03.10.2011 - 14.10.2011
*This is a blog post I had written back on October 14 for the project I've been volunteering with: The Wildlife Connection.
Habari asubuhi from Pawaga! It's another warm sunny day out here with a bit of cloud cover. I am currently sitting under our recently improved dining/kitchen banda (aka Sarah’s old banda). Our lone surviving chicken just strolled by while Rafiki is comfortably resting under the table by my feet. The camp has had some significant changes in the past month. Juma built us a chicken coup (the fanciest one I have ever seen---there are two levels!), the second banda is nearly complete (Sarah‘s new banda), just missing some bamboo side panels, and the construction on a third banda and a new choo and shower is underway. We always seem to attract different sorts of visitors. Just in the past week, we’ve had visits from: vultures, roosters, honey badger, mice, rat, tortoise, and a young mamba was spotted by the river yesterday. It's definitely a “lively” place here.
Outside of camp, things have also been quite active in the local primary and secondary schools. Yesterday I proudly observed twelve of the not-in-school youth who I have been meeting once a week gave a full day lesson on wildlife to a combined standard 5 and 6 class---I’m going to write a separate blog entry on this because this group of youth is inspring and incredibly amazing! We have also been making various school visits to speak about our project and wildlife conservation. Education is a key to our goal of bridging the gap between people and wildlife. The focus of my work here has been to bring attention to wildlife protection and conservation to children and youth living near Ruaha National Park. They are the ones who will become the next generation of leaders in their communities and will effectively help with our struggle to reduce poaching.
Last week (October 3-7) was a particularly successful week after gaining a sense of the education system here and how students learn, and establishing many positive connections with the local schools and villages. The week included education in three villages in the Idodi region: Makifu, Tungamalenga, and Idodi and we were able to hit all three of our target groups: primary level students, secondary students, and teenage youth who are not in school. We visited the primary school in Makifu on Thursday and as always, we quickly drew many curious eyes, eager to know why we are here. One thing I noticed that is strikingly different here compared to schools back home in Canada is that students are expected to clean the classrooms and school ground as part of their daily school activities. It still amazes me to see students all dressed in their school uniform already walking to school at 6:30 in the morning! Once the classroom was cleaned, we engaged and entertained the standard 6 class in a lesson on elephants. Another thing that impresses me so much about the students here is that they are so polite! Whenever they are answering a question or have a question or comment, they would always raise their hand and wait for you to call them before standing up to speak. There appears to be zero classroom management issue here---what a gift this is to any teacher! After the lesson, we organized the students into teams for elephant relay races outside. They used long sticks as 'tusks' and we had them raced down the field bended over with their arms together out front acting as the 'trunk' of the elephant. The final challenge had them relay a bean at the end of their 'trunk'. Based on their enthusiasm and the amount of yelling, I believe that they all enjoyed the activity. I certainly did, it was incredibly fun to watch. One thing I learned is that competitiveness is a universal trait in all children! Somehow it shouldn’t have surprised me but it did when I heard: “That’s not fair!”, “We crossed the line first!”, “They weren’t doing it properly!”, “We have to re-do that race!”. It was a great morning and I can’t wait to do this activity again with another class!
Besides Makifu, a large part of the week was spent in Idodi Secondary School where everyday in the afternoon we met with a group of form 3 students who has shown a special interest in wildlife conservation. We gave them questions to discuss in small groups and tried to get them to understand the importance of conservation. In general, the students recognize the importance of tourism in generating revenue for the country and for certain development projects in the villages, so when asked why it is important to protect wildlife, the common response is so foreign tourists will come and that brings money to the country. There seems to be a lack of recognition for the role different wildlife plays in the ecosystem and the importance of biodiversity even though they have learned about food chain/web in their biology class. To my surprise, students also did not immediately recognize that animals such as elephants are not found in many places in the world and that is why foreigners want to come and visit places like Ruaha National Park. I was very glad to have picked up on these oversights and modified my lessons as the week went. The week ended with a 'wildlife trivia' team competition and the students were divided into small groups to prepare a presentation to share with the other classes in their school what they have learned. The week of course was not all about conservation, students were also eager to show me their talents with their singing, dancing and gymnastic skills. In return, they wanted me to teach them how to fly! What?!?!?! As it turns out, there is an assumption that every Chinese person knows kung-fu and can fly or jump really far and high! I do wish I have such talent, but all I could show them was a simple cartwheel.
Another initiative we were able to get going on was getting a group of youth together who should be in school but not to teach them more about conservation. 24 youth in Tungamalenga came out to our first meeting (one of them had a red Canada Day t-shirt with a big maple leaf on it---he seemed a bit embarrassed when I pointed it out). They range in age from 14 to 20 (it breaks my heart that their education ended at primary school). They were quiet initially but soon the questions started coming and when we showed them pictures of different animals found in Ruaha National Park, their curiosity was elevated and the conversation continued. There is a lot of interest to learn more, one asked if we could meet three times a week. It is absolutely thrilling for me to be able to provide them with new knowledge and I hope we will have many more great meetings in the future.
Here are some of the more intriguing questions that I have been asked:
-What is the length of buffalo dung?
-Why do lions make sound when they are mating?
-Do elephants drink local beer?
-Can elephant meat be eaten?
-Do (female) elephants have periods and go through similar reproductive cycle like us?
Lastly a big salute to Felisto for being such an awesome teaching sidekick!