Our dynamic teams of education officers visit each school several times a year, delivering conservation awareness lessons, distributing resources, and engaging with teachers. Our printed material is all curricula-friendly and designed together with teachers and education experts. Examples include wild card files, carnivore posters, lowveld ABC sets, carnivore fact books, wild dog board games, as well as literacy books and library books.
Lessons delivered by our education teams cover a variety of environmental topics, often concluding with a screening of a relevant wildlife DVD. This is a very popular activity for the children who cram themselves into the tiny classrooms in anticipation of the film. The use of visual media is a phenomenal way to deliver a message, especially for children who have never seen a movie before!
Through our scholarship program we invest in disadvantaged youngsters that show immense potential to be leaders and ambassadors for conservation in their communities. This program began in 2012, and we support a minimum of 25 promising individuals through secondary school each year. In 2020 we saw the first three of our scholars move on to university!
The students are known as Predator Scholars to maintain the link between the benefit and the wildlife resource. Our support includes school or university fees, uniforms, text books/supplies and extra lessons and accommodation costs as needed.
This initiative feeds directly into our overarching goal of building capacity and providing opportunities for local communities to enable them to break away from a subsistence lifestyle reducing pressure on natural resources and systems.
To sponsor a student through secondary school costs $450 per year.
There is no better way to foster an appreciation and understanding of wildlife than to expose individuals to wildlife first hand. This is even more so for the rural children and communities with whom we work; all of who live within 15 km of the boundaries of Savé Valley Conservancy or Gonarezhou National Park, but most who have never seen wildlife or the protected areas.
Our four-day long field courses are coordinated and run by wildlife enthusiasts and professionals (retired parks warden and professional guides) who have a wealth of experience with youth camps, expertise and knowledge of the bush, and an excellent rapport with children. The field trips are always a great success full of enjoyable activities and meaningful lessons, including; bush walks and drives, learning about local tree and animal species, bush survival skills, snake identification and first aid, watermanship, demonstrations of practical field-research techniques and team-building and leadership development exercises.
Through in situ practical demonstrations, interactive exercises and inspirational talks (from e.g. the anti-poaching units, camp managers, scouts etc.) we aim to instil an appreciation and understanding of the natural world and current conservation challenges, and provide a direct link between the preservation of wildlife areas and community benefit (employment opportunities, education initiatives, tourism benefits etc.).
In addition to longer field trips, we also conduct at least 20 day trips per year into Gonarezhou National Park and Savé Valley Conservancy benefitting at least 500 children and 40 teachers annually. The children are transported on a return journey through the wildlife areas, stopping at a few viewpoints and watering holes along the way, and for the lucky ones, an African wild dog den site! They are transported in a specially designed game drive truck which provides them with a truly accessible way to enjoy the majesty of the protected areas.
The on-site visits are the perfect opportunity to show the children many of the species of animals that they had been learning about in the classrooms and through our lessons. The reactions of the children whilst on these day trips is truly inspiring, and we have no doubt that these trips are helping to instil an appreciation of wildlife and conservation in the children. We also extend this opportunity to head-teachers, chiefs, village headman and councillors; key figureheads and influencers within the communities we work with. Their interest and awe is no less than that of the children.
In partnership with Zambezi Schoolbook Project and Books for Africa, we have established fully functioning libraries in every one of our 108 primary schools, as well as 10 secondary schools. Supported by a previous literacy program (Happy Readers) where we supplied schools with ministry-approved literacy books, this library program aims to assist with literacy and improve student’s reading skills, as well as a love of learning through access to fun and interesting books. To date, we have received and distributed a total of almost 200,000 books.
Encouragingly, many of the school libraries have opened to community members as well, providing adults with access to a huge diversity of books; an initiative that has been instrumental in building community support for AWCF’s conservation efforts,
As with everything we do, proper training and support is provided. Librarian training workshops and an inter-library support structure are a key element of the library program, and help ensure that schools are able to derive maximum benefit from the facility. Evidence has shown the program has already significantly improved overall school exam results and the piles of full counter books documenting books borrowed speak for themselves.
Most of the students in our schools program live in rural areas where there is no electricity, impeding their ability to study during the evenings. Through a partnership with The Bourke Family Foundation we have added sets of solar reading lamps to many of the libraries we have established in schools, so that students can borrow books and lights together. By the end of 2020, we had allocated 6900 solar lights to over 50 libraries, in this hugely successful scheme which has seen tremendous uptake. Lights kept in the libraries have facilitated after hours studying, and adult literacy in community members.
Further, we have installed solar panels (also through collaboration with The Bourke Family Foundation into 16 rural primary schools that were without electricity. Already the changes engendered by this simple provision of light are noticeable and heart-warming, not just for the students but also for community elders who often use the lit rooms for community development meetings.
Cluster competitions are one of the most popular activities of our school education program. These are day long, interschool competitions, where teams of students from different schools compete against each other to show who has the greater knowledge of wildlife conservation and large carnivores.
These are fun packed days, filled with songs, dancing, poster and model displays and poetry recitals, culminating in a nail biting wildlife quiz. The events always draw in a large crowd from surrounding communities and are hugely valuable in motivating and engaging adult community members as well as students and teachers.
Over the past decade, we have built up incredible capacity and programs within the primary schools we support, but are increasingly aware of the need for similar investment in the secondary schools in our area. This became ever more apparent when our bright and well-supported scholars were failing their O-level exams. We knew we had to address the root cause; the underperforming secondary schools.
We have therefore selected 10 key secondary schools situated around Savé Valley Conservancy (6) and Gonarezhou National Park (4), and are starting to build these schools up into ‘centres of excellence’, including through investment in resources and teacher training and the establishment of libraries and computer labs. Our scholarship students will only attend these selected schools, and over time the schools will provide a multitude of positive benefits to thousands of other local students.
One of the most exciting opportunities to really engage students in in-depth conservation learning comes through the conservation clubs, currently active in more than 35 of our schools. We have developed a locally-relevant, practical and engaging curricula with 30 themed lesson plans on topics ranging from soil conservation to food chains to medicinal plants to human-wildlife conflict. Developed by a professional educator and closely linked to our mainstream schools program, this has proved hugely popular with the teachers and clubs recruitment is booming! We are extra proud of a couple of schools who had no conservation club but we’re inspired by AWCF to start one!
AWCF strives to be adaptive and meet the needs of our schools and communities as far as possible, and in so far as there is a link to wildlife conservation and sustainable livelihoods. Examples of recent support to schools – outside of our standard programs – include; funding fences for school vegetable gardens, providing shelving for library books, providing Covid awareness posters to all schools, providing mobile chalkboards and exercise books to a struggling satellite school, and, thanks to a generous private donation; undertaking a water project to provide running water to a school (and clinic).