Sometimes, it blows my mind how simply yet profoundly God works in our lives. We spend so much time ourselves trying to plan, coordinate, and manifest our dreams based on our timelines and in the ways we think they should happen. All the while, God simply looks lovingly at us, shields us from what is not good, and perhaps chuckles to himself as he sees how it will all workout – despite our limited human understanding.
For example, if you would have told me a year ago I would be able to bring a conservation side to fitness – I probably would have laughed! But recently, I have had the opportunity to do just that. Through fundraiser bootcamps and various forms of community engagement – I have been able to share important news and raise awareness about conservation efforts around the world… All while giving others a killer workout!
Specifically, one of the organizations I have a strong passion for and strive to contribute towards is the International Anti Poaching Foundation. And through a series of crazy events, I have recently had the wonderful opportunity to speak with Damien Mander, the founder of the International Anti Poaching Foundation himself.
Damien is a beautiful soul who is committed to doing his part to prevent the poaching of African wildlife – and so much more. Damien’s story – like so many of ours – is complex and filled with turns that brought him to new places, new intentions, and to the creation of one of the world’s leading anti poaching forces.
Prior to discovering his determination for wildlife conservation, Damien was an Australian Naval Clearance Diver, a Special Operations Sniper and an Iraq War veteran. He also managed the Iraq Special Police Training Academy in Northern Baghdad and equipped many of Iraq’s paramilitary forces for combat in the field.
However, it wasn’t until a trip to Southern Africa that Damien saw first-hand the cruelty of poaching. Since that moment, Mander made the life-changing decision to dedicate his time, finances, and vast military skills and knowledge to creating what is now the International Anti Poaching Foundation.
You can learn more about Damien’s story and what lead him to create the IAPF by watching his Ted Talks on how he went from a sniper to a rhino conservationist, or a military leader to a wildlife warrior.
Over the past few weeks, I have had the pleasure to chat with Damien about his upcoming trip to the US. During this visit, two of the women wildlife rangers of the IAPF will be joining him. Together, the three will be touring different states, speaking at various wildlife conferences, and attending fundraising events. All in the name of anti poaching and sustainable methods of wildlife conservation.
The two wildlife warriors joining Damien are Petronella and Nyaradzo. It is their first time to America – and they are the Akashinga; the Brave Ones.
Petronella and Nyaradzo’s story are quite similar to many womens’ in rural Africa. Both are divorced, are victims of domestic violence, have been abandoned by their husbands, and until now were unable to support their children.
Today, they are now the brave rangers fighting on the front lines against poaching in Zimbabwe. These women are carrying out groundbreaking conservation work, inspiring others, and proving that all genders are capable of fighting for wildlife. Not only are these women trained and armed in the skills of combat, but they have become known leaders within their local communities.
Furthermore, the women of the Akashinga are now able to provide a better future for their children while also creating hope within their local communities. The Akashinga are protecting wildlife, creating jobs, uplifting other women, and creating a sustainable future for Africa and its wild species. These women are living proof that protecting wildlife can benefit many – in more than just one way.
Petronella and Nyaradzo are creating a new culture in Africa. One that changes the tides from poaching for money – to protecting for mutual benefit.
Just nine month after going operational on the front-lines of the poaching war in Zimbabwe, the Akashinga have made over 50 arrests, uncovered local ivory poachers, and opened up new doors of opportunity for their families. Lead by Damien, the Akashinga program employs 100% locally and invests 62% of all operating costs right back into the local community. This alone creates alternative forms of income to a community that once largely depended on funds generated by trophy hunting.
Putting it simply, these women are badass. They are making a name for themselves in a way that has never been done before. And as Damien explains, they are doing it better than many men before them ever have. Check out this short BBC documentary to see for yourself.
To support these women and Damien’s mission, I will be hosting another fundraiser bootcamp for the IAPF on June 30th at 9:30am. Let’s join together to raise awareness, funds, and to sweat to protect the wildlife of Africa. Together, we can help the IAPF continue its mission by contributing towards the purchase of anti poaching equipment and gear for the Akashinga.
For those of you that have ever donated or attended a bootcamp – THANK YOU again. And I invite each of you once more on June 30th at 9:30am. Each participant will get a special IAPF and WSYC bracelet for their contribution!
If you can’t make it but would still like to donate, please visit my gofundme page by clicking here.
You make the difference,