to EE. The other two afternoons the children play sport and are taught the very important concept of personal fitness. In fact we try to imprint the slogan: "health is our greatest wealth".


AfriCat North Base:
The SECONDARY component is made up of 2 parts and also at the 2 locations.

Okonjima: home of the AfriCat Foundation
Firstly, children come out to us for environmental education camps of varying length and complexity. Here they are able to make use of our wonderful "classrooms" . . . . the 20,000ha Okonjima Private Nature Reserve where four rehabilitated large carnivore species and their prey species can be seen and . . . . the AfriCat Carnivore Care and Information Centre. Here they are able to see the large cats at close quarters which is very exciting and informative.

Secondly our EE teacher, Mr AJ Rousseau, will be heading out to the schools in the far out rural areas armed with all his EE information so as to reach as many children as possible. In both these programmes we identify interested and or capable children to attend follow up courses at AfriCat so as to hopefully ensure some future conservationists! . . . . and especially those that will be leaders!

Africat North Base
This has a similar division but with different emphasis due to its location. Here Mrs Tammy Hoth assisted by Mr Sydney DirSuwei also run camps, but focus mainly on the human wildlife conflict in the adjacent areas and its solutions. The older students go out to the communities and participate in building predator proof night kraals (small holding paddocks) and help repair fences so as to get actively involved which greatly assists their understanding and hopefully future commitment.


helen guiding with AJ and volunteer Lara Endangered WildlifeThe TERTIARY programme has many facets, but we can also divide it into 3 main sections:
"At HOME" . . . . this is also comprised of 2 main areas . . . . continuous guide training to ensure we have the best guides in the country and then the adult education programme for our staff. The latter also indirectly assists the primary programme via the parents being more able to assist their children.


"At PAWS" . . . .  As the PAWS centre is now no longer being used for the volunteer programme it will be used for tertiary training camps. These will mainly be either for guides (training or assessments) or for teachers. The teacher courses will be Environmental Education courses for practicing and student teachers. (This is still in the planning and preparation stage but hopefully will start in 2013) The PAWS centre will also be available for hire by other organizations if it is available. The Perivoli Schools Trust has already booked to bring out the teachers on their Early Childhood Development courses. We are also hoping to be able to offer internships to a few conservation students in 2013 . . . . either also at PAWS or possibly based at Main Camp.


The work done by Africat North in the field of human wildlife conflict is also a form of adult education! . . . . and of course is the most challenging form because we adults get so set in our ways!  . . . especially the older we get! . . . .  and many of us farmers fall into that category!


This and many other challenges await us in 2013 which we look forward to in our constant hope and desire to make a significant contribution to conservation in Namibia . . . . through EDUCATION!"

Written by Helen Newmarch


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