Indigenous Desert Trackers Return To Historical Homeland

For the first time in the history of the NamibRand Nature Reserve, visitors to Wolwedans are now able to experience a guided track through the world’s oldest desert with descendants of the prehistoric natives of the area. The excursion is of particular interest because the guides who conduct the activity are of Khwe heritage, an ethnic group which forms part of a nation of people who may sometimes be collectively referred to as “Bushmen” or “San”.

 

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Known historically for their aptitude as skilled hunter-gatherers, the San have mastered the art of interpreting patterns in nature. Such patterns may include animal prints or tracks, elements of weather and changes in vegetation. As a consequence of their nomadic lifestyles, San people in Namibia have often fallen subject to ridicule, mistreatment, marginalization and in some cases ethnocide. Throughout the annals of history, their way of life, cultural heritage and even their language has come under threat. Encouraging cultural diversity and promoting the upliftment of all human beings regardless of their creed or race are values which Wolwedans holds dear.

The use of Khwe guides at Wolwedans is certainly a feat that the Team is very proud of. The initiative would not have been possible without the cooperation of the Traditional Environmental Knowledge and Outreach Academy (TEKOA), which strives to preserve indigenous knowledge about: traditional culture; the art of tracking and the medicinal value of selected flora or fauna.

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By providing employment to the Khwe, entire families from a disadvantaged community are given an opportunity to become financially self-sufficient. The new activity is a testament to Wolwedans’ commitment to the upliftment of local communities whilst simultaneously adding value to each guest experience. Ultimately the development of community, culture, conservation and commerce is central to the Wolwedans Way.

 

Selma’s Story: From strength to strength after leaving Desert Academy

wolwedans foundation logo - text - SmallMy Name is Selma Simaneka Benjamin and I was born 13 December 1986 in the Northern part of Namibia at a small village called Onawa in Owamboland. I later grew up with my grandmother at Omaalala where I spend a great deal of my childhood.

I never dreamed of working in the tourism industry. Busy with my job of presenting the breakfast show on base fm one morning  when an advert in the local daily newspaper caught my attention: ’we are looking for young people with the fire in the belly’. I took it upon myself to apply to the Desert Academy, the vocational training program run by the Wolwedans Foundation - teaching young Namibians all aspects of the hospitality industry before helping to launch them into the industry. I had already forgotten I applied, when the phone call came. The interview process was out of this world, little did I know then that taking part in the pilot project would change my life forever – I got bitten by the tourism bug!

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Being enrolled at the Desert Academy for six months was amazing, my head was buzzing with a whole lot of information – not only from the theory. The books hardly did justice to the practical experience I received.

The Wolwedans team was extremely dedicated to passing on the practical skills to us – whilst still having to focus on doing their job really well as not to compromise on the quality of service offered to guests.

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The whole experience was amazing; from theory to practical all was well organized and I believe if I had studied somewhere else the result would not have been precisely the same.  The uniqueness of the Desert Academy from all other institutes is that you are exposed 1st hand, as you step out of the theory classes you step right into the practical lessons, making it so much easier to understand and grasp all information learned.

I will forever be grateful for the opportunity given to me back than in 2007 with the DA as it has paved the way to the industry for me and made me into the bulldog I’m becoming today.  Although things are always slightly different, when you are working for other companies (each has their own policies on how they operate at the end of the day), quality in service delivery towards guests is something all establishments have in common. I have worked for a number of top lodges in Namibia and I must give credit to all my colleagues and my managers for the mentorship as they have contributed towards my growth and skills in the industry.

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I must also admit to get where I’m today it has not been a walk in the park. You have to work hard and sacrifice a lot – from your beauty sleep, to family and friends and your social life sometimes goes out the window, but all this can be gained back once you find your rhythm and balance and execute your time wisely.

With tourism I learn that you have to be passionate about working with people. It can be quite a challenge, but also lots of fun as you meet a lot of great people from all walks of life. My advice to other newcomers to the industry: ‘never take information for granted, never stop learning, stay humble, be friendly, be honest towards yourself and others, work hard, always go the extra mile for yourself and guests, challenge yourself, be yourself, never be afraid to grow as a person as opportunities are always there, maintain a good reputation and allow your work to speak in volumes and pave ways for your growth within the industry.’

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Now with my 1st management position at Ongula Village Homestead & Lodge, it’s a huge challenge as the smooth operation of the lodge is all dependant on me making the right decisions. Thanks to a supportive team and management, I’m also happy to be promoting cultural tourism in my region and help educating the community to understand the importance of tourism making them benefit from it all in terms of job creation and bringing better infrastructure.  The best part of all this Owamboland is always buzzing with energy and this is definitely the heartbeat of Namibia.