Honoring Our Matriarchs
September 23, 2017
World Elephant Appreciation Day occurred this past Friday, September 22. It was a day that shed light on our passion for these beautiful creatures. It also reminded us that there are many other factors that contribute to this great appreciation, including the amazing humans at Save The Elephants that we are honored to share a connection with. Their extensive fieldwork and devotion to these creatures has allowed us to leverage our platform and celebrate a true community of elephant lovers.
We have learned a lot about the Matriarch - a true luminary - and how her role is so important as a leader of strength, guidance and protection within her family. With immense appreciation, we want to celebrate a woman who mirrors the very qualities of a Matriarch within her realm of human connection and determination to make a difference. Resson Kantai Duff, Head of Awareness at Save The Elephants, takes her role as a leader very seriously. In recognition of valuing these creatures, we also want to highlight Resson as a heroine within her community.
Once again we can pull from our attachment to elephants and how many other doors have opened because of their presence, both physically + emotionally. When you give back to something you truly believe in, a whole new world of opportunity to learn and connect will open. We want to thank Resson for being a role model for all people; let's all PUSH to be the biggest elephant in the room!
"The only reason we hear of such women in our lives is because they had the grit to Pursue Until Something Happened (PUSH). This is grit, and it should never be taken for granted."
Q: What is the most powerful message you believe you can provide for women (and girls)? Why?
A: The most important message I have to give women: You are enough, and you have enough to start. Why? Because women are often so much more cautious and self mis-trusting than men. We wait until we have all the answers to speak out, we believe we need more skills than men to do the same job, we are easily silenced by anyone with just a little more confidence. So my message to myself and to all women is that you are complete; you have enough now. Go!
Q: Based off of your own experiences, why is education for women so important?
A: I'd like to start by saying that education for both women and men is crucial. Without this balance, women continue to be oppressed by men who don't know any better. But with just a little push, girls discover a whole new way of acting and living and thinking, which is often not consistent or found in their culture. They start to use one of the most powerful tools known to humans: the power to question. Why should this be like this? Why can't we try this differently? And they influence entire families and communities to question too, and to innovate. I believe many times innovations come from people who were influenced to ask the question by educated women. Now more educated women are taking the courage to pursue the questions they are asking themselves.
Q: What sort of challenges do the women and girls around you face on a daily basis?
A: I believe the challenges we face as women are similar world wide. But some are peculiar to us here. Many of the girls joining our program from Samburu, Northern Kenya, are still expected to do the harder tasks on top of their school work: fetch the water from far away, bring in the firewood for cooking. If they don't get into school after primary school level, some of these girls from impoverished homes, just beginning puberty, may be married off. If they secure a scholarship with us, they can avoid this fate, and we also introduce a leveller, which is boarding school, prying them away from household chores during term time. Some then face another challenge when they finishing high school: they have to do exceptionally well in order not to be married off at this stage, much better than boys are expected to do. Scholarships for college are far less common, so gains can easily be reversed if the girl doesn't have the grit to push for opportunities for herself.
Q: All women - from around the world - need to stand together. In your opinion, how can we do that? What message do we all need to stand together on?
A: I think we can stand together by finding opportunities for other women where we can, by encouraging other women to excel, and become more competent in everything they do. I think we need to face the fact that although the world is changing and becoming more open to women taking charge, there are many places where this is not the case. If we push other women to get better at what they love to do, to gain more competence, it will raise all of us. While we strive to make sure women feel that they can pursue opportunities now and not later, we also need to encourage them to get better at what they do, by finding them opportunities to shine and to grow. That should be a responsibility all women should take.
Q: How did your career get started?
A: My career in elephant conservation was helped along by a woman, the Chair of the African Elephant Specialist Group, who gave me an opportunity to volunteer at their meeting, not as a run-around girl, but as a meeting rapporteur. It was a big job for one still in college pursuing zoology, but she had faith in me, and I will not forget it. It was there that I met Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, who took an interest in me, and after offered me a job as the education program officer. This was a role I loved, and that exposed me to issues to do with the communities living with wildlife. I was selected to apply for an open WCN scholarship, which I was grateful to receive, and then I took the biggest leap of my life: I applied for a place at the University of Oxford to do a Masters in conservation. I succeeded, and completed my Masters with distinction. I came back to work for STE as a projects officer, and then got promoted to Head of Awareness, returning to my first love of community, education and outreach for conservation. I am forever grateful to the women and the men along the way who had faith in me, who took time to see things in me that I didn't know were there.
Q: What is it like to empower women around you and what sort of responsibility does that hold?
A: Empowering women comes in many shapes and sizes for me. My current team working in the education program is led by two brilliant young women whom I have personally trained. They are the ones in direct contact with our students on a day to day basis, and with education donors. They joined the program fresh out of college like me, and it has been my pleasure and joy to equip them and push them into brave new worlds. Last year Connie and I travelled to the US to attend a conservation education worksop, and meet donors. Nancy, the assistant education program officer just came back from Denmark where she went for a conference on Sustainable Development Goals, something that is of great interest to her. These were their first trips out of Kenya and I am proud to have organised them. I beam with pride to see them both grow, because through them, the girls in our program will have young role models, women who have fresh ideas and are more competent to lead.
Q: Our audience may not understand the challenges women in your culture face from day-to-day. How can we enlighten them and what is one thing you'd like them to take away from this interview?
A: I don't want to diminish the challenges we face in Kenya, or in Africa as women, but I think it is important to say this: a challenge is a challenge. Women in the States have challenges, and they face them every day. We too face our challenges. There are women I've met in the States who are the first in their families to finish high school, and make something of themselves. So too are there similar stories here. I don't want African women to be looked at with pity, that our work is insurmountable. No one chose to be born where they are, but each one can work to climb out of the pit to something better. And we can all help each other... as equals in the struggle.
Q: What is one quality ALL women should never take for granted?
A: Grit: I define grit as staying power. It comes from a place of deep passion which is something women typify very often, and it results in us not giving up, looking for different solutions to difficult problems, and helping others along the way. It is seen when mothers like mine manage to be career women (in a world where they barely existed) while nurturing their children, when women follow through on their decision get an education despite the dearth of opportunities and lack of funds, and when they stand up to take leadership roles despite cultural suppression. The only reason we hear of such women in our lives is because they had the grit to pursue.until.something.happened (PUSH). This is grit, and it should never be taken for granted.
Resson will be visiting our HQ along with her co-worker, Bernard, from STE. Our team will have the opportunity to learn about conservation, culture and empowerment through education. Stay tuned for their visit on October 19-25!