wild10-homepage4I’ve just returned from a whirlwind week in Salamanca, attending Wild10, the 10th World Wilderness Congress. It is bittersweet writing in this in a cold and rainy England, and thinking about the experience of being in the sunshine, learning from a vast community of peers and wilderness enthusiasts and creating lasting memories. Wild10 is a huge international public conservation project; it is a two or three year process of collaboration between governments, subject matter experts, community representatives, business, artists and many more who come together to share their success and discuss their challenges.  Although I had my own small part to play in speaking to others about the Wild Swans programme out there, I’ll spend this time trying to capture the spirit of the week and its significance.
Salamanca, 2 hours west of Madrid is stunning; the entirety of the old city is a UNESCO World Heritage site, getting lost in the old streets and plazas on my day off, wandering around the cathedral and beautiful old buildings and soaking up that café culture that we really need in the UK was peaceful and restorative and a lovely way to reflect on an incredible but intense week. Apologies go to the entire population of Salamanca after stopping in the middle of your streets an awful lot to take photos and getting in everybody’s way.
Wild10 started off for me in a slightly bizarre way; I’d been pre-registered as ‘Wild Swan1’ before we knew which one of us would be attending and trying to explain this wasn’t actually my real name became a lost a little in translation. Still, we reached a compromise and I became Olivia Swan for the week to the great amusement of everyone and earning me the nickname of ‘Swany’. I’ll use Olivia Swan as a pseudonym should I ever write a book!
I saw and experienced far too many amazing presentations over the week to share them all; in the opening series of lectures alone there were nearly 150 speakers, and countless more during the workshops all giving valuable insights into their own projects, challenges & beautiful landscapes around the world. I wanted to mention 2 speakers in particular who have stuck in my mind since returning to the UK, which I hope are really representative of what Wild10 is truly about.
The first is very close to home; Courtnie Reeve – 18, a TurnAround graduate from Wilderness Foundation UK, my roommate for the first few days, companion in the hunt for wifi and pick and mix sweets and as someone on the hunt for inspirational women – a defining speaker at the conference. Getting up in front of a room of several hundred people, half of which is probably non-English speaking and explaining (with perfect confidence and poise too, I have to add!) how the experience of TurnAround and being in the wilderness had changed her life, was incredibly moving and I know everyone who heard her speak was blown away.
The second was Moris Chavango a community leader from Mukakaza village in rural Mozambique which had been caught up for years in the civil war. The war now ended, the villagers had rights to 20% of the value of hunting trophies (the ethics of hunting I won’t touch on, that is for another forum) but had taken the decision to join to together and use the money collectively for the benefit of the village, with an equal right of each individual in the decision making. Sadly, they had not seen that money for 5 years and had not been able to resolve their case at the local government level. The President of Mozambique was a keynote speaker at Wild10 and Moris took the opportunity to find and present his case to the leader of his country to reclaim that income, an incredibly brave thing, and a fantastic thing to be able to go back home and tell the people he works with –with photographs to prove it. The emotion and overwhelming reception he received as he told this story just demonstrated that you don’t have to be working on the world stage to be a truly inspirational leader.
Wild10 has opened my eyes again to the world of fantastic work and innovation that it is going on across the globe, in a complex jigsaw of small community projects, national initiatives and setting strategy across a continent – each one with the same aim of changing the face of our world for the better. What I shall cherish the most are the friends I have made in our ‘Wilderness Foundation UK does Salamanca’ week. If they ever come to this small corner of the internet; Jen from Colorado, Myles from Wilderness Scotland, Aldo from Vertical in Santiago in Chile, Angus, Matthew & the whole team at Wilderness Foundation South Africa, everybody at Wilderness Foundation UK that I am now so much closer to; thank you. Thank you for the most incredible week of memories and learning and I look forward to our future working together.