Jermain’s journey into tourism and conservation

JERMAIN Ketji is a Namibian who spent his early years outdoors as a goat herder, where his love of nature first began. Today he is the community engagement manager for Wilderness Safaris.

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He has been in community-based conservation and tourism for over 12 years, starting as a research assistant in the Okavango and Caprivi regions to piloting agricultural tourism concepts in the Omaheke region.

He worked as a business advisor to the Namibian Community Based Tourism Association and the Namibia Rural Development Project before venturing into business. In 2005 he joined Wilderness Safaris as a freelance guide before taking on a full-time position as a community liaison officer in 2006. He’s since moved up the ranks to become a manager.

“I grew up in Grootfontein. Back then family was the community. It was really extended, we had parents everywhere up and down the street. I grew up with farming. We could enjoy nature.

“There was an old man who was our goat herder. I enjoyed his company and he used to take me with him to herd the goats every day and he would really interpret nature for me. I learnt the uses of the plants, learnt about which tracks I had found, the uses of different fruits and berries. I fell in love with nature at that young age.

“Namibia is known the world over for our great conservation story. To sustain our conservation success, tourism comes in handy by using it as a base to launch a tourism concept that does not destroy the environment, but shares our conservation story with international guests who also help pay for conservation.

“Our tourism model is ‘boots on the ground’, which defines sustainability and conservation in a different way.

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We show people how to do it. We share our story and I think we inspire people.

“There are many uses of land but you can have land and still not be empowered. Conservation is utilising land and adding economic value to it, so that out of that land we may reap the benefits which help to sustain the economy.

“A conservancy’s assets, like wildlife, its administration and the success of conservation on that land – that’s a package. On top of that you add tourism, build a lodge, employ people, sell the package and empower.

“I am proud of being a negotiator for concessions and conservancies, and playing a role in clinching the deal with the Palmwag Conservancy. I’m looking forward to refining and enhancing what we are doing and making it a model that others can copy.

“If you are genuine and authentic about what you want to do, if you add passion to that, like in my case, I’ve had the opportunity to see things materialise. That inspires me to keep doing what I do, regardless of what it takes or how long it takes.

“Children in the Wilderness is a programme focused on schools in rural areas. We engage with kids in what we call Eco Clubs. It basically plants a seed in these learners to become aware of their environment and become future custodians of it.

“At our annual Eco Club camps we close one of our lodges to guests and open it to the children. They come and are exposed to the value of tourism, and they get treated like guests. We share inspiring stories that can ignite little fires in them to open up and start dreaming about big things.”

He says the Children in the Wilderness programme sponsors basics for those who don’t have a lot. It pays for uniforms and buys books and study materials, and also sponsors tertiary education.

“We underestimate the impact that we can make on other people. If we can be generous with what we have, we will have a better world. We need to awaken ourselves to become conscious of that, and we need to value our impact on people.”