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Reflections on a visit to A Rocha Kenya

By Cynthia Karikala
18 June 2024

I was born in India and my family moved to Auckland, New Zealand when I was eight years old. That was when my consciousness of the environment emerged as I noticed stark differences in how people interacted with the environment and the role it played in their livelihoods. I didn’t know then, but now I know the role governments and history play into this connection. I followed educational and employment pathways that only grew my connection and understanding of our interdependence in creation, and in my understand of our creator God.

From my years of education, work and travel experiences I’ve gathered that western conservation practices are somewhat flawed. I think of such things as species-specific conservation as a retaliation to hunting practices that protect ‘cute’ species rather than umbrella species. Then there are national parks that aim to conserve ‘natural resources’ such as watersheds and timber, but which also lead to the displacement of multiple indigenous communities. More recently I think of the creation of endless nature documentaries as well as eco-tourism both of which show us the beauty of life without humans. This strong focus on education in conservation rests on the assumption that if we can just tell people what is harmful and helpful to our planet, they will make the right decisions.

On his recent visit to NZ, Peter Harris was asked about the similarities and differences in the environmental movement and the church. This is a question I’ve been spending my life answering. One aspect of both that leads to success is good experiences. Experience of the love, and care that God provides does much more to assist people to make wise decisions for themselves, than simply telling people what is right and what is wrong. Similarly, the environmental movement works best when people feel a connection to the planet, when they experience its intrinsic natural value, seeing its connection within itself and their own connection within it. It is experiences like this and not just knowledge that brings about the behavioural changes that conservationists seek.

I set off on a 6-month journey to see some of the most unique biodiversity in the world. And since ‘money talks’, while I embarked on this journey around the world, I wanted to make the money I spent reflect my values and ethos. I know locals benefit from tourism activities through employment opportunities, but I also wanted to go further and look at how my money supports people trying to do better for the planet.

On a more personal note, I’ve always felt on the outside in my church communities. I’m not very good with children, or with building things. I didn’t know what skills or value I could bring to a mission trip, or as a church member. I knew how to restore ecosystems and protect our endemic wildlife, but it was never something considered of value. I thought I could do nothing practical that helped people. I saw God most when I looked at creation, and I always felt like my connection with God might never be within a context of a community of people, just a solo ride. But hearing of A Rocha grew my faith. I finally saw the role of the church in some of the most imminent environmental issues. I finally felt like I could connect my calling from God, with the skills and employment experiences I’ve gained. I connected to the A Rocha team, asking if I could visit several A Rocha sites, and off I went.

A Rocha Kenya

My trip to Kenya’s East Coast was a decision I’ll never regret. We flew to Mombasa from Nairobi and caught a local bus/van and then a tuktuk to our accommodation at A Rocha Kenya. Watamu Beach was gorgeous. The accommodation allowing us to be footsteps away from one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen.

Upon arriving at the A Rocha centre, I knew it was different from other places I had stayed in so far. The host, and other travellers were friendly and inquisitive. Meals were shared, with a sense of hospitality really shining through. This wasn’t just a place to stay while you explored a new country. This was home, and you were always welcome. Internet was sparse here, exactly what we needed in a place like this. I looked through the scores of nature books and spent hours in the water enjoying the pristine conditions on offer. I noted the reference to conserving water, with Kenya at the time dealing with one of its worst droughts, but this was the first place we stayed that even mentioned it. Oh, how I felt like I was with my people. I missed out on beach clean ups and bird ringing activities open for visitors due to some conflicting dates. But I had a chance to see some of the biodiversity the centre was working so hard to protect.

The balance this site had between conservation, tourism and education was just fantastic. I left feeling like I knew much more about the natural species and their ecosystems. But it wasn’t until I returned home and read the book ‘A Place at the Table: Faith, Hope and Hospitality’ by Miranda Harris and Jo Swinney that I finally understood the full experience I had there. It was one which made me feel a sense of belonging and care, in a world of what’s next and which crisis are we averting today. I finally understood the concept of a chapel being a table, and hospitality as a way to show the love of Jesus. Such a rare experience to feel. Such an amazing opportunity I wish for others to enjoy.


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.