Update from the RISE Department – Sept ’23

Environmental Learning 

Our environmental learning initiatives have been bolstered by the inclusion of four (4) Groen Sebenza interns. They are university graduates who are gaining workplace-based learning whilst contributing their knowledge towards strengthening the organizations where they are placed over 24 months. The interns have been involved in supporting the Coaching Conservation programme, the Pan African Conservation Education (PACE) Programme, the Lessons in Conservation initiative, and community research. 

Coaching Conservation 

The Coaching Conservation (CC) programme was fortunate to receive support from the Swiss-based organisation, Friends of African Wildlife, who committed to supporting 100 learners on the Coaching Conservation programme. This group of learners participated in a Bush Rapid Awareness Programme (Bush RAP) which included learning about rhinos as iconic species and their role in the African savannah as mega-herbivores! All this learning is directed toward inspiring a generation of children who care and have respect for themselves, each other, and the environment they find themselves in. 

Over the June – September period, four (4) groups of 25 learners from Kahlela, Welverdiend, Mtembeni, and Mahlekisana Primary Schools came to the College for the overnight Bush RAP where they learnt about rhinos from our team of passionate coaches. The programme is facilitated by applying the Learning from Wildlife model. Here, kids learn about wildlife from wildlife behaviour and their attributes for application or emulation in their personal lives.  

Every child that took part in the programme received the pleasantly colourful Coaching Conservation gear. This includes a T-shirt, cap, water bottle, and fun educational activity books. The learners took part in a quick class-based lesson where they got to “MEET” their animal coaches, these were both the black and white rhinos. The students got to learn how they defend their territory, change direction quickly, and function as ecosystem engineers. Learners then had a chance to BE like their animal coach, actively engaging in a soccer drill followed by a soccer game linking the animal behaviour and the football activities. This part of the lesson builds empathy for their animal coaches. The learners then reassembled to further learn why their animal coach (rhinos) need HELP. They played conservation games to illustrate the challenges that the animals face. Finally, the group discussed how they could personally contribute to making a positive difference as KIDS WHO CARE.  

From the feedback, the children expressed sentiments of compassion that they feel for all wildlife, which are being persecuted by humans and their survival threatened. As the most enjoyable experiences, the learners said that visiting a conserved area, enjoying a game drive, and the lovely hospitality were highlights for them. This was not surprising given that it was the first time for 95% of the class to be in a protected area and to be given the opportunity to see some of the animals they learned about.  

Lessons in Conservation 

The Groen Sebenza team and Primary School learners from our neighbouring communities were lucky to take part in the annual Lessons in Conservation Educational run for the second time. This was done in partnership with Lessons in Conservation (LIC) who are making a difference in our landscape by providing fun, engaging, and relevant environmental education for children. LIC is a youth-led organization that strives to leave our natural world in a better place than we found it. They believe that educating young children in rural communities will lead to a generation that grows up to love and accept conservation and the natural world. 

From 08 July – 13 July, twelve (12) learners from Mtembeni, Mahlekisana, Muchuchi, and Welverdiend Primary Schools came to the College for these environmental education sessions. The children participated in lessons on basic ecological principles and the importance of conservation. They learnt about butterflies, insects, the big and small 5, the social structures of animals, ecosystems, biotic and abiotic factors, food webs, and tree identification. This initiative aims to create a long-lasting connection between people and wildlife through first-hand engagement on educational excursions to reserves. This is achieved by taking the children on game drives, bush walks, and other educational activities following their in-classroom learning.  

For the learners, this culminated in a fun and informative excursion to the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC). They got to experience first-hand from the knowledgeable guides, get an overview of HESC’s conservation programmes, and get a close-up of the various species in their care. Seeing the cheetah, rhinos, leopard, sable, and ground hornbills left the learners with faces filled with awe. The absolute highlight was seeing the vultures descend in numbers to feed in the vulture restaurant. 

Scaling up with Pan African Conservation Education (PACE) 

The SAWC embarked on a partnership with the Pan African Conservation Education (PACE) Trust in 2022 to establish the SAWC as a PACE hub. Within this agreement, the duo sought to scale access to educational resources for selected communities and schools associated with the SAWC zone of influence and partner sites. PACE, as an initiative, supports conservation and sustainability education. It also provides ideas, information, and training for learners and communities across Africa. 

As of the end of this past quarter, we have received more than 5,000 PACE resources. This includes 3,000 new ones in Portuguese on Vultures and Painted dogs for our partners in Mozambique: Maputo, Zinave and Banhine National Parks. The resources have provided us with relevant, well-produced content and, above all, a framework that is helping us further develop and expand our work in schools. This initiative has brought new ideas and enabled an in-depth approach to working with schools. 

Along with the help of two (2) programme facilitators who delivered lessons and supported educational outings focussed on learning about vultures, the Makuleke Group of Schools has fully embraced the programme. The attention on vultures follows a request by the Makuleke Park Co-ordinator, Aubrey Maluleke, who had witnessed the impact of unintentional poisoning that killed a large number of various vulture species in his region. It is for this reason that he took it upon himself to involve more community and schools in taking action. This gave birth to the PACE and Vulpro collaboration and the Makuleke Champions.  

Through this initiative, 121 Primary and High School learners received printed resources and lessons to help share their learning. The schools also held debates on Living with wildlife. After learning about vulture habitats, senses, communication, identification, and the conservation threats faced by vultures, a group of 20 learners enjoyed a trip to the Punda Maria Educational Centre. They later drove through the park to watch vultures in their natural habitats.  

Under the PACE banner, the RISE team of environmental educators celebrated Mandela Day by running a full day of community and sustainability celebrations at Kahlela Primary School. Joined by 100 grade 5,6 and 7 learners, they honoured the late Mandela’s values and vision for creating a world that is caring and compassionate. The kids had sessions and activities on responsible water use in water scare environments. This was followed by a clean-up campaign to make their school and neighbourhood clean. The school’s Eco-Club also received seeds to plant in the school’s food garden.    

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