My name is Rachel, I have ecscaped to Namibia from the UK. I run an award winning elephant conservation project in an area called Damaraland. I run a volunteer project, people come and live in our desert camp, help local people and of course in turn conserve the amazing elephants. It's back to basics, back in nature, sleeping under the stars and cooking on an open fire, STRESS FREE and great fun!
Read Rachel's remarkable transition: from starting off in a bank to going right back to basics. Spending the days sweaty and hot, contributing to a real conservation effort, followed by sitting around the fire with a cold beer and then sleeping under the stars. Actually, don't just read it, go out and join her in this incredible organisation.
They can escape by coming to volunteer with us!!! We have so, so many people who have done exactly that; escaped the city and came to volunteer with us and they love it. Back to basics; sleeping under the stars (not even in a tent), ending each day sitting around the fire with a cold beer, and spending the days sweaty and hot, helping contribute to a real conservation effort.
I run http://www.desertelephant.org/" rel="nofollow">Elephant Human Relations Aid, a Namibian not-for-gain organisation, with my partner Johannes. The aim of the organisation is to help local communities live without fear and conflict with the local herds of desert-adapted elephants. Often the elephants will cause damage to water points which can leave whole communities without access to water.
People are incredibly frightened of the elephants and will often make what could be a fairly peaceful elephant visit worse by shouting and screaming, dogs barking and chaos unfolding! We have a volunteer project where volunteers build protection walls around waterpoints, which allow the elephants to still drink, but not cause damage to the pumps. Every other week we are out in the field to GPS elephant movements and to compile identification information on each and every elephant.
In addition, we run an educational programme on elephant behaviour for local people and I started a schools programme, where we provide assistance in rennovating facilities and improving learning resources.
Day-to-day I am probably 70% of the time behind a laptop running all aspects of the organisation; from HR, to the web site, to PR, to accounting!! Luckily the 30% of the time in the field is a bit more exciting!
We have a camp in the middle of the desert and a house in the coastal town of Swakopmund on the Skeleton Coast where we run the office from.
I graduated from Brighton Uni with a degree in Business Studies. During my year out I worked at the Bank of New York in the marketing department. During that year I realised that the idea I had in my head of being a high-flying business woman was actually not for me!! So I decided to complete my degree and then look for employment in the charity sector.
I was lucky to get a job at Capital Radio as a fundraising assistant for their charity Help a London Child. One of the main responsibilities I had was to manage the overseas fundraising expeditions, where we would have up to 80 people trekking through various parts of the world to raise money. We had to accompany the group and the first trek I did was here to Namibia, where I met Johannes who is now my partner and who first set up Elephant Human Relations Aid (EHRA).
After meeting Johannes I still remained in the UK for another 6 years, still working at Capital, then heading up the Fundraising Events department. I bought a flat in Brighton and started commuting and then thought "stuff it, I'm off"!!! At that point, Johannes had just set up EHRA so there was a lot for us to do to get things up and running. I first came on a sabattical from work, and then a few months later moved out here for good. We first lived in a small old mining town called Uis which was totally in the middle of nowhere and there was hardly anyone there!!
Johannes would be out with the volunteer groups in the desert so I spent alot of time alone!!! That was 8 years ago and although there were times that I would have just loved to jump on a plane, I am glad I stayed! We have achieved loads over the years and we are really proud of what we have done for Namibian people and of course the fabulous desert elephants.
I think probably the day I handed in my notice!! I remember typing it and printing it out and then feeling sick realising once I have done this, that's it!!!
I think, to be honest, if I had not come to Namibia I would have probably changed direction career wise so I could do something more hands on. Working for charities is great but you don't feel that YOU really make a difference. Here in Namibia you can really see the results of your efforts and that is really rewarding.
As I said, I first had a sabatical and my brother stayed in my flat, and then when I returned I was sure I wanted to move to Namibia, so that just continued. I didnt sell my flat originally; I kept it as a safety net!
Funding-wise, I extended my mortgage to pay off my overdraft and give me a small amount of money as a float; I always tried to make sure I had enough for a flight home in the bank!!
Once I was in Namibia we were able to pay ourselves a small wage once we started getting volunteers; although I am speaking about £200 per month! So things were a bit tight but we were living in such a remote place that we really didn't have many expenses; our rent in Uis was only £100 per month!
Worse things are not being close to your family and friends, especially when bad things happen. My brother got cancer and eventually passed away and I was not always able to be back in the UK and I will always feel terrible about that.
But generally I LOVE living here and we have such adventures; we travel all over Africa every year when we close EHRA during December and January. Last year we went to the North of Mozambique where Johannes has an old traditional dhow and we lived on that for 6 weeks!! Wonderful! We also meet such amazing, different people from all walks of life and for that I think we are really lucky.
When I lived in Brighton I always used to wish I could start the day by walking a dog along the beach and that's exactly what I do every day here!!!
I think you just need to know it's not always going to be fantastic. In reality, moving to Namibia and living alone so much to begin with was pretty awful for me, and having been so independent and social it was quite a hectic adjustment. It was probably good to be a bit ignorant as I doubt I would have been brave enough to have moved if I knew what it would really be like!!!
I guess for me it was down to gut instinct; I just thought it was worth sticking out! A couple of years down the line we moved to Swakopmund, so then I got a social life back and felt much happier.
Gosh, personally I don't think I really used any resources to help me move out here!!!