- Growing up
- Growing through sport
- Loving nature
- Learning for life
- Working for the environment
- Travelling the world
- Saving lives
- Helping others
Clouds is a normal person, just like you. She loves what she does and believes in helping people and protecting the earth. She also believes in having fun. She hopes that by reading this you may be inspired to reach for your dreams, never believing that you cannot reach them.
Clouds grew up in an ordinary family, living in middle class suburbs in a place called Sandton, now in the city of Johannesburg. But when she grew up there were few houses and she had the chance to play and ride her bike in the open fields. She was a really shy kid, not able to speak to strangers and hating being put in a position where she had to socialise. But from a young age she had very clear ideas about what was wrong and what was right, and what was important to her. She sat back and watched the world go past rather than getting involved. She was fearful of new things and new places and it took a long time to adjust to a new school when her family moved to a new neighbourhood. It took her most of her primary school before she became more confident in herself.
Growing through sport
High school was the change she needed, the school she went to, Sandown High School, gave all students the opportunity to find their niche and Clouds did this by taking over the Wildlife Club and starting fencing. Fencing is an Olympic sport and relies on the sportsman’s fast reflexes and quick thinking. Clouds didn’t feel she was particularly sporty or well co-ordinated, but she enjoyed the sport and started to get good at it, beating people much older than her. As she became better, she trained harder and became even better. Winning the South African Schools foil championship was her first success, followed by winning the South African Under 20 championships three times in a row, before she became too old for the age group. Clouds’ love for teaching was developed while still at school and she went out and qualified as the youngest nationally qualified coach in the country at only 17 years old. When she left school, she started 6 fencing clubs, buying up second hand fencing equipment when she could afford it. These were mainly school clubs and her students went on to win many National age group championships. Funding from the fencing coaching went towards paying for her studies and living expenses and allowing her to do what she loved the most – fencing. Her whole focus was first on winning the National senior championship and then qualifying for the Olympic Games. She achieved her first goal in 1993, and she subsequently won the championships for a record 6 consecutive times. During this period she was unbeaten in any South African Competition. Then came the All African Championship in 1995, Clouds was on form and made it to the finals where she had to fence a Tunisian fencer. She was 14-11 up, when the Tunisian fencer changed tactics and managed to win 15-14. Clouds was devastated. She did qualify though for the Olympic Games in Atlanta 1996, which is quite a feat as only 32 individual fencers (i.e. not in teams) can qualify and you need to qualify internationally. The National Olympic Committee was under pressure to produce an Olympic team with a high percentage of black athletes, and even though no black fencers qualified, they weren’t going to let Clouds go. She saw her dream slipping out of reach, where even though she had done everything necessary to qualify, there was someone who was preventing her from reaching her goal. There was nothing she could do, but appeal to the authorities. Eventually, they provided her with funding to spend a couple of months training at an international training centre in Tauberbishofsheim, Germany, where she travelled with the German team to many A Grade tournaments around Europe.
This was a blow that she never really recovered from. The spark had been extinguished, but there was still the World Championships to be held in Cape Town the following year and that was enough to keep her going. The Cape Town World Champs ended up being one of Clouds’ best competition and she won an award from the International Fencing Federation for the best South African result. This was a sign though, that she needed to complete her studies and start thinking of a career, as she didn’t see herself as a fencing coach for the rest of her life.
From school, it was clear that Clouds enjoyed being in nature and running the wildlife club gave her an outlet to express that passion. She finds it strange that there was never any push from her parents into any of the activities that she did. They seldom went on holiday and never went to the game reserve or any national park. However, young Clouds knew deep in herself that she wanted to work in nature. Opportunities for women in conservation were very limited in those days and she was talked out of a career in conservation by everyone she spoke to. Well, the next best thing is to become a geographer, to work in the environment and learn more about the world we live in, and that is what she did. Her reason for wanting to do geography was also perhaps the profound impact a teacher had on her in her second last year of school. He inspired her to love climatology and that has left her with the legacy she has today, trying to communicate the science of climate change to people who don’t believe it or understand it.
Clouds’ passion for wildlife lead her to seek an apprenticeship to learn bird ringing with a fellow by the name of Frank Douwes. He took Clouds under his wing as a young 15 year old and taught her bird identification and bird ringing or as it is known in some part so the world, bird banding. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bird_banding She qualified as a fully fledged ringer, i.e. no longer under training, when she was 18 becoming one of the youngest and one of the few women to earn that honour. Fortunately things have changed now and there are lots more women involved in ringing. This was the start of her love affair for birds, an interest that takes her around the world! Frank was like a father to Clouds and provided her with the friendship and mentorship that would give her the confidence to go out and achieve so much more.
Learning for life
For financial reasons Clouds decided to study part time, this way she could continue to fence and coach and pay her own way. It allowed her the flexibility which it has become clear she needs, to be able to do so many different activities. It was during this time too that Clouds had taken up modern pentathlon (running, swimming, fencing, pistol shooting and show jumping), a sport that takes up lots and lots of time. It was through luck and good memory rather than hard studying that Clouds completed her Bachelor of Science degree, and she then went on to study an honours degree covering her favourite topics, climate change, wetland ecology, environmental management and soil science. This was followed by a Masters in Environmental Management, her topic being on wetland management, a topic that is still close to her heart. It was through the encouragement of her supervisors that she finished her Masters in 1 year, no mean feat when working full time and running 5 fencing clubs.
