The Coaching Conservation programme provides Innovative conservation education through the Learning from Wildlife Model, where kids learn about wildlife, and from wildlife behaviour and their individual attributes for application in their personal lives. Having started in 2019, 2021 marks the second year of SAWC implementing the Coaching Conservation programme, and this year the programme managed to reach 804 Grade 5 learners, and 649 grade 6 learners, a total of 1453 learners from neighbouring primary schools.

The Coaching Conservation programme was fortunate to receive support from two donors namely, Investec Rhino Lifeline and Friends of African Wildlife. Investec Rhino Lifeline is long term partner of Coaching Conservation, and has been supporting the children’s programmes as one of their Rhino Lifeline initiatives. Investec’s commitment via Rhino Lifeline is “to educate the youth in rural communities to care about rhino, and in doing so we develop rhino custodians of the future.” A sentiment which resonates with the SAWC-Coaching Conservation collaboration with the focus being to “Inspire a generation of children that care and have respect for themselves, each other, and the environment they find themselves in.” A great vessel for conserving Africa’s natural resources is being realised through using sport to engender self-respect and inspire a generation of Kids Who Care.

The most eye catching aspect of programme is perhaps the branding, with the team receiving the rebranded material early in 2021. The intent being that each child participating in the programme receive the colourful co-branded Coaching Conservation gear comprising a: T-shirt, cap, water bottle, string bag, and fun educational activity books. In 2021 we had nine participating schools from the local primary schools within the Mnisi Villages, namely: Mahlekisana, Mchuchi, Welverdiend, Mahlekisana, Sesete Primary, Khokhovela, Lumukisa, Beretta Primary and Mauvane Primary.

The team kicked off the programme on 17 May 2021, managing to only reach one school before lock down was resumed immediately after. The programme was then resumed in early August alongside the easing of COVID-19 restrictions. The coaches had to hit the ground running, and remained in high spirits as they began a marathon implementation, starting with the six week programme. This reached 288 children from four primary schools. Children on this component of the programme are exposed to lessons on the African Elephant, Black Rhino, White Rhino, Lion and Cheetah, and the herd lesson. These animal guides are used to highlight a particular conservation challenge such as the decimation of the rhino populations alongside an understanding of the drivers. Likewise, the learners learn about the role of a particular animal guide in the ecosystem, an example of the rhino being that it’s a landscape manager. At the end of a short knowledge component, the children then adopt certain characteristics of their animal guide for the day, and pair that with soccer drills. This culminates to a ‘Help’ component, where learners identify actions that they can take to assist the animal guide.

The second part of this experience was the overnight bush camp for the same group of learners, the overnight camps provide the children with the opportunity to spend a night at the College, experience a guided bush experience and enjoy the hospitality whilst learning about vultures, the African Elephant and the southern White Rhino. The overnight camp remains a favourite across the board, as this coincides with many of the learners first experience in a wildlife or conserved area.

The spirited cheers, recited by the children, of: ‘respect yourself, respect each-other, respect your environnnnmmmeeent!’ permeated the College’s premises as the youngsters are taught to value wildlife and natural environments through immersive experiences. This continues to be a meaningful way of reaching the next generation of custodians towards conserving Africa’s natural resources and inspiring a generation of Kids Who Care. 416 kids were exposed to the one-day Rhino Rapid Awareness Programme, which was facilitated on site, providing this group of children a very similar experience to the six-week programme learners.

Gauging the success and impact of the programme, Swiss based, Friends of African Wildlife extended the opportunity to SAWC for 125 children from the neighbouring schools to participate in an overnight programme, and receive the same Coaching Conservation collateral. We saw a great opportunity to include the SAWC’s staff’s kids to the list, receiving 25 staff children and 100 children from SAWC’s wider zone of influence.

The acknowledgement and positive feedback from the community and parents who appreciate the presence of the programme in their schools reaffirms the value of Coaching Conservation. Apart from the bush experience, the soccer element for the programme was noted by a community representative by the name of Invite Nhlongo who coaches an under-12 soccer club. He noted that the programme was also helping in terms of soccer skills, as the learners learn to control the ball, pass the ball, dribbling and scoring

The involvement of educators is key for the success of this programme, and for this we’d like to start by commending Mr. Mropane from Mahlekisana primary school for his excellent participation. He showed up as a role model given his commitment to his scholars. He demonstrated that being an educator requires passion and dedication. Mr. Mropane was deeply involved in our programme from the six-week programme as well as in the overnight programmes. The final and perhaps most important thank you’s go out to our lead Coach Professor Mtungwa, supporting coaches Goodwill Seepane, Queeneth Seepano, Precious Ndlovu, and Ponagatso Mogakane. This team of leaders keep the spirit of the programme high even under very challenging conditions, and whilst braving the 40-degree sun to meet targets and deliver a quality learning experience.

Our sincere thanks is extended to everyone involved in this incredible programme. We looking forwarding to its continued delivery in 20222