INCLUSION AS A KEY TO CONSERVATION SUCCESS: THE STORY OF BRENDA MHLANGA
The conservation industry is polarized and foreign to African indigenous who coexist with wildlife. The sector is hampered by structural exclusion based on gender, racism, sexual orientation, and disability. Today, we are at battle with the deadliest catastrophe of all time, the calamity of climate change, combined with species extinction, which requires every ounce of human power to conquer. Unfortunately, exclusion of people with disabilities continues, and little to no action has been taken to address the problem. Many people assume that keeping them out of the struggle is a way of taking care of them, but they forget that we are all part of the solution. Today we share the story of a young woman who opted to defy the odds and stand up for nature, her life, and future generations despite unfavorable attention and discrimination from society.
Who is Brenda Mhlanga
BRENDA MHLANGA is a self-motivated young lady from Chipinge, Zimbabwe, who is pursuing her first degree in Forest Resources and Wildlife Management at the National University of Science and Technology. She is a climate change activist who works as volunteer at Environmental Buddies Zimbabwe, an organization that advocates for tree planting to mitigate the effects of climate change, and she also advocates for the rights of people with disabilities as a volunteer with FREEDOM TO THE DISABLED PEOPLE IN ZIMBABWE (FDBZ) In addition, the young lady is the current community leader for people with disabilities in her neighborhood.
WHY SHE CHOSE TO PERSUE CONSERVATION SCIENCE AS A CAREER.
Question: Why did you choose to pursue conservation science as a career ?
Answer: The ever-deteriorating state of our ecosystem, as well as the unsustainable use of natural resources, compelled me to take action to protect the environment. However, I realized that I lacked the necessary competence, so I enrolled in the Forest Resources and Wildlife Management course to sharpen my skills. I can confidently state that my decision to work in conservation was motivated by a desire to initiate change and spurred by the motivation of other actors in the area.
Who motivated her to make the career choice
Question: Who motivated you to make this careers choice?
Answer: Miss Shamiso Winnet Mupara, the Director of Environmental Buddies Zimbabwe, is my conservation role model. She constantly reminds me that women are capable of being key players in the conservation field and meaningfully contributing to the development of sustainable solutions to the climate change disaster and wildlife extinction. Her presence serves as proof that women can, and with her leadership, I can, achieve greater heights. Also the late Mr. R Mwase, who taught me forestry courses at the NUST DEPARTMENT OF FOREST RESOURCES AND WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT. He was so dedicated to conservation that he inspired me to persevere in my pursuit of success.
Challenges she has faced so far in her journey
Discrimination has been my most difficult challenge thus far. It is a sad reality that women are always treated as second-class citizens in African society. As much as space is being created, it still appears to be mostly cosmetic, as most women are allocated to secretarial jobs that involve only paperwork and not actual field work. Worse still for someone with a disability.
Challenges faced by people with disabilities in conservation
People with disabilities confront unique challenges when it comes to pursuing conservation careers. Some of the major challenges i have noted so far , as an aspiring conservationist are as follows:
✓ Conservation work requires full time field work and this becomes a
hindrance to people on wheel chairs and clutches as they cannot move efficiently.
✓ Most nature reserves or conservation areas are located in the very hot areas of Zimbabwe the likes of Hwange, Gonarezhou etc. This makes it difficult for people with albinism to engage in long-term outdoor activities because their skin is sensitive to the sun.
✓ Discrimination in job applications: the negative mindset towards people with disabilities makes them not to be hired for conservation jobs even if they have the skills and qualifications needed for the post
✓Access to education, .many people with disabilities are not send to school so they can not qualify for the posts .
There is no issue without a solution, as the ancient adage goes. Here are some of the proposed solutions to the aforementioned difficulties.
✓Education and awareness that disability is not inability include disabled people on the conservation table.
✓ Create open spaces for people with disabilities in conservation in areas they can work safely .
✓ Practice inclusion by using all types of languages i.e. Braille and sign language so that all ideas towards sustainable solutions can be harvested .
Inclusion as a critical component in developing sustainable conservation plans, as well as climate change mitigation and adaptation measures.
Question : In conclusion, do you believe that inclusion can aid in the development of long-term solutions to the current climate change and conservation challenges?
Answer: Working solutions are best developed by listening to and involving individuals who are directly affected by the effects of climate change and animal extinction. Consider the remedies that could be developed for people like myself, who know how painful a sunburn is, and communities whose livelihoods are negatively impacted by animal extinction. All in all, I think that united we stand, divided we fall, and that everyone has a role to play in making the world a better place for all. So let us collaborate.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years ?
I can't predict I'll be at a certain post or position in 5 years, but I see myself reaching out to a larger audience and influencing more people with my conservation message in essence, I chose conservation to save myself and my albinism community.
Remarks : Brenda is working on a book titled Taught by experience and also she is an aspiring Miss Albinism. For more follow the links below: