Saturday, November 9, 2019

Centre in the Square Highlights Empowered Women with Akashinga – The Brave Ones

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I first heard about the Akashinga on a segment of The Jim Jefferies Show last year.  I learned that these women are now the front lines of the conservation efforts in Zimbabwe and are responsible for capturing poachers. It was an amazing story about empowering women and creating change in communities. 
Damien Mander was a member of the Royal Australian Navy who served three years in Iraq until 2009. Then he decided to put the skills he used in the military to train people to fight against poachers in Zimbabwe. He started training men but quickly discovered that women were better suited to the work as they were better at de-escalating violent confrontations and took fewer bribes. The group, Akashinga (the brave ones), are an all-female ranger unit recruited from women who survived domestic abuse or were single mothers, abandoned wives, or orphaned by AIDS. These women have undergone training similar to those received by special forces and protect their local ecosystems from poachers. 
Info via National Geographic 
Earlier this week we had the opportunity to attend the National Geographic presentation of Akashinga: The Brave Ones at Centre in the Square.  There we learned first-hand about the journey of Damien Mander who created this elite group of women and Vimbai Kumire who leads the squad. 
We were enthralled in the story from beginning to end.  We learned how Damian Mander took his love of diving to the highest level by becoming a member of the special forces and how his yearn to fulfill a need for combat drastically changed when he saw what was happening to the animals in Africa. 

After starting IAPF, the International Anti-Poaching Foundation, he wanted a sustainable model that would impact the environment and communities in the surrounding area.  He found that by empowering the women that were most vulnerable created change for conservation effort and the villages these women were from. He named the project Akashinga which translates to The Brave Ones. 
When Vimbai Kumire took the stage, she spoke on how becoming a Ranger in this pilot project had given her a new lease on life.  She no longer felt helpless in a society that only valued men as breadwinners.  While the women in her squad were once ridiculed for taking on this service, they are now local heroes and changing the ways that the next generation thinks of women. 
The women who have graduated into the program received identical law enforcement training and fulfill the same role as a male ranger, learning skills such as leadership, unarmed combat, patrolling, camouflage and concealment, first aid, dangerous wildlife, democratic policing, search and arrest, human rights, crime scene preservation, crisis management, firearm safety and use, information gathering and conservation ethics. Their duties are to work with the community in order to stop illegal wildlife crime. The team is exposed to danger in their role, as are all male rangers – an unfortunate reality of conservation work. Women however have proven to be more effective at de-escalating situations as opposed to antagonizing them. 
Info from IAPF 
The Akashinga is now in its second year and continues to train women to become Rangers in Africa.  Several arrests have been made without any injuries to the Rangers.  Their presence continues to deter the illegal wildlife trade and has been impactful on the environment, the preservation of animals and their communities.


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