People often ask why a conservation organization builds schools. For me, it’s an easy answer. Education is one of the primary ways to develop consciousness about how our actions impact the environment — both locally and globally. It is one of the most important means of empowering youth, engaging communities, fostering concern for wildlife and promoting the sustainable use of natural resources.
So why not just develop a conservation education curriculum?
As a tool for African Wildlife Foundation, building schools demonstrates our long-term commitment to communities. We provide access to quality education in return for communities’ agreements to conserve land and protect wildlife. While Classroom Africa is a relatively new program, the success of the model is demonstrated by what has been achieved at Lupani Community School, where the community set aside 20,000 hectares of land strictly for conservation.
Lupani has received a lot of attention lately, and for good reason. Seven years after we first opened the doors, the new school’s first-ever first-grade class graduated from seventh grade in 2017 with a nearly 100 percent graduation rate on to secondary school — a considerable achievement for a rural community school.
I first visited the campus as a program design officer based out of AWF’s Livingstone office in southern Zambia. The school was two years old, and just beginning to gain momentum. We had reconstructed it from a one-room schoolhouse to a campus complete with six classrooms and on-site teachers’ housing. Enrollment was on the rise and, for the first time, students were graduating to the next level of schooling.
Over the past seven years, our continued support and commitment have allowed Lupani to strive for an optimum balance of improved performance and greater understanding of conservation. Now, as the Classroom Africa senior manager, I see how much impact we can make in rural communities in the landscapes where we work.
For the first time, I see how a community school can transform into a center of excellence —which is often not the case in rural areas. Students are participating in regional-level competitions — and winning. Our partner, Children in the Wilderness, awarded the school’s environmental club “Best in Zambia.” Students that started in first grade who did not know how to read or write are now graduating at the top of their class.
Teachers, too, are excelling. Lupani’s fourth-grade teacher and one of the school’s “eco-mentors,” extended his environmental education training with a five-day workshop in Johannesburg. This achievement is on top of previous distinctions awarded to the principal and first-grade teacher at Lupani.
Every visit to the school, I admire this success because having a quality learning space, teacher training support, and opportunities to explore their local environment through outdoor lessons and field trips have propelled Lupani into a school that now competes with urban schools in terms of quality education.
This year, we worked with Bushtracks Africa, a local safari company, to give students the opportunity to explore what exists in their “backyard”: the Victoria Falls. We celebrated World Environment Day on June 5, 2018, with Children in the Wilderness by picking up plastic litter around the school and in a nearby town. These practical hands-on activities help students understand the value of their local environment, and engage in a way that positively influences their perceptions of the environment, education, and opportunities that lie ahead.
I am inspired by how hard teachers and students continuously work. They have multiplied the value of AWF’s support by remaining determined to not only instill and extend the importance of conservation but to help students and peers to excel and believe in themselves as Zambia’s future leaders.
Perrin is the Senior Manager of AWF’s Classroom Africa program, ensuring effective implementation and management of all Classroom Africa projects. She also served as a Program Design Officer for AWF prior to her current role. Perrin earned her BA in environmental studies from the University of Colorado Boulder, and her M.Sc in climate change and development from the University of Sussex.
AWF Blogs bring you to the critical landscapes we work in, where conservation benefits both wildlife and people alike. The blogs are written by our staff - men and women who have dedicated their lives to Africa's wildlife, people and wild lands.
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