The Thesis Begins In Earnest…

*Featured image: Mkuyu Guiding School.

The building of the project that will very soon constitute my thesis has been a lengthy process steeped in meaningful relationships with people who I feel as ‘family’, and a place that I increasingly recognise as ‘home’. It has always been undertaken with love, excitement, enthusiasm, and friendship, with goals and hopes attached to it from all sides. But at some point when undertaking research, things quietly shift from conceptual into phenomenal, sometimes in such subtle ways that it happens unnoticed. Twice now, in the past week or so, I have been hit by the gravity of realisation around this shift.

What can I tell you about Mkuyu Guiding School? Sometimes I feel that my descriptions are so lacking – they never seem to express the fullness of the reality. I will attempt to write a separate post, because here it would simply be far too lengthy and take away from the experience I need to record now, in this moment.

All I can say now is that the humble determination, the cheerful resilience, the love and care that stretches through time, the visions for the future, the persistence against the odds, the deep sense of responsibility and the nourishment of acting on it…make Mkuyu a deeply felt place. For me, for those who know Mkuyu as their home, and for those whose lives have been enriched and nourished by what is generated at and by Mkuyu. And there are many – both human and more-than-human.

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Left to right: Leonard, myself, Abel, Innocent, Jema, Moses.

I just made a draft of my literature review for the research project with Mkuyu. I started to cry, looking at the headings and what we hope to achieve together. I feel so much about this project, and about the African continent, people and ecosystems…I have wanted to contribute something meaningful, just, empowering and responsible for so, so long. When I look at this project and see it beginning to take shape, so many thoughts and feelings flood in. I recall the photos that were just sent to me yesterday via WhatsApp showing the guide students teaching children about the environment, sharing their incredible, experience-based knowledge and passion, being inspiring role models for future generations. I recall conversations with Mkuyu teachers that have blown my mind and filled me with excitement and hope for the future.

But I also think of the challenges and opposition we have faced, the doubt and dismissal – because Mkuyu is not a Western registered organisation overseen by Western conservationists. It is Tanzanian. Humble, and largely unknown. But it is Tanzanian, and that is so unbelievably important. Anyone with an honest eye on conservation in Africa – and anywhere, really – ought to be able to recognise that importance. We care for what is our own; we love what is part of who we are. It is Tanzanian, and it is successful and working, and it is achieving incredible, tangible, practical things for an ecological Tanzanian future.

And they are doing it so damn well, it moves me to tears!

I am just so humbled and so honoured to be witness to it. I am slow working on this project most days, because there is such a huge responsibility to give Mkuyu the position they deserve. Every word is so delicate, so important…this project needs to be loved, nurtured. I feel that together, we have planted a seed that we are now caring for and encouraging to grow. In which case, like the growing of a tree, it is a sacred task we have ahead of us…one that calls for both responsibility and often overwhelming joy. The growers grow with what is grown.

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