In many countries choosing a career in conservation can be challenging since it is widely considered a vocational calling. As a result, the industry is not prioritized by government-funding, qualified graduates struggle to find paid employment, and rangers in the field often stay in the same job year after year with no opportunities for advancement.
Akashinga CEO and Founder Damien Mander is acutely aware of the situation, emphasising that the first thing women are asked when they come in for an interview is, “What are your dreams? What is it you want to do?”
It’s a good question because Akashinga Rangers across Zimbabwe are dreaming.
“I would like to have an opportunity to research biodiversity,” says Deputy Ranger Supervisor Talent Dube. Her colleague, Sergeant Judith Muleya, says her first promotion last year has inspired her to work towards becoming an instructor. When asked about her future, canine handler, Sergeant Tracy Basarokwe, says, “I would like to have my own company where I breed and train dogs.”
A direct translation of ‘Akashinga’ is The Brave Ones. It is an homage to the protective role the rangers play, and it is an appropriate name for this resilient group of women who are facing the unknown by courageously seizing new opportunities. Ranger Pedzisai Phiri remembers that when she was growing up, the title ‘Ranger’ was only for men. Now, Akashinga Rangers thrive in this male-dominated profession. They are sending their children to school, building houses, buying cattle, acquiring boat and driver’s licenses, undertaking medical training, and are being granted arrest powers. “The things we are doing, I was not expecting in my life,” marvels ranger Rebecca Dube
At Songo camp in Binga District, Community Liaison Officer and Police Constabulary (Policon) Trainer, Sergeant Jeche, from the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) at Siabuwa, trains a group of rangers on police procedure so that they can be granted powers of arrest. He says, “At the same time, we are also recruiting them to become good teachers, good elders, good counsellors.” His point is prescient; although his students remain rangers, they will expand their skill set and experience. This allows rangers to develop their careers at Akashinga and increases their appeal in the job market if they leave.
In a country that values education, Akashinga Rangers are quick to take advantage of any opportunities for career advancement. Sergeant Nyaradzo Hoto dropped out of high school due to financial difficulties, but this January, she became the first Akashinga Ranger to complete a BSc (Hons) degree in Wildlife, Conservation and Ecology. When she joined Akashinga and saw the unit succeeding, she says, “I told myself that this must be a stepping-stone for my life.” In 2019, she asked Akashinga to support her tertiary studies, and now she is proud to be a trailblazer: “Before, only men were being known to be leaders, but now, women are becoming game changers.”
This type of incentive-based career progression is built into the organisation’s ecosystem. Its area management model, Akashinga, works together with its training program, LEAD Ranger, a collaborative initiative with the Thin Green Line Foundation and Ranger Campus. From Snake bites to Forensic Awareness, the Kenya-based LEAD Ranger team provide ISO certified and evidence-based curriculum on a diverse range of subjects needed for safe operations.
In January 2019, one of Akashinga’s founding recruits, Sergeant Petronella Chigumbura, attended the LEAD Ranger Life Saver Instructor course. Her post-course report comments read: “I’m adamant that we have only seen the tip of the iceberg in Petronella.” Today, Petronella is a Deputy Ranger Supervisor and excelling in her field. She is a LEAD certified instructor and takes every chance to act as an ambassador for her unit and profession.
In the first quarter of 2023, LEAD Ranger has brought the training to Petronella’s home ground in Zimbabwe. Starting with a rigorous selection phase, which narrowed 30 applicants to 12, the LEAD team delivered the Coach Ranger Live Saver (CRLS) course. This course provides trainees with the necessary knowledge to deliver the medical immediate responder course, Ranger Live Saver (RLS). It is also the first step in becoming a fully certified LEAD Ranger instructor.
From the CRLS, 10 applicants went on to become LEAD instructors, and subsequently a series of RLS courses were run at the IAPF Phundundu and Songo camps. The advantage of this format is that rangers can receive continuous developmental training in their own workplace by instructors who are their peers. Additionally, LEAD provides ongoing opportunities for career advancement for rangers keen to expand their skillset or take on a teaching role.
Damien Mander points out that career progression at Akashinga is doing more than ensuring rangers are incentivised to succeed in the conservation world — it’s also changing societal structures and giving women the necessary independence to take charge of their own lives, often for the first time.