On September 21, 2017, the Wilderness Foundation Africa team in Vietnam, along with 8 of the Wild Rhino Youth Ambassadors and various local NGOs came together to raise awareness of World Rhino Day, with support from the American Center of the U.S Consulate Ho Chi Minh City.

The event, attended by the U.S Consulate representative, representatives and volunteers from participating NGOs, and students and teachers from the Wild Rhino Competition’s participating international schools, educated those present on rhinos, the poaching crisis as well as the issue of the demand for rhino horn in Vietnam.

The event began with the welcome and brief introduction from Mr. Sean Lindstone, the Economics Officer from the U.S Consulates HCMC. Right after the warm welcome, the Wild Rhino Youth Ambassadors started their presentation by playing a short video made by Peter Phan – Wild Rhino Youth Ambassador of The American School, named “Breath”.

The video was filmed by Peter when he was on a wilderness trail in South Africa in July. It not only tells the audience about the amazing experience that he and his fellow ambassadors all had in South Africa, but also the inspiring lesson they all learned from the trip that every animal on the planet, including humans and rhino, all shares the same breath.

The video was a great way to introduce the presentations of the Wild Rhino Youth Ambassadors. To start off, they shared their stories about how they first engaged in the issue to join the Wild Rhino Competition. Each of them had their own unique stories but all these stories inspired them and brought them together to have the most meaningful experience in South Africa.

They told the audience of their experience, their feelings, what they had seen, what they had learned and the connection they felt during the 5 days in the wilderness. There was so much to learn and to see. After everything they’ve been through together and the moments they shared with one another, they came back to Vietnam and brought back 4 main take-home lessons that have inspired them to make the changes.

In closing their presentation, they wanted to inspire the audience in Vietnam with these lessons they had learned.

  • The first lesson is the horrifying truths of rhino poaching, presented by Chan Choi and Brian Yang from Renaissance International School. They talked about the statistic of killings in the past few years. They also spoke for the rhinos how vulnerable they are to humans and the pain and loss they continue to suffer from the massacre caused by humans.
  • The second lesson is what they learned about human nature, namely ignorance, selfishness and vulnerability, presented by Jay Chang from the ABC International School and Duc Nguyen from the Asian International School. Duc talked about the ignorance of human nature as humans tend to “hide in the crowd” and pretend there is nothing wrong with the world as long as they are not affected. But this should not be how everyone believe. As Duc said, after all “[…] the real criminals are not only the one that are doing the bad things, but are also the one that seeing bad things, but do nothing.”

They also mentioned that their time in the wilderness has made them realize how small and vulnerable humans actually are compared to nature. Yet, as Jay mentioned, “for so long we have been sheltered and protected in the comfort of cities that we’ve built”, we humans “have lost our own sense of vulnerability” which leads to the disconnection and the disrespect to nature and wildlife. Jay also shared his team’s story of an elephant that visited his camp. Instead of attacking them which an elephant has all the power and capability to do, “it just simply chose to walk away.” At the moment, he realized that “how selfish we are as a species, they welcome us into their habitat with open arms. But we forcefully remove them from their shelters” with violence. What we need to do is find that “lost connection with the environment once more.”

  • The third lesson they shared with the audience is the connection that they have felt toward animals, nature, others and themselves. These connections are born within us and have never been lost. We have been forgetting about them as we have never lived for the moment when we can “reflect upon your own self as an individual. Your own identity” said Peter Phan. The wilderness has taught them to feel empathy for everything and everyone surrounding us. After all, we “all share the same air, the same earth, and the same soul” said An Hoang from the American International School.
  • Finally, the last lesson they wanted to deliver to everyone is that the poaching issue is not exclusively any nation’s problem. It’s the global issue! No matter what color we are or what identity we have, we have to work together to save the rhinos, the planet and our future.

After the presentation, the 8 Wild Rhino Youth Ambassadors and others joined the panel discussion with three guest speakers from the local NGO organnisaiton ENV and CHANGE. The discussion raised a lot of questions of how we can work to protect the rhinos and stop the demand for the horns in Vietnam. In the end, as the speakers agreed, we cannot only educate the young generation, but we have to raise awareness and change the mindset of the adults as well.

This event successfully created a voice for rhinos and everyone who loves this gentle creature on World Rhino Day.

THU HUYNH
Wilderness Foundation Africa Representative
Forever Wild Rhino Protection Initiative Project Office