Darshani Haria::

I met Darshani some years back at Braeburn theatre. We had auditioned for Lionel Bart’s musical, Oliver Twist, under the directorship of the late James Ward…and days later, I was ecstatic to know that I was shortlisted to be part of the cast. (I bet young Darshani must have been excited as well.) While I took the role of a book seller in the musical, Darshani doubled as one of the workhouse children and was also part of Fagin’s gang. Yes! She was one heck of a terrorist in the streets of london, picking pockets alongside Dodger and the rest of the naughty boys! (For all those who have read the book or watched the movie, you know what I mean). After a successful staging of Oliver Twist, we all went our separate ways. However, a couple of years later, I met Darshani again…and this time she was doing yet another musical, James Falkland’s Changing generations at the phoenix theaters. This time I was part of the audience…and it was so refreshing to see Darshani all grown up! (considering she was a tiny cute kid with looong hair back then) She now looked all mature and curvy, still sporting her trademark looong hair…and on that day she wore a killer black dress that almost knocked me off my seat! Talk of an extreme makeover! I kid you not…I was tempted to howl like a confused wolf…smash glass and throw some leaves in the air! Ahem! (Did I just say that?) Okay, moving on swiftly, I hope that short history puts us on the same page on how I got to know Darshani. Now, apart from Darshani’s love for theatre, I recently noticed how passionate she is about wildlife. A huge portion of her tweeting time is dedicated to raising her fists against poachers, continuous rants on conservation, pointing fingers at KWS…etc. Such kind of passion is like a woman with a bad hairdo wearing a polka dress…you can see it 5 miles away! And so it didn’t take long before I asked Darshani to share more about her life…with special attention focused on her love for wildlife. So…what did miss Haria have to say? Well, keep reading! 😀

*So Darshani, tell us a little about yourself…where did you grow up and how was your childhood life like?
Okay..so you obviously know my name…I’m 23 now, turning 24 in June (eeeek!) By the way, all presents are definitely welcome! :)…and  I’ve grown up in kenya my whole life! Actually I was born in the UK but my parents brought me here when I was only 16 days old!! (yeah I was one of those good babies). My childhood was great..I’m an only child, and no, I didn’t get spoiled rotten, but I did make a ton of friends and have always been super social!! If I had to describe my childhood in a word I think it would be FUN!! 🙂

*And it’s sad to note that you also lost your dad a while back. When was this? What do you miss about him most?
Yes I lost my dad when I was 5. It’s always hard growing up without your dad but I did have my step-dad around so he had filled in many of the gaps for me. I think what I miss the most is just that I didn’t get to know him very well. I have alot of memories of him..but as a person…I didn’t know much about what he liked or did and that is sad. I was always a daddy’s girl according to my mum so I think he would have played a big role in my life if he was around… although my mum does say that I take after him in a lot of ways (especially all my socializing)…so maybe he’s still around here somewhere!!!

*You schooled at Hillcrest Academy. How did schooling here shape you to be the person you are today?
Hillcrest was amazing! A really great school with people from every culture…so really cosmopolitan. I think that is what allows me to make friends with people from all walks of life…doesnt matter where you’re from! I made some really great friends there…friends that I still have today. I think it also increased my confidence-taking classes like LAMDA and Drama there…and that has obviously helped my acting career!

*Then you got admitted to Cardiff University in the UK. What did you study for? And how was your stay there?
Ah Cardiff! I think university was definitely one of the best times of my life so far! I studied Business Management and Accounting (super boring) but it did give me lots of time to party …and trust me…I partied like crazy!! It helped that I made one of my best friends there who coincidentally is also from Kenya (I didnt know her before!) and the two of us took Cardiff by storm I reckon! However, as much fun that was, I knew I had to come back to Kenya…nothing beats home of course!

*Now you are back to Kenya and you are working for African Alliance. What exactly are your duties? Do you love your job?
I’m currently a trader at African Alliance – a stockbroker if you will. I trade in stocks and shares on the Nairobi Securities Exchange. I also organize a huge investor conference every year that brings together foreign fund managers and the local companies they invest in, benefitting both sides greatly. My job is extremely interesting, but definitely hard work. There are parts of it I love and parts I hate – but I think that happens with every job 🙂

*Now lets shift gears and move on to your passion for wildlife. Where did all this come from?? Its very rare finding people who are passionate about wildlife you know!
I don’t think it was anything in particular that stirred my interest in wildlife. Living in Kenya and growing up around all that we have here…I think alot of people take it for granted that we have all these wonderful creatures within such easy access. In other countries they have to go to zoos to see these animals behind bars! For us we can see them in their natural environment…and I honestly think that’s amazing! We are such lucky people…and the problem is that most of us don’t realize that! That’s why if we don’t look after what we have…it will soon be gone! I grew up being able to see all these animals…and if my children don’t get to grow up being able to see lions, elephants and rhinos then that’s a SERIOUS problem!

