“Dad used to go poaching in Gonarezhou National Park so he could pay my school fees. But now the rangers have increased security and he’s had to stop. It means I can’t go to school anymore, because we don’t have the money. Now I’m afraid that I’ll be married off and never achieve my dream of becoming a ranger,” says Blessing, 15.
“Dad hunted buffalo and impala and sold the meat. He and mum used the money to pay the school fees for me and my siblings. But now the rangers have increased their presence in the park to protect the wild animals. Many poachers are being arrested and put in prison. Last year, dad realized that it was just a matter of time before it would happen to him too, so he decided to stop. At the same time, I had to quit school."
“I really miss school! My life was so different then. I met my friends and played netball during break. I learned so many important things at school. My favourite subject was Content which taught me a lot about the environment and society. I also liked languages, both English and Shangani. When I was going to school, it was fun to be a child. I laughed a lot and felt free.”
“Many girls my age who don’t go to school are already married,” says Blessing.
Long working days
“Now all I do is work. I wake at four in the morning and clean the yard. Then I light the fire to heat water. While it’s heating I wash plates and saucepans from last night’s meal. I used to be putting on my school uniform at this time after getting washed, and then I would go to school. Once I’ve made breakfast for everyone I go to fetch wood and water instead, and I wash the family’s clothes. There are nine of us in the family, so I have to do the washing every day; otherwise, it will be too much in one go. As evening approaches I start making dinner, which is ready at sunset, at six o’clock. Sometimes we sit and talk and tell stories after dinner; otherwise, I go straight to bed because I’m so tired. It’s the job of the eldest daughter to look after the household here, and I do almost everything.”
“When I was going to school, it was fun to be a child, but not now. I felt free then. Now all I do is work,” says Blessing
“When I went to school, the Chilojo Club came to teach us. We learned about nature, the natural cycle and about wild animals and why they need to be protected. They also told us how important it is for us to look after our animals and our natural environment because tourists want to come and experience everything in Gonarezhou. I’ve dreamed of being a ranger ever since. It’s really important work, helping protect the animals that can give us both money and jobs, something that we really need here. And I love animals!”
Blessing’s father hunted impala.
“My dad poached out of necessity. When he had to stop because of the rangers increasing security, I couldn’t go to school anymore. Meanwhile, I want to be a ranger...I know it’s a contradiction! But I’ve learned in the Chilojo Club that our wild animals are worth more alive than dead. That they are part of our heritage and we must look after them for the future. I really believe that, even if it’s caused me major problems.”
There are 11,000 elephants living in Gonarezhou, and the park is also quite rightly known as ‘The Place of Elephants’.