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Reflections on a visit to A Rocha Ghana

By Cynthia Karikala
25 June 2024

One step above experiences in nature, is people being enabled to make good decisions. Thinking about conservation used to be considered a privilege. In some ways it is, as the capitalist system is set up for us to fail. However, just as Peter Harris, A Rocha co-founder, noted in his recent talk in Aotearoa New Zealand, we must hold on to a sense of faith and unrelenting hope not just for the Christian movement, but also for the environmental movement – doing whatever we can, with whatever we have in our hands.

While working in conservation in New Zealand, I have noticed how conservation volunteering can lead to amazing success stories for our native and endemic species. Many individuals with the time and health to volunteer have opportunities to connect with and experience our fantastic natural areas through volunteering. Moving into the social/community development sector, I wanted to see how we took an equitable approach to environmental action. How can people be better enabled towards environmental action, not leaving it to those that could volunteer? How do we connect people to place, to community, growing their capacities and capabilities to achieve their dreams? How do we remove the barriers and allow for local communities to innovate solutions for their identified issues.

One of the main reasons I chose to travel was to see what other models of conservation existed outside Aotearoa New Zealand. I wanted to understand what different organisations are doing to combat both equity and environmental issues. I wanted to believe these things were interconnected and could be worked towards together, and that’s exactly what I found at A Rocha Ghana.

My visit to A Rocha Ghana started with meeting the manager of the site, Godwin, who organised our trip, including our stay at Mole Motel and our pickup. We were quickly introduced to Rita, who stayed with us through our visit, and showed us around for the next few days. The accommodation looked over the amazing Mole National Park, a reserve set up in collaboration with A Rocha Ghana and governmental agencies to protect the elephants in the area.

Rita and her daughter making motherhood look so easy. She had her daughter everywhere she went, worked hard, and really made me see how overcomplicated western countries can make motherhood. Rita wasn’t phased by balancing her baby and job expectations. No one in the community was bothered by a baby being around.
Locals taking us on a canoe tour, pointing out birdlife in the area.
Picture of the decorated homes while on the village tour.
Elephant at Mole National park with tusks intact, about to take a dip into the water.

Throughout my stay I listened closely as Rita showed me their unique community development project, that not only empowered communities, but also led to the conservation of the species and the forest. Enabling the communities surrounding the national park to generate a source of income that reduced conflicts with the elephants is a unique way to do conservation, and I loved every minute of it. I experienced the ability to do conservation while embracing the culture and people of the place, and the rich culture of Ghana helped me acknowledge and appreciate my own. I have assembled some images to illustrate some of what is currently being done.

Shea butter nut
Shea butter made on site ready for export.
I had a go at processing the shea butter. A Rocha Ghana has embraced the knowledge of shea butter production (done previously for personal use), and utilised it as a way to look into the future. They are looking at new ways to do conservation, through learning, growing and empowering communities to act in their own way.
Rita showing the village women how they can make soap.
One of the women proudly showcasing the soap created that can be sold to local businesses.

During my time in Ghana, I learnt of adinkra symbols that represent concepts or proverbs of the Akan people. This one stuck with me and will stick with me as I leave Ghana. The ‘Sankofa’, which representing a bird looking backwards to retrieve an egg. It is a reminder to look at our past for lessons to take into the future. Take what is precious ‘an egg’ with you, retrieve it from there, and do not forget those golden moments as you zoom into the future.

Sankofa symbol

It’s not a bad thing to go back to what you may have forgotten. Sometimes I discount everything done in the past, because of the damage the church and environmental movements have had previously, or because of personal failures. But this symbol reminds me that there are some precious things about these movements, about my past that are worth holding onto and bringing forward into the future. I left inspired.


Cynthia Karikala, born in Hyderabad, India, and raised in scenic West Auckland, New Zealand, embodies a life enriched by diverse cultural experiences and spiritual quests. Nature isn’t just a backdrop but her sanctuary, where hiking through bush trails or relaxing on quiet beaches brings her peace and connection to something greater. Professionally, Cynthia holds a degree in conservation ecology and biosecurity from the University of Auckland, with six years of dedicated service to Auckland Council, focusing on community empowerment and environmental stewardship. She is driven by a vision that merges indigenous wisdom with Western science to tackle environmental challenges, guided by a commitment to equity and conservation. In her spare time, Cynthia plans her next expedition, driven by a passion for knowledge and a desire to make a meaningful global impact. Spiritually, her journey involves exploring and deepening her faith while embracing her multicultural heritage and reclaiming her South Indian roots through language and culture.