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News > Bradfieldian Stories > Saskia Stephenson (M 16-21) on Marine Conservation in Africa

Saskia Stephenson (M 16-21) on Marine Conservation in Africa

After leaving Bradfield I spent the next 6 months working in London for my volunteering and travelling. Unfortunately, Covid disrupted my gap year. I was originally meant to be volunteering with Operation Raleigh in Costa Rica, however, during Christmas Costa Rica went on the UK’s Red list. After two weeks of chaos, I soon found myself on a plane to Kenya embarking on a five-week Marine Conservation and Community Volunteering Programme with The Leap.

After a long, exhausting 14-hour journey I arrived in Africa. I instantly fell in love with the bustling African culture and swiftly had to acclimatise to the heat! The volunteering programme was heavily marine based; rising sea levels and overfishing are some of the several problems facing the local area of Kuruwitu. We worked directly with the charity Oceans Alive who led the programme. The volunteering included weekly beach clean-ups, educating the local fisherman on conservation, and coral reforestation. Due to bleaching and overexploitation, Kenya’s coral reefs have significantly declined over the last three decades. On a typical day, I cleaned the coral tables and built artificial structures to plant more coral. It was amazing to be part of this bottom-up approach as marine conservation is an area I have always been fascinated by, yet I knew little about. One of my favourite parts of the programme was the daily snorkelling to survey the biodiversity in the reefs – a great way to cool down in the scorching heat and have a bit of added fun!

I was also lucky enough to help the local community. During the programme, we frequently went into one of the schools in Kuruwitu to teach and play with the local children. A few of my friends and I brought a child’s bike in the local town of Kilifi and I loved seeing the enjoyment this gave the kids. It was heart-warming to see the smiles that were brought to their faces. We were delighted to leave the bicycle as a gift for the children when we left. Another way we helped the community was by building jikos – local stoves in family homes. This made such a big difference as they need an open fire to be able to cook inside.

During the programme, we also went on a fantastic four-day safari. I have never been on safari, and I loved it. The early morning game drives and sundowners overlooking a herd of elephant in the watering hole was breath taking. I was extremely fortunate to see most of the Big 5 and the highlight would have to be spotting a cheetah.

After an incredible five weeks, I finally left my volunteering programme and continued travelling throughout Kenya with the other volunteers who are now firm friends. Our travels after took us to Lamu, Watamu, Diani, and finally took us to Nanuki where we climbed Mount Kenya. This was one of the hardest yet most worthwhile experiences I have had. I have never had to undergo anything so physically treacherous in my life, however, the view from the top was magical.

Despite continuously delaying my flight I had to return home to England as I had a job as a working pupil in an eventing yard two days after my return. My trip to Kenya was one of the most eye-opening things I have ever done. My volunteering programme was not only educational, but an incredible experience. I think it is fair to say I have definitely caught the African bug and can’t wait to go back.

I am so grateful to have received the Old Bradfieldian Masonic Lodge Award to help fund my once in a lifetime trip.

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