Wildlife Warriors is a programme delivered by the Land & Life Foundation, Elewana’s philanthropic arm, and is designed to support inter-generational knowledge sharing, learning and wildlife conservation. I spoke with Carol Ng’ang’a from the Foundation, and asked her about the programme.
Carol, tell us about Wildlife Warriors – how it’s delivered, and ultimately what you are trying to achieve through it.
Many youngsters living alongside wildlife in East Africa have never seen a lion or a cheetah in the wild and have only read about them in books. Many more cannot differentiate between a leopard and a cheetah. We realised early on that in order to narrow this knowledge gap and bring our communities on board the conservation train, education was key. We recognised that for our youngsters to value wildlife the way we all do, they had to experience it in and out of the classroom. We devised different ways of sharing our conservation story by incorporating resource materials produced by conservation-education experts, using videos, photos and game drives, to engage their young minds. We came to appreciate that the longevity of our efforts required that we nurtured a generation of children who cared about their environment and who are passionate about conservation; children who would have the ability to stand on any platform, in their communities, nationally and globally to discuss and debate conservation issues. Our goal was to mentor wildlife champions.
We were also very much aware that communities will only conserve wildlife if they receive direct and sustainable benefits from wildlife-tourism. For wildlife to thrive, our communities also had to thrive. This idea subsequently crystallised into what is now the Wildlife Warrior Programme (WWP) now running in all eight of our supported schools.
Each school term, the Land & Life Foundation team partners with local conservationists and The Elewana Collection guides, who deliver inspirational talks to the Wildlife Warriors, providing them with content for poetry, trivia and poster competitions. Our activities are designed to promote knowledge sharing, innovative thinking and proactive wildlife conservation while creating an interest and passion for conservation and tourism. Winners of these competitions are awarded with guided game drives and tours of The Elewana Collection properties giving them the ultimate once in a lifetime safari experience. Included in the programme is our Wildlife Warrior Scholarship Programme, designed to provide partial scholarships to outstanding young conservationists. Each year we bring the scholars together for a week-long interactive retreat to discuss key conservation issues with experts in the industry.
Six years on, we have succeeded in impacting over 3,000 youngsters, successfully held 5 WWP scholars retreats, awarded 57 secondary school and one tertiary scholarship, enrolled one scholar in the Elewana Trainee Program, established the Wildlife Warrior Clubs across our school networks, held over 100 conservation-themed talks and presentations, facilitated over 40 game drives in collaboration with The Elewana Collection properties, built seven permanent classrooms, three modern kitchens well-equipped with fuel efficient stoves, a school library well stocked with books, furniture and equipment, a boy’s dormitory equipped with 40 bunk beds to house 80 children, a school administration block, a teachers’ quarters, erected a school shamba (garden) with a capacity of feeding over 400 children, three rain-water harvesting systems equipped with water tanks, two school playgrounds, over 600 desks to sit 1,800 children, several blocks of toilets for teachers and students, COVID supplies to over 1,700 children and teachers in our supported schools, through the Pamoja Fund COVID relief fund provided over 715 meals to two childrens’ homes, donated over $3,000 worth of foodstuff to our children, provided fuel for 1.5 months for rangers in Tarangire, 24 care packages to Shanga a social enterprise that empowers people with disabilities, COVID supplies to healthcentres in Kitirua conservancy, Amboseli, donated 400 pairs of school shoes and socks, donated tonnes of school, sports supplies and counting …
In late 2019 The Land & Life Foundation partnered with Seedballs Kenya and have since thrown over half a million seedballs in the different conservation areas where we work. With a minimum germination success rate of 10%, that presents over 50,000 trees planted.
The goal of our Wildlife Warrior Program is to ‘close the circle’, thus ensuring that the youngsters enrolled in our scholarship programme reach the postgraduate level of education, with the hope that they pursue wildlife, conservation or related courses. One such youngster is Dancan Mugambi, who comes from a small community near Elewana Elsa’s Kopje, Meru National Park. He completed his secondary education in December 2018 and is currently pursuing a course in Tours and Travel Management. Dancan wants to be a ranger, protecting and conserving the wildlife of Kenya. He aspires to work with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in Meru National Park, to serve his community and to safeguard the wildlife and therefore the tourism.
When the world fully opens again, we encourage those who wish to visit, to schedule their next safari and visit our communities. They will not only be contributing to the local economies, but will be making a difference by giving youngsters like Dancan an opportunity to dare to dream.
How old are the children who take part in the programme, and how do they get involved?
We work with children attending our supported schools i.e. schools that are located within the vicinity of Elewana camps and lodges. These are our ‘Wildlife Warrior schools’. We target children in the higher grades and they usually range between 10 and 17 years. We have formed ‘Wildlife Warrior’ clubs in each of these schools and have appointed a patron and deputy who together with the school administration help us in arranging, facilitating and implementing WWP activities. We run the activities every school term working with over 500 children.
Why do you think it’s important to educate children in this way, and what positive behaviours do you see as a result of the programme?
Conservation education initiatives such as the Wildlife Warrior Programme have been proven to positively impact the youth, their communities and ecology. It shapes their attitudes and beliefs towards conservation at an early age. If we are to reverse or slow down the many negative impacts that we are experiencing on the planet today, we have to engage them during their formative years. We have seen a great change in attitude towards conservation; we have seen children educating their parents especially those whose parents never had the opportunity to go to school. We have seen their grades improve because of better infrastructure, high quality teachers. We have seen their confidence grow because within each WWP activity they engage in activities that capture their sense of curiosity and creativity.
And what opportunities are available beyond this particular programme for students showing a real passion for wildlife conservation?
In 2019 we launched the Daniel Mukenye Scholarship Award for academic excellence for tertiary education in memory of Daniel, one of our WWP scholars who sadly passed away. The aim of the scholarship is to support emerging young conservationists who wish to pursue careers in the tourism and travel industry so that they can one day become conservation ambassadors. Recipients of this award are selected based on their potential to become conservation leaders, influencing local or national conservation issues in their home and country. In addition, we have the Elewana Trainee Program that is open to youngsters who wish to pursue careers in the hospitality industry. It is a 6 month program whereby the youngsters are rotated in different departments in one Elewana property with the aim of helping them understand how each department operates and also for them to discover where they fit in best – where their strengths and passions are – could be in housekeeping, gardens etc
What impact has Covid 19 had on the programme over the last twelve months?
The pandemic greatly affected our operations – we could not do what we love most and that is visit and interact with our communities. We had to suspend all our programs the WWP included. Financial support was also greatly impacted by COVID. Most of our financial support comes from guests staying in Elewana properties. Most properties remained closed and that affected our bottom line. The upside is that our youngsters are now more than ever enthusiastic about hygiene e.g. handwashing preventing them from acquiring communicable and highly preventable diseases
What do the next 12/24 months hold for Wildlife Warrior students?
We have just enrolled 12 new youngsters to our WWP scholarship program. We hope to continue our WWP termly activities, competitions and game drives, distribute more WWP resource packs to ensure as many youngsters as possible get access to it. We also hope to hold our annual scholars retreat to include these and those already enrolled in the program in the next 12 months. We would also wish to roll out a fundraising campaign for our WWP Scholarships to ensure that all our scholars are fully funded.
For more details, or to make a donation to the Wildlife Warrior programme and support the conservationists of the future, visit Land & Life.