Botswanan wildlife duo are bestowed with the highest achievable recognition from Lions Club International for their works with local communities.
Botswanan citizens Dereck and Beverly Joubert, both National Geographic explorers and founders of the Great Plains Foundation, a wildlife conservation organisation, have been presented with the Melvin Jones Award, the highest honour conferred by service organisation Lions Clubs International for outstanding humanitarian work.
Through their associated companies and the foundation, they have donated $2,000,000 (20 million Botswana Pula) in 2018, half of which went to assisting the poorest of the poor in Botswana, the landlocked southern African country best known for its wildlife.
Despite rapid growth and significant improvements in the country, half of Botswana’s population remains either poor or vulnerable, with 46.2% of them children under 15, according to the World Bank. The Jouberts have long been committed to the concept of shared prosperity, and have contributed much to job creation, education and community upliftment projects.
Every Melvin Jones Fellow is recorded for posterity at the Lions Clubs International headquarters in Oakbrook, Illinois, on a special board set aside for this purpose. Previous recipients include Nelson Mandela and Bill Clinton who were recognised for their contribution to the human rights, their fight for equality, and for giving to the people of Africa.
Dereck and Beverly Joubert, although better known for their work in wildlife conservation, perform outstanding behind-the-scenes work in local communities in Botswana. They have been giving steadily for decades through education grants and support, through children’s programmes, solar lantern projects and now in establishing an academy.
In a moving acceptance speech, Dereck said that with only 4% of the planet’s animal biomass being wildlife it the collective job of all humankind to protect them, and not to squabble over how to kill the last of them.
“To achieve that, we need humanity to join hands. In cooperating we achieve collaboration,” he said, “but we must first find ways to uplift the poor, to educate, to create jobs and to raise basic minimum wages across the board. Only when all people have the relative luxury of safety, food security and freedom to determine their own futures will we achieve the harmony with nature that we all seek. That is why we believe it is critically important to invest in the future we all want.”
Beverly said it was heart-breaking for her to witness people’s homes burn down because children doing their homework by candlelight had fallen asleep.
“The introduction of solar lanterns to hundreds of households has not only helped put an end to this tragic situation, but it’s also had an additional positive outcome,” she added.
One school principal reported that test scores had improved and pass rates were nearing 100% because children can now spend more hours after dark studying. It’s still a novelty so they really enjoy the lanterns, charging them in the sun and also learning about solar technology.
Lions Clubs International is an organisation with more than 1,7 million members worldwide (nearly the population of Botswana), across 200 countries, underscoring the significance and import of the Melvin Jones Award. The Jouberts say the doors to further collaboration with the Great Plains Foundation have been opened and the two organisations are in discussion about collaboration in Botswana, Zimbabwe and Kenya to help communities in the most need.
Lions Club International was founded in 1917 by Melvin Jones, in whose name the humanitarian award is given. It was established to transcend politics and religion, and to be a consistent in encouraging caring and giving globally, which it has been doing for more than 110 years now.
“It is a great honour to receive this award, but one we are shy about accepting because our policy has always been to give quietly and anonymously, but it seems we have been found out,” said Beverly.
However, we are thrilled to accept the award on behalf of our team, including one young man named Gobotswang Mokgathong, who gave up his life and career in tourism to go and care for others in a village, and those who dedicate their lives to working in nature, because they have their eye on the future.
The Vice President of Lions Club International, Brian Sheehan flew in from the USA for the week-long event. He pointed to the incredible ability of so many who lead by example and go out to raise money, giving of their time out of pure kindness and a desire to give to those that quite simply would not survive without a helping hand.
“When the goals of two organizations and people align like this, we should and will find ways to work together so we can make the lives of the less fortunate better,” he said. “As Lions, our actions and service inspire others. We provide courage and a unique sense of empowerment to our communities and to the world. To do this, we depend on great leadership. And that takes great leadership development from our members.”