From the Catwalk to the Bushwalk
An international supermodel who swopped the cover of Elle Magazine, the catwalk and modelling internationally for brands such as Hugo Boss and Jimmy Choo, to come and live in Namibia and support the San community. That woman is Aleksandra Ørbeck-Nilssen. Aleksandra, a gentle soul with a love of nature, is fast making a name for herself in the Namibian conservation scene. Not for her beauty, although you would expect that from a super model, but for her respect of the San communities and the personal sacrifices she has made to be able to learn from these wise examples of true conservation.
99FM’s MYD Earth spoke to Aleksandra Ørbeck-Nilssen to find out about her project, Nanofasa and why she feels a home in Namibia is more rewarding than one spent modelling in New York City or Paris.
Nanofasa was established in 2011 by Aleksandra, when she was only 22 years old after she spent time in Namibia doing volunteer work. It is a non-profit trust in Namibia that works closely with the Khoisan communities.
99FM’s MYD Earth asked :
How did Nanofasa come about?
“I used to work as a fulltime model in Paris and New York City, until I one day decided to leave the concrete jungle and go to Africa, more specifically Namibia. I went as a volunteer, and my life changed forever. I realized that I choose my future and I choose what to do with my life and for others. I chose to become the change that can make a change in nature, people and animals lives. I worked at a wildlife foundation for 2 years, but then one day my visa ran out, and I had to leave the country.”
“But this time when I left, I did not travel alone. My traveling partner was a brand new idea, created together with the San, and further developed in the silent observations of functioning ecosystems, and sun rays providing life and growth in the wilderness of Botswana.
“I have now lived and worked for this idea to become a project every day for the last 4 years. Today it has become The Nanofasa Project, operating as an ecosystem for sustainability.. Nanofasa Conservation Trust is an entirely non-profit endeavour building on a sustainability philosophy; “to leave a green tracks on the pathway of life”. We believe that in essence we are all the same but through existence we lead out life differently and that is why we have so much to learn from each other regardless of differences.”
What do you hope to achieve with the project?
“We are introducing a new approach to outreach, we are reaching out and being reached to. When I first went to Africa, I was like most people traveling here to help and save, but when I met the San people, I realized that the reversed had happened. They had saved me from my poverty of perception, and opened my eyes to how much we can all teach each other. Nanofasa works to ensure healthy and productive interactions between Nature, Adventure, Culture and Communities. Improved human well-being and ecosystem health is essential for the sustainability of our planet and its people.”
“Most organizations were started to cure sadness or poverty based on a perception that the modern world is better off, and that people that do not live like us have a poorer life. I feel this perception is creating more limitations than possibilities, and I believe that the outreach approach is in need of an upgrade, that does not create an increased dependency, but rather stimulates interdependency. We need to establish a balance between giving and receiving, a balance between using and abusing.”
“For so long we have been changing peoples and communities life, without including them in the process of choice and decision making. I believe all kids in the world should have a choice of being local, national or international when they grow up. I had that choice and because of that my life has changed.”
“We at Nanofasa, believe that outreach should reach everyone regardless of privilege. The definition of being poor, stretches all over the world, it just takes different shapes. Nanofasa is an organization that believes in what exists in us and in our surroundings.”
“Nanofasa wishes together with the communities to promote and re-establish the connection between the individual culture and their surroundings to reawaken a sense of culture pride as well as the desire to develop their lands wildlife and nature as a sustainable ground.”
“There are so many things to learn from the Ju/´hoansi san communities, they can teach us to see our surroundings in a new way. An old lady once told me that : If you can see something, then it is you, so how are you going to treat it?”
“The San communities are the people who were and are well adapted to and act out as a sustainable link in their environment. Their tradition and livelihood understands and feels responsibility towards nature, as their provider.”
“In spite of pressure from outsiders over centuries, they have managed to keep their culture reasonably intact in many areas. These survivors bear witness to an incredible ability to adapt against the odds. They can teach us about sharing, including each other and working together, and that if we all share we all have enough. !xuka, an old man once said that : if we can heal ourselves then we can heal the earth. And if you ever ask the San people about what makes them happy, they all answer that : Nothing can make you happy, being happy is just something you are regardless of challenge or support.”
