Staff Spotlight: Lauren Locke

Title:
Former Marketing Coordinator for the U.S. Office

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Born and Raised in Asheville, NC Lauren has an M.A. in International Relations with a focus on Higher Education and Sustainable Development from NC State University. With a background in Study Abroad and Fair Trade Tourism Lauren has worked and studied on every continent. In the field, she has worked in rural development and early childhood nutrition in India, assisted with great white shark research and diving operations in South Africa and facilitated student programming in eastern Europe. She is a wealth of information on conservation issues as well as student involvement opportunities.

What position do you hold at ACE and why do you like working there?

I am in the Marketing Coordinator here in the U.S. office. I feel lucky to work for a quality organization that is truly giving back to the greater good. I wholeheartedly believe in nexus between transformative student opportunities and community driven initiatives. ACE plays a special role in wildlife conservation in Southern Africa. As a small company, we have a close relationship with our volunteers and the projects. Its very rewarding to be a part of a company that works hard to promote sustainable practices and ethical relationships.

How are the volunteers supported when they arrive at their project?

ACE volunteers are given 24/7 on-site support from our ground team - led by our wonderful manager Martin. He meets every volunteer at the airport, arranges transfers and visits projects. He will literally take you to the hospital if you are sick, liaise with your family and talk you through any issues that arise. He is a truly remarkable human being and as an ex game ranger he has incredible insight into environmental conservation and historical conservation in southern Africa. Also, at each project there are volunteer coordinators to assist with the details of daily life.

How does your organization differ from other ones in the industry?

I cannot emphasize enough the ethical awareness in which we choose, maintain and support our projects. We seek to provide a fully supported placement for our volunteers but we also hope to communicate our primary purpose. Ideally, this is why we are chosen by the traveler.

We are not a “study abroad” or a “cheap safari”. We require our volunteers to give back in a very physical and personal way. We believe this creates a connection which inspires the conservation volunteer to bring a lifetime of awareness of such issues back to their home country which may further inspire others to get involved in the protection and preservation of unique habitats and species. We all know that Africa calls… as a company we hope to create a deep personal connection to the environment which will inspire travelers to return to Southern Africa and preserve the incredible biodiversity of the continent for generations to come.

How does your program support sustainable projects within the community?

ACE desires all of our projects have intimate links to the community in which they are located, as we believe this increases the sustainability of the operation. We encourage school groups and local media visits in order to increase the discussion of wildlife preservation in Southern Africa. All projects are locally owned and provide local jobs and generate income through volunteering tourism. We have also fully funded placements for local South Africans to take part in our placements and give interest free loans to our partners to develop capacity when needed. ACE has two specific partner projects that have a strong community education component.

Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage and Rehabilitation Center in Zimbabwe directs a program called “EPIC” in which they give wildlife presentations in the local schools. This has had a transformational impact on the knowledge and appreciation of the local environment. Superstitions against specific animals have been devastating to the populations. At these weekly visits both children and teachers are taught more about these African animals and are given the hands-on opportunity to interact. The presence of the foreign volunteers also increases the credibility and appreciation of the various species from a local perspective.

Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre has been a leader in wildlife preservation for 40 years. They are open for public tours and regularly have local school groups on tour. One of their most recent success stories involves education of local farming communities in order to save leopards who were threatening their livestock populations. Now, farmers will call the center to capture a leopard in order to relocate it into a protected area where it will not pose a threat or cause conflict. Previously, these leopards were simply killed, as they were seen as a direct threat to farming and its livelihood. Moholoholo has rescued over 15 leopards this year in response to local calls.

What responsible volunteering traits does ACE represent?

As a small team ACE works tirelessly to support conservation initiatives in Southern Africa by sending international support in the form of paid volunteers. ACE is the longest running wildlife volunteering organization in all of Southern Africa, having been in operation for over 16 years. ACE is primarily a conservation organization with a secondary purpose of eco-tourism. ACE does not own any of our partner projects and we encourage all sites to hire only local staff. In addition, ACE only support projects that give real and tangible value to wildlife conservation. In this way, ACE is able to truly support local organizations by providing both physical and financial assistance.

In this capacity, conservation travelers have an in-depth, hands-on, intensive experience with qualified conservationists in the field. This allows for personalized understanding and awareness of conservation issues which the traveler then brings back to their home country. Additionally, ACE ground staff fully support the volunteer throughout their placement in an unprecedented capacity. We assist with all transfers, give 24/7 support to both projects and volunteers for issues on-site as well as medical emergencies. The goal is for international travelers to have a safe and supported opportunity to experience wildlife conservation in Southern Africa, while knowing that they are absolutely having a positive impact both in energy and funding.

What does the future hold for ACE - any exciting new programs to share?

ACE has big plans for the future. We opened a US base in Berkeley, CA in July 2014 so that projects can be presented to students from the Americas. In the future, ACE hopes to build connections and diversify in South America to extend project placements to the Amazon and the Galapagos.