Lindy Sutherland was born in Port Elizabeth on South Africa’s Eastern Cape. The youngest of five, Lindy grew up surrounded by nature, cementing her love of wildlife and the outdoor world. Lindy went to high school in Grahamstown where she excelled in sport and began to build on her leadership and people skills. She studied Economics and Industrial Psychology at Stellenbosch University in Cape Town.
Lindy enjoyed a successful career in Advertising and Retail before moving abroad shortly after the birth of her first child. She and her family lived for four years on a remote island in Newfoundland and later Prince Edward Island, Canada. Despite her natural optimism, Lindy found the isolation of the small community difficult to adapt to, and had to dig deep to develop the inner resources needed to cope. Life with three young children was busy and challenging and Lindy used this time to develop a new career.
On her return to South Africa, she published a book, ‘Motherhood and Me’ which explores the path to personal rediscovery during/post motherhood. She also ran workshops and from this grew a new career running a company that develops, publishes and assists in the implementation of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) programmes for children aged 6-14. Established in 2009 by Lindy, ‘Cool to be Me’ is a successful business working with children and adults throughout South Africa, including many under-privileged areas.
Lindy Sutherland took over directorship of The Kariega Foundation in 2017 out of a desire to contribute to the sustainable conservation of wildlife and the upliftment of local communities. Kariega Game Reserve is surrounded by impoverished African communities, but Lindy and the Reserve are changing all that. Lindy's commitment is a positive example of what can be achieved.
“The Kariega Foundation, in partnership with the Kariega Game Reserve, strives to create a natural balance and harmony between commerce, community and conservation.”
The importance of Community Empowerment to the future of rhino
Helping Rhinos: How did you get into conservation?
Lindy Sutherland: Growing up surrounded by nature meant that I have always had a love for the great outdoors. My family have been heavily involved in conservation. Over a thirty- year period my father established what is now the Kariega Game Reserve and this remains still very much part of my life today.
I became Director of the Kariega Foundation in 2017 with the aim of developing a balance between commerce, community and conservation. The Kariega Game Reserve was continuing to be successful as an eco-tourism business, so it was important to conserve and preserve the natural heritage that such a commercial venture feeds off.
HR: How important is the connection between communities and wildlife conservation, and what results have you seen so far in terms of community work?
LS: Since its inception, the Foundation has been working in the many communities surrounding the game reserve, achieving success in education, collaboration and community commitment.
Today, we are in awe of how wide and how deep our influence has become and the reason for that is because of the collaboration, working with strategic partners, working with community members, being guided and led by community leaders who take ownership in all sorts of projects from early childhood and youth development; through environmental education to enterprise development. Because of this natural balance, we are all seeing the benefits of this re-investment into conservation and the community.
As well as running anti-poaching training for members of the local communities, we put a lot of effort into environmental education. This has been an incredibly rewarding process. We give a lot of knowledge to children about climate change, soil health, biodiversity, ocean health, and wildlife. We run weekly environmental education classes at 8 different schools. It’s a very broad and rich curriculum that exposes children to not just top level information, but quality resources such as video footage, TED talks etc.
We are also looking to reconnect the children with nature by helping them develop their social and emotional learning. The children take on the challenges, running environmental clubs at their schools, going on game drives and camps and even taking part in fund-raising events such as the Rhino Run. There are over 300 children in sports leagues we have established, playing rugby and netball as well as dancing.
These children are optimistic and focused. One school recently ran a clean- up day where everyone including the government warden picked up litter. These children are finding their voices and advocating change.
I am very grateful for my amazing team who make this all happen.
What I have learnt from working with under-privileged children is that they take everything you give them and absorb and integrate it to their best efforts.
HR: What gives you the most hope for the future?
LS: The way the children respond to education and knowledge and the way they are reconnecting to nature gives me much hope.
There’s a misbelief that children who are poor, or born into poverty don’t care about the environment; if you are hungry, you can’t possibly care about litter or animals. But these children, through our environmental education programmes, have proved the converse.
For me the biggest reward recently was when high school students from Alexandria, one of the poorest communities in the Eastern Cape, chose to organise and run a march on Climate Change Day. This cross-generational march has to have been the first ever march in a poor community of South Africa. It showed that just because you are poor it doesn’t mean you don’t care about the world you live in.
HR: How important is it for you to be working with organisations like Helping Rhinos?
LS: Conservation is a team sport. Community work is a team sport. We couldn’t do without organisations like Helping Rhinos and the many other partnerships we are involved with. Our communities offer the human resource – their skills, leadership and time and when you partner these people with experts in the field who bring additional skills and resources that is when the alchemy happens – the magic.
HR: How excited are you to be sharing your stories of the Eastern Cape and the Kariega Foundation at our Spring Talk at the Royal Geographical Society on 2nd April?
LS: I am very excited to share our stories and successes. And I am also keen to be part of Thandi’s legacy. She has come to be a visual representation of what poaching means (i.e. without her horn), but also allows us to see that her experience was given to us for a reason: it led us on a journey to ensure that we work towards a sustainable future for all wildlife and the communities that surround them.
Success has to be about protection, conservation, community, collaboration and preservation. Thandi’s survival must not be in vain.