Why is there a need to protect cultural and natural sustainably?
“We believe in people, we believe in nature, we believe that nature needs people and that people need nature. That is why we decided to run this organization based on an ecosystem. The Ecosystem is the most economic and sustainable system we have in our world today, but for some reason we rarely bring it into practice. Sustainability is defined by the ongoing balance flowing between producing, consuming and bringing it all around again. If we want to protect an ecosystem, we must become one. For true development to take place, we need to nurture, protect and preserve not only our natural environment and wildlife, but our people, their culture and customs through equality. We are all the key to a sustainable future. Nanofasa wishes to assist in the battle against poverty and discrimination by facilitating spinoff benefit projects acknowledged by the communities, grounded in their participation and driven forward by the locals themselves. The venture of sustainable development takes place within the communities.”
What have been some of the successes of the project?
“Some of our successes include :
The Barefoot Academy – After many years of negotiation and meetings, we are happy to announce that we have started to build the BAREFOOT ACADEMY. The Barefoot academy is a project that was created in conjunction with the communities themselves, where we base the project on their interests and knowledge, and create a local offer where they can excel in their area of interest, and at the same time ensure the sustainability of their environment and future generations.
The BareFoot academy is designed as a project that not only conserved the nature, wildlife and resources that the communities and their livelihoods depend upon, but it will promote local engagement, cultural sustainability and traditional based education and work creation for women, men and unemployed youth. They get a full educational traditional training by their elders where they will be able to receive a qualification certificate though Cybertracking that enables them to become trackers, vegetation assessors, guides, mentors/traditional teachers, indigenous chefs, shoe cobbles and assist the Nanofasa research team with wildlife tracking, botany, and how to keep the nature and resources that they depend upon alive. It is all about creating a local offer.
The Sandal project – VIVOBAREFOOT. This is where, NanoFASA and the local San communities cobblers and artisans are now working in collaboration where we are bringing back the original hunting sandal that has been made by the San people of the northern Kalahari, the original human footwear from the cradle of humanity that will now be handmade for a long term sustainable production.
Waterholes – Thanks to Solsquare we have managed to fix three waterholes in the Nyae Nyae and install a solar pump solution which means that the wildlife have constant access to water.”
“When I started the project the most important thing for me was to start at grass root level, seeing that it is the people on the ground that matters the most. But this made the road long, actually 300 000 km long, to have all the meetings and get all the approvals needed from every single link. What I also quickly realized was how few people in the world that knew the san people, which in turn made it difficult to get them to see the importance of the project. I sold my clothes, I walked 600 km to raise awareness in Europe, I put all my savings into making this project start, and I had to constantly come up with new solutions to get people interested and keen to support. I greet the challenges it brings me with gratefulness, and embrace the support with humbleness. It is through challenge we grow and through support we have time to reflect and assemble to make a change greater then ourselves.”
Why is gratitude for our natural environment an important state for us to cultivate?
“Let us think about the house we live in, where every country is just another room in that house. Every room has a purpose, and every person that lives in each room needs something from another room to survive. We all have something to learn from each other, so we remain students of life.”
“When we travel to experience we travel like a white t-shirt going through a tie-dye to unravel the potential of something, and then we grow. But sometimes we do not realize the value of cultures, wildlife and diversity before it is too late. And years and years after a culture or an ecosystem has disappeared we collect inspiration from the culture and nature to make art, music or a fashion trend. Why do we always have to see something vanish before we see the value of it? Why do we treat everything like it will stick around forever, and swear at the things about different cultures we do not agree with, instead of thinking about how we can learn from it? Nature decides our path, it lays out the tracks, but we ourselves have to read them and choose which direction is ours”
What does gratitude mean to you?
“Gratitude is a state of presence and authenticity when you embrace all experiences good or bad as a whole. It is when you see challenges as something that is one with the way and not in the way. Gratitude is knowing, that you live from your heart and that fuels the hearts of others.”
If you want to get in touch with Aleksandra and find out more about Nanofasa, take a look at the website here : Nanofasa