When Nokuthula could not finish high school because her parents were unable to continue paying fees, her hopes and dreams of furthering her education were shattered.
Her prospects after high school quickly became limited as she comes from a small village called Chitindiva in Zimbabwe where it is common for most young girls to drop out of school to due falling pregnant or failure to pay school fees.
According to a survey on Zimbabwe's educational situation, more than 1.2 million children aged 3 to 16 are not enrolled in school. Furthermore, figures from a study showed that 63% of pupils were unable to pay for their education and were sent home by their schools.
These statistics paint the reality of what most school children face in Zimbabwe. Without the means to pay for fees, most pupils are forced to drop out and face the harsh economy.
Determined to avoid following the generic path most girls her age often have to face due to economic hardships, Nokuthula held on to her goals of pursuing an education, even without a roadmap of how this goal would be achieved.
Nokuthula decided to return to her home village to share her story of how she went from being unable to return to school to working as a full-time Akashinga Ranger.
The dusty road that leads to her village stretches over many kilometres, one can’t help but wonder how many kids aged as young as 3 years old, walk long distances to access schools and other nearby essentials such as shops and clinics.
However, the energetic children and villagers who were walking and going about their daily routine, painted a different picture, they seemed happy even though they had undoubtedly been walking for hours to reach their destination.
When Nokuthula arrived at her house, an elderly man with a joyful spring in his step reached out his arms and hugged his last born daughter, tears of joy began streaming down his face as he was happy to see his daughter again.
Nokuthula is the fifth child out of five children, her father shows great pride in his daughter and marvels at her achievements when he speaks about her.
“I am very proud of what Nokuthula is doing today, she is my last born out of my five children,” he said.
“When I couldn’t afford for her to finish high school my heart was broken because I knew she was a good student with great potential."
"When she couldn't go back to school, she did not become discouraged or bitter, no job or task around our village was beyond her, the same chores the boys did, she was able to do them too.”
Nokuthula's father recalled the time when he heard about the IAPF and recruitment opportunity to take on new rangers who if successful would join the all-female force known as Akashinga Rangers.
"When I heard that the IAPF was looking to recruit female rangers, I told Nokuthula to give it a go, it sounded like a great opportunity since she had no formal education completed or any job prospects lined up," he said.
Nokuthula detailed the experience she went through as part of the application process to become a ranger. She was required to undergo physical exercises and tests, even though she was a petite frame in comparison with the other rangers, she attempted every test.
After a long application process, Nokuthula's anticipation of hearing whether she had been successful in her application or not was held off for a year due to COVID19 placing restrictions on recruitment processes for many organizations globally.
After almost a year of waiting and dealing with the impact of a global pandemic, Nokuthula finally received the news she had patiently been waiting for, her application was a success and she would be part of the next recruit of Akashinga Rangers.
"I was very happy to hear that my application had been successful, I waited almost a year but did not lose hope," she said.
"Finding out that I had been successful was a game-changer for me because the work and responsibilities of a ranger are a pathway to my passion of one day becoming an ecologist."
"Being a ranger has opened my eyes to the possibilities of making this dream a reality, I have access to resources I didn't have before, including the opportunity to be mentored by individuals in our Habitat unit here at IAPF."
Nokuthula's role as an Akashinga Ranger has been nothing short of amazing and in many ways inspiring. Being the youngest ranger has not limited or clipped her wings, instead, it has enabled her to flourish as she was recently appointed as a Stick Leader.
A Stick Leader is someone who is put in charge of a small group of rangers and facilitates training drills. It is a position Nokuthula embraces and has helped her earn the respect of her colleagues.
With education being the cornerstone of what Nokuthula advocates for in her peers, a visit to her former school (Chitindiva High School) was important in getting her message across to students who still have the opportunity to get an education.
The teachers and pupils were overjoyed at the sight of Nokuthula, they were intrigued by her ranger uniform and were prepared to listen when she spoke.
She gave the students a talk on the importance of prioritising their studies over everything else and urged every pupil to take the teachers more seriously.
Nokuthula's former agriculture teacher said,
"Sometimes it is very hard to inspire the students when it is coming from us teachers, having Nokuthula here has a greater impact because she was also once a student here, so they can relate to her."
While Nokuthula's trajectory has changed from being hopeless to now limitless thanks to her role as an Akashinga Ranger, not all girls have the same outcome. With unemployment rates in Zimbabwe skyrocketing daily, young girls lose opportunities every day.
You can support the Akashinga Rangers to ensure they have continued resources to help fight wildlife crime and uplift communities. Your contributions will fund community projects and keep people like Nokuthula employed.