Laly Lichtenfeld, '96

Laly Lichtenfeld, '96

May 17, 2012
A story of following your passion across the globe

Welcome back to University of Richmond! You graduated in 1996 with a degree in biology. When you were here, what did you think you would do with your biology major?
I am thrilled to be back, it has been a long time and I have missed it! It is nice to walk down memory lane and reconnect with old friends. When I first came the University of Richmond as a student, I was initially interested in the pre-veterinarian program. I’ve had a life-long love for animals and worked in a vet’s office in high school. But I also had an interest in studying conservation, so as I began working toward my degree in biology, I focused on ecology and conservation. I knew I was meant to do something related to this field.

When did you realize your passion for Africa?
After my freshmen year at Richmond, I was fortunate enough to attend the National Outdoor Leadership School's (NOLS) Program in Kenya and realized I wanted to use my biology background to focus on African wildlife conservation. My deep interest in wildlife was nurtured by my Kenyan experience, as it made me realize my passion for findings ways that people and wildlife can coexist. When I returned from Kenya, everything was about Africa for me – how to get back there to help those communities and to conserve wildlife. I was awarded a Fulbright scholarship that took my back to Kenya a few years later.

Which faculty member made the biggest impact on you during your time at Richmond?
Professor Rafael De Sa was one of the most influential professors for me during my years at U of R. He taught me about community conservation. In one of his tropical biology courses, I had the opportunity to travel to Belize. The trip inspired me to do the work I do today. Altogether, I found my professors were very accessible. I always knew their doors were open if I had a question. When I applied for my Fulbright scholarship, which was a very intense time, my professors were available to help, inspire and motivate me. I did not feel alone throughout the application process. 

What personal achievement are you most proud of?
I am proud of co-founding the African People & Wildlife Fund with my husband Charles and creating the Noloholo Environmental Center on the Maasai Steppe, located on the southeastern border of the Tarangire National Park. When I went to Kenya for my Fulbright scholarship, I dreamt of starting a community center that would teach its members how to sustainably manage natural resources. I am proud of the impact the environmental center has had on reducing conflict between animals and humans. My work has helped protect 25,000 goats, sheep and cattle from lions attacks, directly impacting 2,000 community members on a daily basis. Lastly, I am also proud of the scholarship program that the environmental center has been able to support. The Noloholo Environmental Scholars program provides scholarships that allow children to attend high school. We currently have 12 children in the program. Our oldest scholars are in their third year of high school and I am excited to see where these students will go after graduation.

What undergraduate experiences prepared you for the work you do today?
While at Richmond, I decided not to add a minor to my biology major, like many students do. I chose instead to take a variety of courses in subject areas of interest, no matter what department. I think this was really important because it allowed me to have a well-rounded, truly-liberal arts approach to my education. I studied Swahili, which comes in handy because it is the national language of Tanzania. Additionally, I took classes on African politics and economics to gain a more thorough understanding of the continent. There were so many opportunities at Richmond – I just had to apply myself and take advantage of them!

What is a typical day at work for you?
Well, every day is very different. I usually wake up pretty early because I am essentially managing two organizations, the African People & Wildlife Fund in the United States and the Noloholo Environmental Center in Tanzania. So I need to keep two engines running at all times. During the day at the Center, I may help host a workshop for community members, for example on watershed resource management. Or I may be working with the team to investigate the conflict between big cats and livestock and have meetings with the village leadership throughout the day. Their support is essential for success.

Since you live in Tanzania, how do you feel when you come back to the United States?
These days, I experience reverse culture shock when I return to the United States. I really enjoy coming back and sharing my experiences with my supporters and meeting new people, but I am sometimes overwhelmed by the fast pace. I live a very different lifestyle in the African Bush. I realize how fast and rushed everything is here, and always connected via technology.

What advice would you give to current UR students?
Seize the day! Don’t worry about challenges, just persevere and follow your dream. If you worry about challenges, it can seem overwhelming and get the best of you. I knew there would be difficut days, but I just worked hard and pursued my passion. Also, take advantage of all the opportunities available on campus and through the alumni network. They are there – you just need to be proactive and reach out!

How do you stay connected to UR despite being so far away?
When I first left for Kenya to work on my Fulbright scholarship, I wrote letters. Now I am able to keep in touch online because the center in Tanzania has Internet access. I hope to become more connected with UR students who are interested in getting involved with the African People & Wildlife Fund. It would be great to have UR students as interns who do research at the environmental center!

What does Spider Pride mean to you?
Spider Pride means the integrity of being a leader. It means that you cast a wide net to learn across a variety of disciplines, levels, and realms. By casting a wide net, you do not limit yourself. You expose yourself to many different opportunities.

*Photo courtesy of African People & Wildlife Fund.