"Never Underestimate Me Because I Am Female", Patience Apassnaba on Unyielding Resolve

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Article by: Damaris Agweyu

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As a woman, you don't have to act like a man in order to be accepted. Even though they look down upon you sometimes, focus on what needs to be done, not which gender can do it better.

Resilient, determined, and courageous, Patience Apassnaba has defied societal expectations to overcome numerous challenges throughout her life. 

As the first female Wildlife Park Manager in Ghana, her journey inspires others, regardless of gender, to stand up for themselves and stay true to their dreams.

She is the Park Manager of the Owabi Wildlife Sanctuary Ramsar Site and has previously managed two other wildlife parks and a zoo.

The Women for the Environment 2023 Fellow shares her story with Damaris Agweyu.

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Patience Apassnaba (provided)

Patience, how would you describe yourself?

I am friendly and compassionate. Kind yet assertive. I am a disciplinarian who believes in doing the right thing and correcting with love. 

I strive to achieve my goals even in the face of adversity. I take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way and take nothing for granted. I am adaptable and can change to suit any situation and environment I find myself in.

My motivation in this life comes from within because I believe our minds and thoughts are very powerful.

After a hard day's work, I love to have fun. 

In everything I do, my family comes first.

You were the first female Wildlife Park Manager in Ghana. How did you get there?

Agriculture was one of the subjects I excelled in in secondary school, so I thought that was the route my career would take. I also had an eye on becoming a journalist because I was one of the best students in English. But because there was very little career guidance those days, it all came down to taking whatever professional opportunity presented itself.

So, when I came across the only forestry school in West Africa, I filled out an enrollment form. It was an outdated version. When it got to the school, somebody at the institution, who had no idea who I was, sent me an updated version. I filled it out and got the admission letter. I found myself amid the elite—rich people with great networks and insider knowledge.

And so I got into forestry but had no interest in wildlife. I found the classes boring and would even walk out of some. When I finished my course, the Wildlife Division of Ghana was recruiting staff, and I found myself working with them. As fate would have it, this was where my star shined.

I excelled in training and fieldwork. Although I faced many challenges and prejudices as a woman, I persevered and eventually became the first female park manager in the history of the Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission.

This job was dominated by men. And the nature of our work often demands isolation in remote areas. As a married woman, it is difficult to bring your family along. This situation affected my marriage and things didn't work out between my husband and me. Nevertheless, I prevailed in my chosen career.

I am now a single parent and have learned how important my children are to me. They are the source of my strength and my greatest treasure. Even though I'm passionate about my job, if I needed to put my tools down for the sake of my children, I would.

Do you ever regret that your work cost you your marriage?

I don't regret it because this is my passion. Even though the remuneration is not commensurate with the sacrifices that come with it, even though I'm not always treated fairly and have been shortchanged several times, I still get a lot of satisfaction from the job.

I want to be remembered as one of the few women in this field who blazed the trail, even in the face of difficulty.

Being one of the only women doing this, do you find yourself conforming to be like the men, or are you completely yourself?

I'm a strong woman and the captain of my fate. As a woman, you don't have to act like a man in order to be accepted. Even though they look down upon you sometimes, focus on what needs to be done, not which gender can do it better. 

I train my mind to do what any other man does on the job. By doing so, I don't come across as the weaker gender. When the job is done well, I eventually gain their respect.

Do you believe it's important for others to recognise and adjust to your unique challenges as a woman, or is it acceptable to maintain the status quo, even if it's more difficult for you?

They should be more accommodating. But here's the thing: when people see me, they see this strong, capable woman who can handle anything. And I do present myself that way. But just because I look tough doesn't mean I don't have my challenges.

I remember going for a promotion interview when I was seven months pregnant. Sitting down for two hours was exhausting, but the interviewers didn't see me as a woman—they didn't see that I was pregnant.

I also didn't give them the space to discriminate against me on that basis. I didn't want favours. They were asking questions, and my waist was aching. I didn't complain once. When the results came back, I was among the top two candidates.

So, while I have faced such challenges, I've never allowed my gender to limit me. People must never underestimate me because I am female. I always prepare myself for whatever is ahead of me. And I always remind myself that my destiny isn't in the hands of men. God's time is the best time; what is due to me will come when that time comes.

Sure, there are obstacles and frustrations along the way, but I don't focus on those. I'm determined to become what I want to become. And you know what? Someday, I'm going to reach the top.

One thing that people don't understand about me in my workspace is that I don't give up. They may think they are subduing or suppressing me. But really, they are just slowing me down, giving me time to gather momentum. When I come back, I come back stronger.

What exactly does your job entail?

There are three core areas. Law enforcement, which includes patrolling the parks and gathering intelligence for security purposes.

Then, there's collaboration with local communities because parks were once their lands before the government took over. Naturally, there is a tension that needs to be addressed. Sometimes, we have to provide them access to the park or offer alternative livelihood opportunities to compensate for the loss of their land.

Finally, ecotourism is a recent development in our wildlife reserves. Because you can't just protect the environment; you must also generate revenue from the resources.

Which approach is most effective: using force or engaging with the community?

When resolving conflict, it is always best to negotiate competing interests and dialogue with people who don't share your views—that is my position.

However, some circumstances demand that a quick technical solution be applied to stabilise a situation where measurable force is needed. When dealing with repeat offenders or people who pose a severe security threat to the park and its wildlife resources, this is not the time for education. They are already aware of their actions and potential consequences. They may have a weapon that can be used to harm you. Such people are dangerous and need to be neutralised with force. That is what the Law and standard procedures dictate. Illegal miners are a perfect example of such groups of people. They come into the park well-prepared for battle.

There are also times when a combination of both approaches is necessary. Suppose someone is caught trespassing but is genuinely unaware of the rules. In that case, we educate them about the laws while still enforcing consequences for their actions—because ignorance is not an excuse.

How do you lead?

I believe in leading by example. This means living a life of integrity and doing what's right even when it's difficult. I don't expect to earn a free salary. I don't abscond from work. I show up on time. And I expect the same from my team.

I don't mince words when it comes to work. I make it clear that we're here to get things done. I've found that being firm is particularly important when dealing with specific individuals who might try to take advantage of or test boundaries.

That being said, I'm not all business all the time. When it's time for jokes, we joke. I know how to lighten the mood with my team when the time is right.

What have you learned from your WE Africa journey?

WE Africa has transformed me into a better leader. Given the nature of our work, which often involves command-and-control dynamics, I used to be quite short-tempered. I was used to making decisions quickly and without much consideration for others' perspectives. Through my coaching journey with WE Africa, I've learned the importance of delegating and allowing others to express themselves and bring what they know on board. Because I don't have all the answers.

I also used to prefer to work quietly. After all, the work was getting done, so why draw attention to it? However, through WE Africa, I've come to realise the importance of letting people know about the work I'm doing. It's not just about recognition; it's about inspiring and motivating others. Sometimes, people need to see what you are doing to feel encouraged to do the same.

Recently, I found myself thrust into the media spotlight, dealing with issues involving politicians and chiefs, which most people wouldn't dare face. I learned that when you're confident in your convictions and know you're doing the right thing, you shouldn't hesitate to raise your voice and make your presence known.

What does success mean to you?

It's living in alignment with your values and feeling fulfilled by your journey. It's achieving your goals and finding joy in those accomplishments. It's the positive impact you create along the way.


This interview is part of a series profiling the stories of the 2023 WE Africa leadership programme fellows, African women in the environmental conservation sector who are showing up with a strong back, soft front, and wild heart.