(Some of these pictures are courtesy of Mutua Matheka and Mwangi Kirubi)

*On to the one thing that threatens the existence of our wildlife…POACHING. Why has poaching proved to be such a menace even with government efforts to curb the vice?? Do you think there are loopholes that the government is overlooking?
Unfortunately I don’t think the government is doing enough to curb poaching. When people are caught with doctored ivory in their possession – as was the case with one man a few weeks ago – they are charged about 30,000 Kshs!! That’s nothing! That ivory would sell for hundreds of thousands of shillings…so to pay 30K as a fine is no problem at all! How would that prevent them from doing it again? It wouldnt! The government needs to up it’s efforts in 3 ways:

  1. Finding more ways to protect the animals, involving GPS tracking, cameras, DNA testing, etc.
  2. Making stricter punishments for both poachers and traffickers.
  3. Working with other governments in the far east, to bring down the demand for ivory and rhino horns! – this is the ONLY way we’re ever going to bring poaching down.

*Which are some of the animals in our parks that are most targeted by poachers?
Mainly elephants and rhinos. Elephants for their tusks and rhinos for their horns. Lions are also decreasing in number – and this was mainly due to conflict with the maasai when they eat their cattle. But I’ve also heard that in the far east they have started eating powdered lion bones as it has some sort of anti ageing effect!!!! It’s absolutely ridiculous!

*There have been creative innovations to protect our wildlife. But one innovation that has caught my eye is this one on the pink horn to save our rhinos. Tell me something about the pink horn. Does it really work?
I think the pink horn is one of the best ideas that has come about. What happens is…the rhinos horn is injected with a chemical that is poisonous in nature – not to the rhinos, only to anyone that then consumes the horn (demand for rhino horn is driven by the far east where they say consuming it is the cure for some diseases). This chemical also then changes the rhino horns colour to pink! This means any poachers who sees a pink horned rhino, knows that its horn cannot be consumed and is therefore useless, meaning it wont get poached!! Along with the chemical, 3 GPS microchips are also injected into the horn, meaning that rhino can be traced for any change in its movements – like if suddenly its seen racing across the savannah, trackers will know that is unusual and go and find it…and preferably shoot those poachers!

*Do you think KWS is doing enough to protect our precious wildlife??
KWS has been working hard yes. They’ve implemented things like lion lights and put alarm fences around smaller conservancies to set of alarms if they are tampered with by animal or poacher. However, I do think they need to do more. 78 elephants have been poached in our parks since the beginning of the year, and I just don’t think that’s acceptable!

*What do you think is our role as Kenyans in protecting our wildlife?? A lot of people feel there’s little they can do and leave everything to KWS!
As Kenyans I feel there’s a lot more we can do. The wildlife here is part of our culture and it is what makes Kenya unique from a lot of other countries. Kenyans need to start being more aware of the wildlife around them and the threats there are to them so that we can prevent those threats from destroying their existence. They can support causes designed to protect the wildlife such as the Nairobi Greenline and the Rhino Ark – both of which are putting all their donations to extremely good use! By the way, everyone reading this should support Rhino Charge Team No. 3 – the Hatarious Chargers!! (sorry that was a shameless plug). Basically Kenyans, read up on our wildlife and take action! Don’t sit idly by and wait for the KWS to do something, cos you can make a difference too!!

*Do you think the average Kenyan is concerned about our wildlife??
With the issues that most Kenyans face, no I don’t think the average Kenyan is concerned about wildlife. To be honest, I don’t blame them since their families and their homes should be their No. 1 priority. However, there are Kenyans that have more than the average, and those are the ones that need to do more for our wildlife.

*Any last thoughts on this wildlife subject?
Awareness really needs to be increased, especially on the plight of our elephants, rhinos and lions. It’s sad that we still have these land conflicts between man and wildlife when in reality, they were here first, not us. We took their land and they don’t have the ability to fight it with words and documents as we fight each other. Yes we need to progress as a country and development includes building a solid infrastructure and growing the city, however we need to ensure that we provide adequate and sufficient land for our wildlife to also survive and grow. We need to learn to live peacefully alongside our beautiful animals.

*Apart from your passion for wildlife…you are also an actress! When did you discover you had this acting gift?
Haha! Well I’m not sure if it’s really an acting “gift”… I’ve always had a flair for the dramatic! Maybe I’m just a drama queen!! I used to act in school plays throughout prep school, and I think the first big production I was in was when I was 6 – The King and I at the Braeburn Theatre!

*You have done plays at phoenix theatres like ‘Changing Generations’ and ‘Don’t misunderstand me! How has the experience been like for you there? Are there other plays you have done apart from these?
At the Phoenix I did those 2 plus “A Raisin in the Sun” which was sponsored by the American Embassy. Acting at Phoenix was an amazing experience!! I’ve been going there to watch plays since I was about 6 years old! So finally getting up onto the stage and being on the other side was awesome. I worked with some really great actors who I then saw on the screen when I watched Nairobi Half Life. I think we have some fantastic talent here in Kenya when it comes to the theatre and I wish more people were aware of it. Theatres like Phoenix need a lot more support if they’re going to continue to survive!

