"Two years. We can live anywhere for two years." That's what LB told his wife when he was granted a job in Pretoria, South Africa in spring of 2010. With World Cup excitement vibrating in the city, they quickly fell in love with the local culture. But the moment they stepped foot into the African Bushveld, they knew their lives were changed forever.
It is said that South Africa can affect people in different ways. Some appreciate the wildlife and serenity of the African bush. Others are inspired by the change and hope for the future. But some--some are truly bitten by the 'African Bug.' It's a feeling one can't quite describe, yet creates a peacefulness and belonging and challenge that cannot be ignored. For the Williams family, this could not have been more true.
The separation from military life to living as expats in South African was not one to be taken lightly. Stability, comforts, and family would all be sacrificed. Yet LB was constantly asked how he could take his military training and use it to help in the war against poaching. It seemed pretty simple in his mind, something that could result in a true conservation program with international buy-in and joint efforts and the ultimate feeling that "we made a difference!" Yet all of his local South African friends warned him of the extreme challenges he and his family would face. It would seem that the lions & buffalo were not their only predators.
We knew we had to do something now, or it would be too late. – Scott "LB" Williams
When LB and Greta decided to explore the possibility of moving permanently to the Eastern Cape, they did so with a balance of shared optimism and a healthy dose of "what the heck are we thinking?" They spent a final long weekend discussing their plan with local reserve owners. They shared close spaces with a cheeky black rhino orphan, an even cheekier bull buffalo who ended up in the bar one night, and a protective elephant with her calf. But they still thought maybe it was too much. Take away the beauty and there is still school, bills, and life.
Driving on the dusty road toward the airport their last day, they spent their final minutes in a competition to identify an animal before the other saw it--something they did whenever they were in a game reserve. They turned onto the blacktop road and sadly decided: it was just too much. But then the phone rang. Driving on the dusty road toward the airport their last day, they spent their final minutes in a competition to identify an animal before the other saw it--something they did whenever they were in a game reserve. They turned onto the blacktop road and sadly decided: it was just too much. But then the phone rang.
Three rhinos had been poached in a neighboring reserve the night before. Two were still alive, something that was extremely rare. "They're suffering, but they may make it. I'm not sure it's fair to make them try," LB relayed to his wife.
This phone call did more than deliver news of a heinous event, it hit in the belly of the two people driving to the airport. Greta looked at LB with tears in her eyes and trepidation in her voice, "If not now, then never. This is a sign. And we can't ignore it."
If not now, then never – Greta Williams
Those two rhino fought for their lives. The bull died 27 days later. But the other became an iconic rhino survivor known to many as Thandi. We see her today in the plains with her calf at her side. The road to South Africa and building a successful non-profit organization has not been easy. There have been many conversations ending with, "Did we do the right thing?" But just as Thandi made it through the hard times, the Williams family has done the same.
They now work at the very reserve where this poaching took place. And are happy to report that there have been no poaching incidents since. They continue their dream of making a difference in the world, leaving their mark, sharing their triumphs and tribulations. They realize there is much more to come and that it will take a global effort to achieve it.
And they're so grateful that you are willing to be a part of their journey.