Working for the environment
By 2000 Clouds had finished her Master of Science degree in Geography and Environmental Management an had started working for Provincial Government reviewing Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) and setting up the framework (together with her colleagues), for the implementation of EIA regulations in the country. She loved feeling like she was making a difference to the environment. In 1991, Clouds was offered a one year contract with the United Nations to manage a water project in South Africa, which she took and which taught her much about water management and international bureaucracies. The following year she was offered a contract by the IUCN (World Conservation Union) and the United Nations to project manage the Greening of the World Summit on Sustainable Development. A great project with many different facets, just what Clouds enjoys. It was a great success and hopefully there is a legacy of greener operations within everything from hotels to waste management in Johannesburg. Never happy only doing one thing at a time, Clouds had started her own environmental consultancy with a couple of people working for her. This was the start of a parallel venture, which was very exciting and rewarding and which lasted for 10 years before she sold it off to her business partner.
On the side she was teaching youngsters from rural areas to become bird guides as part of a Birdlife South Africa programme to create avi-tourism micro enterprises around the country. These courses were run in Wakkerstroom, a lovely little town 300km from Johannesburg, with a fantastic wetland, mountains and grasslands (and 23 endemic bird species). Clouds loved it and together with two friends built a small holiday home here, a place she now seldom gets to visit.
After the World Summit on Sustainable Development, Clouds was looking for another challenge, even though she was still running her consultancy she saw an advert for a lecturer position at Monash University in South Africa, teaching climatology and Environmental Science. She applied and got the job and spent a very happy few years there, loving teaching and doing her Graduate Certificate in Higher Education. She learnt a lot, but circumstances within the University caused her to leave and focus on consulting. She is still an honorary research associate in the school of Geosciences at Monash Australia and has many close friends linked to the University.
Travelling the world
Her desire to work in the Antarctic was coming to the fore, it had been a dream for longer than she could remember, but there was always something in the way, fencing, studying and working. She decided that the way to do it was to work on expedition ships taking tourists to these amazing places. But how do you get a job on one of these ships? Well, she found people who worked in the industry and they all came back with the same advice, you can’t get a job unless you know how to drive a zodiac. She had no idea how to drive a zodiac, living 600km from the nearest ocean, she had never been on the sea! Well if that was what needed to be done then so be it. She found a place where they would teach you to drive boats and she passed all the exams and practicals to get her skippers ticket (boat drivers licence). She then sent out her CV to all the companies she could find and one came back to her and agreed to try her out. This was a start and another company then gave her a longer contract in the Arctic and this is where it all started. That was 5 years ago and she still loves working on the ships in remote areas. Clouds has travelled many times to both Polar regions and to many countries in between, including countries in Western Europe, Scandinavia, South and Central America and North America.
A couple of years ago, Clouds sold her business to her business partner, something she was happy about as it had become very stressful from an administrative point of view and she no longer had the enjoyment working in the business that she had 10 years previously. However, after a couple of years not being in the environmental industry she started feeling a yearning to go back to working in the environmental field, but not as a consultant and not in Government, but somewhere where she could feel she was making a difference. The opportunity presented itself, as so many opportunities do, in an advert for a part time assistant to the Environmental Operations Director of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO). She applied and got the job, which now allows her to make a difference in the way tourism is managed in the Antarctic. The IAATO team, of only four people is dynamic and achieve so much in many different areas, again Clouds is loving her job. Lots of different challenges, being able to do everything else she does and making a difference.
Where does saving lives come in, you ask? Clouds doesn’t know where her interest in emergency medical care came from, but she had an interest in it from school and it was only once she stopped fencing that she had the time to follow this passion. She started as a volunteer Basic Life Support medic in 2001, then upgraded her qualification to Intermediate Life Support medic part time in 2005 and in 2010 took the giant leap and took a year off work to complete her Advanced Life Support paramedic qualification. This cost her dearly in financial terms, as apart from paying for the course it meant a year without income and she still had to pay her expenses. Would she do it again? Absolutely, she says. It has put me in the place where I want to be. Able to help people to the best of my ability and able to teach a whole variety of courses (Clouds has been working towards instructor status in numerous Advanced Life Support courses since qualifying). She can then help others to provide the best level of care. She loves teaching and working as a volunteer, where she works for the City of Johannesburg, in the poorest and most dangerous areas, but where she feels she can make a difference.
Clouds’ has a deep desire to assist those less fortunate and through the work of the Johannesburg branch of Soroptimists International she has been able to assist women and children to deal with the circumstances that they live in. Soroptimist International is a professional women’s organisation working through service projects to improve the lives of women and children. Clouds has been a Soroptimist since 2001 and during this time has been the President of the Johannesburg club.
Clouds is still an introvert and doesn’t believe she was given any special gifts or talents. She maintains that she decided what she wanted to do, found out what was required and went out there and does it. She feels that much of her life has been to prove to people that she can do what she sets her mind to. Her best advice to anyone, young and old, is if you dream something, go out there and start it. Don’t listen to those people who say you cannot do it. If you listen to them, they will be right. Follow your passion, if you love the work you do, you will never work another day in your life. If she stops enjoying what she is doing, she moves onto something else. And remember, you will not always get what you want, or what you work for. Not everybody will be on your side. Just ignore people like that, prove them wrong. Clouds has a passion for teaching, the environment and emergency medicine, an unusual combination, but hopefully she has had and will have a positive impact on people’s lives.