“All across the nation people are starting out on vacations to be spent in… parks. [In] their tents under the stars, with an open fire to cook by, with the smell of the woods, and the winds in the trees, they will forget the rush and strain of all the other long weeks of the year, and for a short time at least, the days will be good for their hearts and for their souls.”
– President Franklin D Roosevelt, Park Dedication, Big Meadows 1936.
One of the exciting adventures of 2014 was the opportunity for Londolozi staff member Robert Sithole to attend the Parks, Diversity and Eco Tourism conference in America.
Born on the property Rob has spent most of his 36 years living or visiting Londolozi. It is a place that he holds with great esteem. It was here that his father Elmon Sithole first began working in 1976 and the place where he still works today as a chef in the Londolozi Kitchen.
Rob began his journey with Londolozi 10 years ago where he started as a laborer; this was followed by his role as a tractor driver, as a manager of the habitat workshop and later as Londolozi Habitat Manager. Today he works as a Trainee Manager who reports to Londolozi’s General Manager.
He says: “I love this place, it is where my father has worked for many years and the place I grew up. I keep adapting to the culture of Londolozi –I do my best for the company because they have looked after my family so well.
My eldest sister was only one year old when my dad started working in the kitchen and today my sister Rirhanezu Sithole works as a night porter, my other sister’s son works as a barman at Founders Camp. My youngest brother is in Matric (his final school year) and Londolozi is making one of his dreams come true – to study civil engineering by providing him with a bursary for his education.”
Through hard work and commitment to to his work; Rob as was selected to represent South Africa as one of 12 African delegates to attend the Parks, Diversity and Eco Tourism conference held in America in August this year.
We caught up with Rob to ask some of the burning questions we’ve wanted to know about his American adventure:
How did you get chosen as one of the African Leaders to represent South Africa?
The invitation to the conference was forwarded to us and with the help of my colleagues we filled in the application form and hoped for the best. A US ambassador who visited us at the lodge during 2012 then interviewed me. It took a few months and in 2013 I found out that I had been chosen.
I was so excited, this was my first big trip, and the first time I would be flying overseas.
What did the three-week conference entail?
The conference was all about parks and leadership. We were taught and advised on the best practice for managing parks by looking at examples of current practice. Topics discussed included the management of wetlands, National Parks and policies around management. We looked at how to be security wise and the best ways to engage with neighbouring communities on the management of land.
What state or place did you enjoy the most and why?
I cannot say that there was one single place as everywhere that we visited was exciting. But I can say that I loved the Yellowstone National Park for its most beautiful scenery and the incredible natural formations, the waterfalls and animals. I spotted both a moose and lots of bison whilst I was there.
You mentioned that the trip was not only about seeing new sights but also about giving back to the community/nature? How did you do this?
Throughout the trip we were reminded of the need to take care of the land so that we can get the most out of it (much like Londolozi’s Vision for our reserve). We spent a day doing this in a wildlife reserve in New Orleans. We met up with a group of students from the University of New Orleans and spent the day clearing litter and alien plants and bonding as a group through our shared activity. It was something I really enjoyed.
What did a normal day at the conference consist of?
Everyday was so different. We had many meetings, lectures and activities that were planned for us – a mix of both theory and practical.
I had some time off while in New Mexico and went horse riding in the mountains, another first-time experience for me.
Can you share any of the lessons you have learned from your experience?
One of the big lessons I learnt was the importance of working with neighbouring communities and with our own community. As a leader we need to manage the community within the reserve and teach them about what is happening here. We need to educate everyone about the meaning of what a game reserve is and work together to look after our land. The land does not belong to one, but to all. It is imperative that we work together to look after this place, our home at Londolozi.
How has the trip helped you shape your ideas for the work you do at Londolozi?
Firstly the need to look after our land – the way that America manages their parks is something I would like to implement at Londolozi. Secondly – to look after our kids, the next generation who will take over from us… We need to look after our land in order for it to look after us.
I would like to thank everyone who made this trip possible. It was a great privilege.
Written by Kate Collins
Photographs supplied by Robert Sithole.