Life Through A Lens

Author Pru Allison
Date June 07, 2024

Wildlife photography, and the expensive gear and destinations that go with it, might seem like an elitist endeavour, but one couple have made it their mission to change that. Through Wild Shots Outreach (WSO) Mike Kendrick is working to changes lives through lenses and we’re supporting him all the way.

“We are making photography, wildlife tourism and conservation more inclusive and diverse,” he asserts.

Originally from the city of Bristol in England, Mike’s background is in education, having taught biology and photography at a government school in a deprived area of his home city. He progressed to become Assistant Headteacher, taking responsibility for the school at a senior level, and part of his job entailed helping young people access employment and further study. Mike also spent a large amount of time on teacher training and assessing the quality of learning and teaching.

Such a background left Mike ideally positioned to help others find their own vocation, and it was in 2011 when he and his wife Harriet moved to South Africa that the pair began to realise there was a need for change and that they might be the ones to drive it.

“We’d always come to Africa on our annual holidays and often wondered what would happen if we tried working there,” he recalls. “We both wanted to make a difference in the areas of conservation and social upliftment and we felt our skills might be of use in South Africa. I spent four years in the Cape where I was principal of a second chance Matric centre for students from Gugulethu, Langha and Khayaleisha in the ganglands outside Cape Town. Then I worked for an NGO improving teaching and learning in struggling government schools in the Cape Flats.”

Today Mike and Harriet live in Hoedspruit, Limpopo in the Greataer Kruger Area of South Africa with their dog Speed, but it was while travelling across Africa on a roadtrip that the idea for Wild Shots Outreach took root.

“I was visiting Protected Areas and wondering why I only saw white tourists,” he recalls.

His contemplation of this was compounded by a number of contributing factors. Firstly, his wife Harriet was running the Wild Shots Photography conference in Cape Town each year. This event would draw some of the finest wildlife photographers from South Africa and overseas and yet there was a notable absence for Mike and Harriet, “we could not find a black wildlife photographer to present at the event,” he confides. This was a realisation that seemed extraordinary given that the event was held in South Africa where one would imagine there were many very talented black photographers with access to enthralling safari subjects.

Mike’s concern was heightened when the couple moved to Hoedspruit in 2015.

“I was dismayed to find that none of the local black school children had visited Kruger or the reserves just a few kilometres from their home,” says Mike, incredulous. “How will we save Africa’s wild places and wild animals if there’s such a disconnect with the local communities?”

It was at this point that Mike came to the conclusion that would lead to Wild Shots Outreach changing many young lives. “I believed that learning to use a camera would be an exciting way for young people to experience wildlife and tell their stories,” he nods. “I ran a pilot programme in November 2015 and the first programme in a government school was in January 2016. When I saw one of the student’s outstanding photos from the very first workshop I knew Wild Shots Outreach was going to work!”

Since that initial workshop, WSO has become the immersive experience that Mike imagined it would be, allowing unemployed young adults from disadvantaged communities to appreciate wildlife and wild places through the lens of a camera. The programme facilitates conversations about conservation and helps shape the mindsets of the next generation of environmental stewards. The NGO is also now an award winner with its most recent accolade being the International Gold Award from The Global Good Awards.

“Wild Shots Outreach has grown in reach and impact in ways we could have never imagined,” enthuses Mike. “We have taken over 1,400 young people on their first game drive.”

Apart from improved understanding and care for wildlife and conservation, the objective of the initiative is to develop self-confidence, self-esteem, life skills and photographic skills.

Many of the participants also draw great inspiration from the Wild Shots Outreach’s Programme Director Rifumo Mathebula who came through the programme himself. Rifumo won the international CIWEM ‘Youth Environmentalist of the Year’ and Mail & Guardian ‘Greening The Future’ Award, both of which are very prestigious and recognise ‘passionate, proactive individuals actively working towards positive environmental change with lasting impact.

“He now has his own team of teaching assistants and has delivered Wild Shots Outreach courses with Natural Selection in Botswana and Namibia,” Mike explains. “He’s a fantastic role model for young black people who perhaps need to see someone like him or his team to inspire them.”

Despite having a Programme Director on board, Mike’s days are still jam-packed as Founder and Executive Director.

“I love to start with an early walk with Harriet and Speed to plan the day,” he tells us. “Then from about 8am I’m mainly working from my desk at home putting programmes together and organising assignments for our team of photographers and videographers. I’m often dealing with calls, meetings, events and financial aspects of WSO, plus I manage and support the WSO Bursary students. I’m also in regular contact with partners like Natural Selection, Canon, Manfrotto and Lowepro keeping them up to date with developments. I try to close down at 18:00 and get the last emails sent off.”

Such a schedule leaves little time for Mike to teach, and fortunately Rifumo has things well in hand. “I miss the teaching,” admits the founder. “But Rifumo and his team are so good, I love going to workshops and watching them teach.”

The team has taken their message beyond Africa’s borders, travelling to the UAE, the UK, Italy and Hong Kong to talk about inclusion and diversity in conservation and photography.

“In 2020 we started a Bursary fund to support the further training and study of our most talented students, not just photographers,” Kendrick adds. “Over 35 young people are now in employment, training or studying thanks to the Bursary Fund including black female safari guides, black filmmakers and a black female pilot.”

While an incredibly worthwhile venture, the work certainly isn’t without its challenges. “Making sure we have all the funding in place that we need to run the programme and the bursary fund is the most difficult aspect,” he confides.

Rifumo’s story is a fantastic advertisement for the work WSO are doing, but there are many more success stories. The NGO has supported four young women from local communities in becoming qualified safari guides and Neville Ngomane was part of WSO’s media team when he won Young Environmental Photographer of the Year in 2019. “We’ve created a network of role models who prove that nothing is impossible if you make the most of every opportunity,” notes Mike. The work is being noticed. A 3 year PhD research project with the University of Johannesburg assessed the impact of the programme. “Getting that external validation has proved so valuable,” he smiles.

We have a long history of supporting the NGO, and workshops recently took place at a number of our lodges: Sable Alley, Planet Baobab, Jack’s Camp and Meno a Kwena. We’ve also expanded our partnership into Namibia and welcomed workshops into Etosha Heights Private Reserve, Kwessi Dunes and Hoanib Valley Camp. The participants are guided through the worlds of photography, wildlife and conservation and then their time in camp culminates with a game drive in which they put their newfound skills into practice.

We’re fully committed to helping WSO continue their life-changing mission and Mike has exciting plans in store. “We will continue to grow in scale, building Rifumo and the team’s responsibilities and outreach. The quality of our delivery is important to me and we will continue to keep this to a very high standard. We look forward to developing our partnership with Natural Selection further – it is so good to be working with like-minded people who believe and invest in conservation and social upliftment.”

If you’d like to help us support Mike and Rifumo in their endeavours, we’d welcome donations of working cameras from guests to our lodges, or you can donate here

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