by Mark Tuckey
I was already very passionate about wildlife and nature conservation before I enrolled in a FGASA course at Campfire Academy but the experience exceeded my expectations beyond anything I could have predicted. It became quite clear to me early on how little I really knew and how many of my ideas about the environment and conservation were either questionable or incorrect. Learning about Southern and South Africa’s unique conservation challenges, and equally unique solutions, has given me a completely new perspective and has fired up my passion even more. There might be things that I disagree with but now I actually have the education and understanding to question sensibly. Overall there is a tremendous force for good in South Africa’s conservation community and, ever since graduating from Campfire, I’ve been consumed with finding a way to join the ranks of that community on a more permanent basis.
Being a guy who’s played rugby for 25 years, almost all my role models, mentors and inspirations have been men. With our principal trainer, Laetitia Cronjé, that tradition came to a definite halt. Laetitia has had the most incredible impact on me through her passion for nature. She has a true gift for teaching. She shares knowledge in a fun, fact-filled and interesting way, mixing in her real-life experiences and stories. At times she spoke with such conviction that I found myself with tears in my eyes – well-hidden, of course, to preserve some macho credibility. The truth, however, is that I’d put my life in Laetitia’s hands because I trust her 100% both professionally and personally. She’s top of my list of inspirations now.
You can’t talk about Campfire without also mentioning Brass Brassett and Suegnette Cronjé. Brass is Campfire’s master organiser, a bit like a hotel concierge in the bush. Her bush knowledge is terrific, she’s a great photographer and was always willing to help. If you need local information, you can count on Brass to be in-the-know. Suegnette is Laetitia’s mother and she treats all who visit Campfire like one of her very own grandchildren. A beautiful soul who looked after us with hearty cooking, chats, advice and stories of her own.
The FGASA course blew my mind, including and exploring far more than I had anticipated. Campfire’s programme is enriched with Laetitia’s academic, scientific background. We were also given the opportunity to develop additional skills and interests like effective communication and nature photography. We visited beautiful and unusual places that are often overlooked in the area. We played in the local volleyball tournament (winning 2nd place!) and we had a ball at the local Safari Wine Festival. The shared experiences of our group bonded us together in lifelong friendships.
I’ve gained so much from completing my FGASA training at Campfire Academy. I would love for other people to experience Mother Nature like I did and so I will continue to recommend Campfire to anyone and everyone – whether they want to become a traditional field guide or apply the qualification and experience in a completely different way.