A shot in the arm for the all women Akashinga project

– Our goal is to expand the wilderness under our control to 12 million hectares by 2030 by empowering hundreds of communities and thousands of women, Akashinga boss hinted. 

John Cassim

HARARE, Zimbabwe – The Zimbabwean based International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF) has been awarded a US$700,000 (Australian $1 million) grant from the Judith Neilson Foundation, which will be used to strengthen its nature activities.

Akashinga, a ‘Nature Protected by Women’ program in the Zambezi Valley, has been a catalyst for change across the region.

It focuses on social impact to achieve conservation as well as women empowerment.

The grant will be used to recruit additional women as wildlife rangers as Akashinga embarks on a massive expansion in partnership with local communities, where the women recruited reside. 

The Sydney based Australian businesswoman Judith Neilson, was born and raised in Zimbabwe.  

“Akashinga’s strong focus on supporting marginalised women in rural areas, hand in hand with delivering infrastructure upgrades for healthcare, education and clean water are vital for community led conservation having impact at scale. 

“The women of Akashinga have proven this and I am excited to be supporting them as they expand their work in Africa,” Judith said. 

Neilson’s commitment to the Akashinga program comes as she increased her philanthropic giving to social justice issues alongside with commitments to strengthening journalism and the arts. 

Judith has been recognised by her appointment as a Member of the Order of Australia, she was also awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of New South Wales. 

Speaking after the announcement of the grant, IAPF Founder and CEO Damien Mander said, without nature there is no future.

“The IAPF team is very grateful for Judith’s generosity and trust. 

The commitment in honouring her Zimbabwean roots through the women of Akashinga, who are building new futures for themselves and communities while protecting the natural heritage of Zimbabwe, is indicative of the shift needed in global philanthropy,” Mander said. 

“The health of the planet supersedes the health of all else, and this begins with community upliftment and empowerment. Without nature, we simply have no future,” the former Austrian sniper added.

When he left the Australian Army’s Special Operations unit, Mander moved to Zimbabwe and founded the IAPF in 2009 following three years of service in Iraq.

The Akashinga program started in 2017 with a group of 16 women, all survivors of gender-based violence and abandonment, many impacted by AIDS and HIV. 

In no time their efforts in dismantling local poaching syndicates and driving a downturn in wildlife crime across the region, made an impact.

“Six years later, the program has expanded from Zimbabwe to protect some of the largest wild landscapes left in Africa,” narrated Mander. 

The women of Akashinga are making an increasing impact on the global terrain with 3.7 million hectares of wilderness under their custodianship. 

Nyaradzo leading fellow rangers during patrols

Nyaradzo Hoto, aged 30 and a mother of one daughter, is one of the 16 beneficiaries of the Akashinga project when it started six years ago .

She was recruited after being forced to drop out of high school due to financial constraints, and subsequently a violent marriage. 

After divorce, she went on to become Sergeant Major of Zimbabwe’s Akashinga team.

In July 2022, she was the recipient of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) International Ranger of the Year Award, during an African Protected Area Conference in Kigali, Rwanda.

She went on to graduate with a Bachelor of Science Honours Degree in Wildlife, Ecology and Conservation at Zimbabwe’s Chinhoyi University of Technology (CUT). 

“We can’t change the world alone, we can do it together and hope Judith’s generosity continues to inspire others to believe in the goodness of humanity and our link with nature.,” Mander said.

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