When one hears the word “philanthropy” we tend to think “helping the needy”, but for 10 year old Ms Afeefah Patel, it was a completely different story.
Ms Patel’s initiative to stop rhino poaching started after she watched poachers killing the rhinos on the DSTV channel ‘Animal Planet’. “This made me so sad and I want the poachers to know that our rhinos are not medicine,” said Ms Patel.
In early 2012, Patel wrote a letter to ‘The Times’ editor with the help of her father, Shiraaz Patel asking President Zuma to “look after the rhinos”. Her letter didn’t only prompt a response from President Zuma and gave thrust to a national anti-poaching campaign to protect South Africa’s endangered rhino specie, but also touched hearts of many citizens.
In his response Addressed to Afeefah Patel, the president wrote: “Thank you very much for your touching letter on the plight of the rhinos, which was published in The Times newspaper on April 16 2012. I am happy that at such a young age you have an interest in your environment and want to play a role in its protection. I want you to know that our government has been as highly concerned at the staggering numbers of rhinos that have been killed in just this year alone. I am told that the total number is over 103 rhinos.”
Zuma said Operation Rhino brought together “the police [SA Police Service’s organized crime unit] and our soldiers [SA National Defence Force], the Hawks and National Prosecuting Authority, all working together to protect our beloved rhinos. They are all as concerned to bring the perpetrators to book.
“We also want to put a stop to the hunting of white rhinos by foreign hunters. We also want to strengthen the rules and regulations with regards to the hunting of rhinos in general,” he said.
In 2013, Ms Patel was the youngest recipient of the Inyathelo Philanthropy Award. She is also the youngest person to be awarded the prestigious SANParks Kudu Award for her work to protect rhinos from poachers. “I like all kinds of animals like: the lions, kudus, monkey etc, but I like rhinos the most because of the length of their horns and wouldn’t want them to become extinct.”
Afeefah donated part of the R20 000 funds she received from SANParks to initiatives which supports the efforts of SANParks Honorary Rangers in their fight against rhino poaching.
Both Afeefah and her sister, Aminah, have both been recognized as Rhino SA “Little Champions” at their Robertsham Primary School, south of Johannesburg.
Patel’s Father was thrilled by the impact his daughter’s letter made on different organizations as well as the South African citizens. “Never in our wildest imagination did we expect such a journey; when Afeefah wrote a simple letter requesting President Zuma to “Please look after our Rhino,’’ a letter that I almost did not submit because I had problems sending the email. Thank you again for all the continued support and congratulations to all the nominees and winners as well,” said Mr. Patel
Afeefah’s commitment to protecting our rhinos and her courage to speak out has helped raise awareness across South Africa and encouraged the broader public to get involved in the fight against poaching.