Youngsters who dream of a bush career can get off to a good start by signing up for one of the FGASA (Field Guides Association of South Africa) approved Junior Field guide courses WESSA offers at the uMgeni Valley Nature Reserve & Education Centre in Howick, KZN.
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Two levels are offered: Pangolin that caters for children aged 8 – 12, and Wild Dogs for youngsters aged 13 – 17. Says Matthew Cocks, Unit Leader at WESSA’s uMgeni Valley Educational Centre, “Ours is the only external organisation FGASA has accredited to offer these courses.” Both courses use FGASA programmes and material and comprise a number of modules, for example, Pangolins study safari, desert, river and bushveld and Wild Dogs deal with topics like climate and weather, geology, and animal behaviour.
The biodiverse uMgeni Valley provides unlimited scope for learning but there are also field trips to Karkloof and Dargle in the KZN Midlands and to WESSA’s Treasure Beach campus at the coast. Students who successfully complete all components qualify to progress straight through to FGASA to study for national qualifications. Interestingly, the majority of participants are home-schooled. This could be because they’re not tied in to regular sports and other school-related activities.
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“Classes are either on Saturday mornings or during the holidays which often means sacrificing other extra-curricular activities like sport,” Matthew says. Some of the would-be junior field guides come from as far away as the Drakensberg. “The children love the courses,” says Education Manager at the uMgeni Centre, Vivo Venter. “Parents tell us that they take their guiding roles very seriously. At home, they ‘guide’ everything.” Matthew adds that the students are genuinely passionate about the environment. “These are real conservationists in the making. Among them could be another Jane Goodall, Wangari Maathai or Ian Player.”