(Darshani Haria and Likarion Wainaina (a.k.a tha cinematographer) in a scene off the play ‘Don’t Misunderstand me’  at Phoenix Theaters.)

*Have you ever thought of doing on-screen acting, since now you have made a name for yourself in theatre?
Hahaha..I’m not sure if I’ve made a name for myself in the theatre quite as yet!! Not sure about on-screen acting, although maybe if something good came my way! (Hint hint, nudge nudge…all you directors out there :D)

*So, should we look forward to more of Darshani in our theatres?? Any current projects you are working on? Where do you see yourself in like 5 years with regard to your acting career?
I’m not working on anything at the moment with regards to acting!! I haven’t really had the time now that I have a full time job. Hopefully though I will get some time soon and be able to do another project. Acting is not my main focus at the moment…it’s more of a hobby for me!

*What do you think of the film in industry in Kenya? Are we growing or are we stuck in a rut? What can we do to move to the next level?
The film industry in Kenya is definitely growing!!! The last 2 films I watched – Nairobi Half Life and Something Necessary, were amazing!!! The production companies need to continue at this pace and produce more movies like those, they really had an impact and meant something which is more than I can say for most Hollywood movies nowadays!

*Are there any actors who greatly inspire you, both local and international??
Hmm no…I don’t think I have a favourite actor/actress – either locally or internationally! I like quite a few!

*As a Kenyan girl who aspires to be successful in life, who would you say is your number one role model?
That’s an easy one – my mum! My mum is my greatest inspiration and role model. Always has been and always will be! She has been through a lot in her life but has managed to make it through everything to bring me up on her own, get me a great education and provide me with a life that has left me wanting nothing! Not easy for a single parent… I’ve seen her work weekends and long hours and miss out on a lot of my life that I know she wanted to be there for, just to be able to do that for me, and I respect that immensely.

*Say you were the most influential girl in the planet…what would you do with that kind of influence?
Oh wow. That’s a tough question. There’s so many things you’d want to influence, like poverty and hunger around the world. Also my beloved wildlife of course, I’d want to stop the demand for ivory and rhino horn and stop us humans from making so many animals extinct…

*Now Darshani, is there someone special in your life that has captured that heart of yours?
Yes there definitely is! My boyfriend!!

*And is it true that in Indian culture, it’s the girl who gets to pay the dowry? (In that case, marry me now! )
Hahaha, I’m not sure about that – in some cases I’ve heard of the man paying it and in others the woman! I think it depends on certain cases!!

*Is it true that you are a hopeless romantic?
That’s very very true!! I’m a completely hopeless romantic, I watch rom coms and turn into a slushy pile of goo!!!

*What’s your take on inter-racial dating/marriages…especially now that we have such a vibrant Asian community in Kenya?
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with interracial dating/marriages! We’re all humans at the end of the day, doesn’t matter what colour your skin is. People should just be with whoever makes them happy!

*What in the world wouldn’t you live without?
My phone! I can’t live without it…

*So, what is your MOST embarrassing moment??
Hmm, I think it has to be when I was about 7, I went with this club in Prep School, the intrepid explorers club, to some forest on a hike. Somewhere along the way I must have stepped into a nest of ants!! Next thing I knew I had ants in my pants – I had to strip down infront of everyone to get them off!!! Hahaha…

I have had my fair share of drama with ants but I wont say if I had to remove my pants or not! LOL! Anyway, thats the much we could peep into Darshani’s life for now! I’ve had so much to learn from reading this…and I hope you’ve picked up something or two. I must confess..I really never gave much thought to wildlife until now. When you give this topic much thought, you will realise how important it is for us to do whatever it takes to protect what God has blessed us with. Its good for our econmy anyway. Did you know that in 2011, travel and tourism contributed 13.7 percent of Kenya’s GDP to Sh403.7 billion? World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) made a prediction that those figures would rise by 4.3%. Last year, Kenya’s Minister of Tourism Dan Mwazo expected to see 100 billion shillings ($1.2 billion) in revenue from the tourism sector. Needless to say, wildlife is directly responsible for this humongous figures. We cannot stress enough the importance of conserving and protecting this important resource. In our own little way, we can find something we could do. And come to think of it, many years ago when God planned to drown the world with a global flood…He did ask Noah to get the animals in the ark. That showed that he cared. We should care too! If these reasons dont  motivate us enough us to do something..I dont know what will! I million thanks to Darshani for sharing her story with us! Cheers! 😀

The righteous care for the needs of their animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel. [Proverbs 12:10]

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Mr. Kabue James

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