TRUST IN OUR CHILDREN
This weekend Beverly and I were hosted on an amazing zoom call with the “Young Wildlife Photographers of South Africa” club. I fully expected the zoom to be about camera settings and hopefully the art of working the light to create imagery. Instead, it evolved in discussions about Dante, the Art of War, storytelling through the lens and in life. And ultimately, the importance of winning the battle for the hearts and minds of the planet.
What struck me was how these children, between the ages of 13 and 18, are more empowered now, with better tools, a voice driving change, and are better educated and even smarter than we were when we started out.
Imbedded in the scheduled one hour talk that ended up being two hours on a Sunday evening, when most kids one would expect, would want to be doing something else, was an underlying request of us; “We are here, we get it, how can you use us?” And that is our challenge!
This discussion sparked a thought of youth in general and how recently we followed two pairs of lionesses. Both lionesses were hunting separately, but each with their cubs. During the night and a foreboding storm, two cubs were separated during the hunts and ended up in a precarious situation of being in amongst the wrong female’s cubs. A disaster!
I have seen cubs at this young age just attacked and killed instantly. But something strange happened. It started with the youngest of the abandoned cubs standing their ground when being attacked. This resulted in both being drawn into the wrong pride and treated as playthings by the other older cubs.
Finally, these two little strangers found themselves integrated, almost adopted for a few weeks, into the wrong family! Their resilience and capacity to adapt to a new world and surroundings just weeks into life speak volumes about survival, and it’s most evident in the young. See this video from Duba Plains in Botswana.
Like the slightly confused lioness who found herself challenged by two miniature lions, we need to respond to the challenge these kids just gave Beverly and me.
So, this week, at Great Plains, we are reinvesting in children with our Young Explorers Program.
Our latest book, The Ultimate Book of African Animals, published by National Geographic, is being released this week. According to one (probably overly kind) reviewer, this book is ideally suited to reach children aged 4 to 80. It is a ‘lockdown’ book that Beverly and I worked on for the past two years and created for interactive reading with parents and kids together. It includes some of our own stories and ventures into dinosaurs (even though I am yet to spot one) and is populated with Beverly’s incredible images from our adventures.
We are developing bursaries and scholarships for our communities and aiming to award 100 children bursaries in the short term. Great Plains will be working with the National Geographic Society to identify scholars to support a new program for young explorers from our communities. We already support over 20 teachers in our communities in Kenya’s Mbirikani region of the southern Chylulu Hills, near ol Donyo Lodge. We plan to increase this over the next few years.
Our focus is on these children, making travel to our camps easy for them, making sure they are taken care of when they are with us. This doesn’t mean just giving them something to occupy their time with, but really partnering with children and engaging with them and their unique perspectives in camp.
Some years ago, Beverly and I were inducted into the American Academy of Achievement, an association of huge prestige and value run by Catherine and Wayne Reynolds in Washington DC. I vividly recall sitting on the ground surrounded by young people peppering us with questions. Their smart questions ranged from learning more about us, our lives, and our work. They were relentless, and I was thankful for the pause that sitting next to Beverly, Richard Leakey, and Jeremy Iron afforded me, each newly inducted into the Academy too.
Shortly after this, another alumnus and I talked long into the night about the youth and how they will drive us to modify our dogmas while seeking our leadership today. He held my hand one day in an extended handshake for a long time. It wasn’t awkward, and he did something that so few can do; he listened. He seemed to roll every single word I said inside his head, engaged in its meaning only to say something after that. It is no wonder young people waited on his every word. It was this talent, a gift, that something I might even call him a friend for.
Colin Powell, RIP. You made us better.
All the best,