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The WILD Foundation and our sister organizations in The Wilderness Network were founded on the core belief that wilderness is an essential part of a healthy and sane society.  Dr. Ian Player, founder of the organizations within the network, pioneered interracial wilderness experiences in South Africa  — and our organizations remain committed and rooted in the belief that nature is a powerful healer. Time away from the digital demands of our lives provides the space for personal exploration and connection to nature.

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Umzi Wethu, our AIDS orphans program in South Africa, integrates wilderness experiences into its award winning model.  The Umzi program increases the employability potential of resilient, motivated youth displaced by HIV/AIDS and poverty by using the power of the wilderness, promoting personal wellness in a nurturing home context, providing credible training, and securing sustainable job placements in hospitality and eco-tourism establishments – while extending the program’s social outreach to others.  The new Umzi Wethu website features some success stories and personal accounts from students. 

Umzi Wethu AIDS Orphans on Trail in the Wilderness

Here are a few statements from students about their experiences in the wilderness:

“My name is Lukanyo, age 25. I grew up in the city most of my life, knowing nothing about conservation and heard about global warming. I didn’t care about it, with the mentality that it was not going to affect me and my generation. Nature is what white people did to spend money, why would I pay to see animals? Once I came to Umzi Wethu, it just opened my eyes; it was like I was living in the box with no hole even to see the world. When I stepped out that car in the campus, the residence facing the Bosberg Mountain, I knew this was not a joke. I could feel the difference in the texture of the wind I was breathing. It was not the same; the climate was good to live in. Recycling was a form of life, not to make money only. I started seeing what is said about global warming. Growing as a conservationist is a great experience, knowing how the world functions I can tell you now, money does not make the world go round, the soldiers working night and day to make it go round. Conservation makes me respect myself and my soldiers (species, plants and animals), we are all at war to make this world go round.”

“I am Andile, I come from a small town called Alexandria. My life has now changed, I mean the way I do things, and when it comes to nature as a whole, thanks to Umzi Wethu! I truly and honestly find the program interesting and very important because my mindset towards nature has now changed. I respect nature and love nature more than before and Umzi Wethu has boosted my zest in loving and respecting nature and in sustaining natural resources. Currently, my life has changed dramatically, and above all my dream has come true. I also want to see myself in the future as a conservationist, sharing the powerful knowledge about nature with other people, helping them to see the way that I do now, just to open up their eyes and see the world in a better way than they do now. Knowledge is power; therefore I am keen to learn more!”

“Conservation is not a job, it is a lifestyle. I come from a small town called Cradock…then I was in the program…it was a drastic change for me as I used to vandalise and destroy nature, but here at Umzi Wethu they changed my mindset and made me see the bigger picture about nature. Nature only responds to what you make of it…What I like the most about Umzi Wethu is [that it is] a holistic program..We are not only learning for ourselves, but we are also getting the community into the mindset of conserving nature…Being in the industry of conservation one must have a passion for what you do. I used to be a professional hunter but now I’m working my way up to being a professional conservationist with the help of Umzi Wethu…Umzi Wethu created a new priority in my life and it is nature.” Umzi 6 Student

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