Final word from an intern…A journey of experience!

Babalwa Mqokeli
30 September 2014

Hello everyone! So it’s been 18 months; what initially felt like a long 18 months has now come to an end as the shortest 18 months of my life. I say this because so much has happened with my time at the Nature’s Valley Trust (NVT) that it seems as if it was just yesterday that I boarded that bus travelling to Plettenberg Bay- a place I had only heard of when watching the e-tv news weather forecast.

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NVT’s tradition- put your name on the rock and find a hole to put it in…Salt River hiking trail.

On arrival at this mostly ‘natural habitat’, the industrial bred girl from Durban was amazed by the beauty of the area. I remember my first scenic view was that of the Keurbooms Estuary, where Mark, NVT’s Program Director, stopped at the side of the road (I’m not sure how legal that was) and allowed me the opportunity to take it all in. I was amazed, I had never been to the Western Cape or anywhere outside South Africa and at that moment I kept saying to myself…This is a country on its own! Little did I know that this would be a continuous adventure of wonder.

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World Oceans Day at Plettenberg Bay main beach.

Firstly, I’d like to say that I am extremely grateful to WWF-SA for the opportunity they provide for young graduates, like myself, through the Environmental Leaders Programme…I have surely emerged a leader from the sector.I am most thankful to Mark Brown and Cindy-Lee Cloete for the opportunity that they gave me at the beginning of 2013 when I got the job. Their continuous encouragement, support, kindness and time invested in developing me as a professional has truly made me appreciative for getting my first job at NVT, it has been a well needed challenging and yet nurturing experience.

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NVT interns with two British volunteers ready for Mosquito fish sampling.

My time with NVT involved so many activities, both work and fun related, that unfortunately I can’t list them all. As the research intern, my role was to coordinate 3 of NVT’s research projects, those being the Groot River Macroinvertebrates monitoring project, the Mosquito Fish monitoring project, as well as the Groot Estuary Fish monitoring project. Managing these projects has been a great accomplishment for me in that my research skills have developed, as well as my understanding of estuarine ecology and knowledge of aquatic macroinvertebrates linking to water management.

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Babalwa sampling macroinvertebrates at the Groot River.

One of the benefits of being in a small organisation is that you get to be part of everything that goes on; I therefore had the pleasure of assisting in environmental education activities for the school kids as well as the community outreach programs. This was a new and worthy experience for me, being involved in efforts that provide environmental awareness at an everyday level. Through this I have seen the importance of education in conservation, educating the future custodians of the environment or as Mark would correct this by saying the current and future custodians.I also had the opportunity to participate in the Fynbos research project, gaining insights on pollination ecology.

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Babalwa doing tree maintenance in Kurland Village.

I’ve been exposed to great opportunities such as handling birds and being in training to take out birds from nets, this experience goes as far as having a few raptor species in my hands…AMAZING! The experience and exposure I gained at NVT is invaluable; liaising with organisations and establishing partnerships, suppliers regarding field equipment, specialists with regards to providing assistance for the projects, attending meetings, conferences, organising programs, the list is endless. This is one of the reasons I’m grateful for getting my first job with NVT, it has exposed me to a variety of facets involved in running an organisation successfully, thus equipping me with different skills for the next chapter of my life. It wasn’t all work and no play; for the most part it wouldn’t even feel like work due to the many enjoyable activities I was part of.

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Babalwa holding a Jackal buzzard caught while raptor ringing…AMAZING experience. 

My time here has allowed me to enjoy those ‘first time experiences’; including the delicious potjiekos meal organised by a few Nature’s Valley residents, horse riding in a game reserve, hiking trails on weekends, interacting with national and international volunteers,  once in a life time opportunities; such as swimming with seals-TWICE! Even the raising funds part of the work was fun. If I list everything that I did then this blog would not end…all in all I had loads of fun.

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Babalwa swimming with the seals…Awesome!

I loved my experience here, not only because of the work that I did but most importantly because of how I've grown and developed as a person, the amazing set of friends and people I got to interact with. I’m going to miss the ‘‘bustling metropolis’’ of Nature’s Valley :), its beauty and amazing primitive forms of the area. I’m going to miss my family at the NVT office, mostly. Our talks, the challenges we conquered and jokes have contributed the most to the immeasurable experience and exposure I am now leaving with. As I continue on my journey I leave with cherishable moments and the hope that I will see you again someday.

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NVT team at Plettenberg Bay Game Reserve.