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  • Writer's pictureBushwise Student

Celebrating my birthday in the African bush

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

Willem (WH) was camp manager at our Mahlahla campus, a duty that every Bushwise student has at least once during a course. In this blog, WH explains the role of a camp manager, and also shares a very special birthday story!

3 min read

One may ask why do you appoint a student still studying to become an apprentice field guide as camp manager? Isn’t there an instructor (an experienced staff member) that supervises the activities on campus? After this the next logical question will be what does it entail? 

What’s being a camp manager all about?

 Students from the Mahlahla campus on a game drive.

One of the aims at Bushwise is to simulate an environment that is as close as possible to a real-life lodge environment. This is essential because no one can teach a person to handle situations like being in charge of a group of people – this is only learnt through experience. The instructors then guide the students to become not only exceptional field guides, but also excellent lodge managers, head guides the list can go on. 

Camp life in terms of hierarchy on the Mahlahla campus works as follows. There is an instructor on duty to which the camp manager reports to, while the remaining students report to the camp manager on duty. This type of system teaches people to take responsibility and learn accountability – which are key attributes that a field guide needs. 

Taking on new responsibilities

The author, Willem, smiles at the camera. 

As camp manager you have the responsibility to make sure that all of the teams on duty (kitchen, dustbin, classroom) complete their duties to a high standard. If some of the duties are not done or poorly done, then the camp manager is accountable. By implementing this system, the staff members are under less pressure, which means activities and general camp life run more effectively while upholding high standards.

The students get randomly allocated a week that they have the duty of being camp manager. I usually do not have good luck, but I had the privilege to be camp manager during my birthday week. This was special because it all happened by coincidence. 

As the week wrapped up…


Getting the boma area ready for a fun dinner at the Mahlahla campus.

My birthday was on Friday. Throughout the day I got good wishes from all of my fellow students as well as all the staff members. After dinner, Rose (the boss of the kitchen) called a meeting in the boma. As camp manager, I was startled by this because it sounded serious. 

A million things raced through my head as to why she called all the students together. All of us stood there in silence not saying a word staring into the fire. ‘Too-whee-koo-whirrrr’ was the only sound rattling through my head as a fiery-necked nightjar called in the distance.


Sitting around the campfire in the boma. At night the sounds of the African bush totally change and keep you on your toes.

Rose came around the corner with a very small dim light in her hands. Before I could see what was in her hands the whole group burst out with ‘’HAPPY BIRTHDAY…’’. During that moment emotions took over my whole body! I had to bite my tongue to just not shed a tear as I did not see it coming. Rose handed me a cake to the sounds of my fellow students singing. The whole group had kept it a secret from me. I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday present!

That realisation made me think. 14 people from across the country came to Bushwise – we’ve only been together for a little over a month. No one knew each other, but still there they were singing together and celebrating with me. That moment made me realise that I made some friends that would be a part of me for the rest of my life. 

Grateful for these memories and connections

The Mahlahla campus students know how to have fun!

I didn’t come on this course with the expectation of making lifelong friends, but here we are. I know Bushwise, and especially the trainers, will help mold me as a person while helping me to equip myself with the necessary tools to become an exceptional field guide. Making lifelong friends along the way while spending time in nature has been a wonderful surprise. 

When you’re with Bushwise, you’re with family. Wouldn’t you love to make friends and memories like WH? Apply for a course today and experience the magic of the bush.

Words by WH Geerkens, photos by Louise Pavid

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