Nomad Africa Magazine - - Nature & Wildlife | Linking Conservation And Educa - Words: MICAELA SAMODELOV Pho­tographs: SOLOMON WONKU

For quite some time, AWF has been work­ing to de­velop the next gen­er­a­tion of African con­ser­va­tion­ists. Most re­cently, this has been done through our Class­room Africa pro­gram. In many of the ru­ral places where AWF works, stu­dents do not have ac­cess to the same qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion as their ur­ban coun­ter­parts.

class­room Africa works to rec­tify that prob­lem, while also weav­ing in an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of con­ser­va­tion from an early age: The pro­gram builds and pro­vides long-term sup­port to pri­mary schools in ex­change for com­mu­ni­ties’ com­mit­ments to par­tic­i­pat­ing in spe­cific con­ser­va­tion ac­tiv­i­ties.

Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains Na­tional Park is one of the land­scapes where AWF is im­ple­ment­ing our Class­room Africa pro­gram—among other con­ser­va­tion in­ter­ven­tions. The park is a World Her­itage Site in Dan­ger where hu­man en­croach­ment into the pro­tected area rep­re­sents the main threat.

AWF came to an agree­ment with the Adisge com­mu­nity—lo­cated on the out­skirts of the park—that these fam­i­lies would re­frain from farm­ing, graz­ing live­stock or poach­ing park wildlife, among other ac­tiv­i­ties.

In re­turn, AWF re­built the run-down Adisge Pri­mary School to cre­ate a bet­ter learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment for its stu­dents. After more than a year of hard work, con­struc­tion on the new school is wrap­ping up. The pre­vi­ous school had ac­com­mo­dated only grades 1 through 6, forc­ing older stu­dents to go else­where to com­plete their pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion. With the clos­est school of­fer­ing grades 7 and 8 a stag­ger­ing 12 km away, most stu­dents never ended up fin­ish­ing their school­ing. The new cam­pus fea­tures a num­ber of class­room blocks that fully ac­com­mo­date stu­dents through grade 8.

Given the al­ti­tude, the weather in Adisge is of­ten windy and cold, and the class­rooms were sim­i­larly chilly. Teach­ers used to close the win­dows to re­tain heat, with the re­sult be­ing dark, dank class­rooms. The re­built Adisge school was con­structed with earth bags—sacks filled with soil from the con­struc­tion site— which were then stacked like bricks to cre­ate the core walls of the school. Much thicker than typ­i­cal cin­derblock con­struc­tion, the earth-bag walls pro­vide ex­cel­lent in­su­la­tion and keep the class­rooms com­fort­able. A light-col­ored lime-and­ce­ment mix­ture plas­tered over the earth bags en­sures smooth walls and bright class­rooms, while the roof­ing de­sign al­lows for am­ple nat­u­ral light and ven­ti­la­tion.

Equipped with a bright, com­fort­able learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment, Adisge stu­dents can now fo­cus on their stud­ies. AWF will also pro­vide Adisge’s teach­ers with on­go­ing pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment to en­sure stu­dents re­ceive out­stand­ing in­struc­tion in the class­room.

But, Class­room Africa is about more than just build­ing a phys­i­cal struc­ture or sup­port­ing teach­ers. In keep­ing with our con­ser­va­tion roots, we make sure to em­pha­size con­ser­va­tion and the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment through­out the course of our long-term en­gage­ment with the school. There is, of course, the ini­tial con­ser­va­tion com­mit­ment that the com­mu­nity agreed to in ex­change for the school. AWF also pro­vides ex­tracur­ric­u­lar con­ser­va­tion ed­u­ca­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties to all of its Class­room Africa–sup­ported schools.

Adisge Pri­mary School now has an en­vi­ron­men­tal club that meets ev­ery Fri­day for weekly lessons from one of the teach­ers, Ban­chalem Tsega. An im­pres­sive 49 stu­dents—24 girls and 25 boys—par­tic­i­pate in the club. (That’s nearly a quar­ter of the stu­dent pop­u­la­tion of Adisge, which has an en­roll­ment of 220.)

AWF is also in the process of putting to­gether a more com­plete con­ser­va­tion ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram, fea­tur­ing les­son plans

about the lo­cal wildlife and ecosys­tem, and field trips into Simien Mountains Na­tional Park. The school’s cam­pus, which fea­tures na­tive plants, will also serve as a venue for ex­pe­ri­en­tial, out­door learn­ing about the im­por­tance of wildlife and the en­vi­ron­ment.

In a boost for AWF’s Class­room Africa work at Adisge, the Ethiopian Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Au­thor­ity (or EWCA) re­cently re­ceived a man­date from the na­tional gov­ern­ment to re­view the coun­try’s pri­mary school cur­ricu­lum and find ways to in­cor­po­rate con­ser­va­tion. The wildlife au­thor­ity will be­gin act­ing on this man­date in the com­ing year. AWF looks for­ward to col­lab­o­rat­ing with the wildlife au­thor­ity to im­ple­ment the new cur­ricu­lum at Adisge Pri­mary School. Since AWF be­gan work­ing with the Adisge com­mu­nity a few years ago, at­ti­tudes to­ward wildlife have changed sig­nif­i­cantly. Dur­ing a visit to par­tic­i­pate in the school’s of­fi­cial open­ing cer­e­mony in Jan­uary 2016, Leila Straus, a key sup­porter of the school’s re­con­struc­tion, noted a marked dif­fer­ence com­pared to an ear­lier visit to the area.

“The kids at Adisge do seem to value ed­u­ca­tion and they do seem to value the con­ser­va­tion of Simien Mountains Na­tional Park,” re­layed Straus after the school’s ded­i­ca­tion cer­e­mony. “The com­mu­nity mem­bers seem to want to con­serve the park. They are proud of it, and they want more tourists come see the wildlife and see the wildlife thriv­ing. These are the same peo­ple that, not too long ago, were throw­ing stones at the gelada mon­keys in the park. It’s a tremen­dous dif­fer­ence.”

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