My First Project in Kenya: Naisula Wildlife Conservation Student Group
My trip to Kenya last October presented me with many subtle nudges that the education of children would be a key long-term strategy to aid and protect the country’s wildlife and the environment.
While I had many important meetings during my trip, there was one at Campi ya Kanzi that was more important than I realized at the time. While there, I was fortunate to meet the founder and executive director of Naisula School along with a small but strategic group of the teachers. They had arrived at camp for just a couple of days to meet Antonella Bonomi, co-founder of Campi ya Kanzi along with her husband Luca Belpietro to learn more about the camp, The Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, to visit one of the schools and its classrooms, as well as take in a safari or two. In addition, the trip was a planning retreat for the group where important school objectives were discussed for the coming term.
Naisula School is a British curriculum-based, international Secondary boarding school that caters to both boys and girls. It is set on 25 acres in the serene plains of Maasailand near Kajiado, just 85 kilometers outside of Nairobi. The school is based upon the IGCSE system of education and maintains a vision to educate its students to transform lives and communities. A wonderful video about Naisula and its approach is worth viewing.
Cecilia Muchemi, Executive Director & Founder had read a newspaper story about Antonella and her experiences in founding Campi ya Kanzi, Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust and Kanzi Academy for the gifted Maasai children. Impressed, it prompted Cecilia to donate three scholarships – sight unseen – to Naisula for students at Kanzi Academy. Two of the students, a boy Lazarus and girl Valentine, were already in attendance at Naisula when Cecilia and the teachers group visited the camp.
Amongst the group, one teacher named Patrick Rakiro stood out. Full of life and ideas, I found him to have many interesting perspectives into Kenya’s issues, children’s viewpoints and what steps may be necessary in order to create lasting change to protect the land and its wildlife.
Patrick discussed his experience growing up in an impoverished village in Kenya and how fortunate he was to be sponsored by a married couple in the United States who helped finance his education to completion. This experience helped him realize the importance to give back to the community in which he was raised and to also help other Kenyan children realize the same fate. I was moved by his story and his passion and we agreed to keep in touch to provide updates as we moved forward on our individual ideas and endeavors.
Once back at home, I began to receive emails from Patrick and learned many more interesting facts about his life and mission. At Naisula, Patrick teaches History and Geography and also participates with the school as the head of Curriculum Development/Implementation and Discipline, as a Boarding Master and a Class Teacher for the Year 9 students.
Outside of activities with the school, Patrick is a member of Communicating Common Ground (CCG), a service and learning program created by Dr. Eddah Mutua-Kombo, a professor from St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. From early February to mid-April each year, a group of the university’s communications students meet every-other week with students from three high schools in the surrounding area to teach them about cultural understanding using dialogue techniques.
Working with the group, Patrick has written essays on “Kenyan Cultural Diversity” and the “African Traditional Way of Peace.” Both essays focus on research and reconciliation of the root causes of constant ethnic and tribal clashes in African contests. He is currently working on a third essay entitled “Oil in Turkana Kenya: Is It a Necessary Evil?”
In early February, he was invited by CCG to address the group in a keynote speech via Skype on “Peace and Cultural Appreciation.” Humbled, he mentioned to me how wonderful it was to see so many students in the room.
In December and motivated by some of the topics we had discussed while we were at Campi ya Kanzi, Patrick founded “The Helping Hand Program” and set out to raise enough money to send approximately 50 students to Primary school at the B.L.Tezza Primary School for Orphans. Established as an annual fundraising effort each January, Patrick donated approximately $850,000 KSh (about $9,700 dollars) to the school last month and ensured that approximately 40 or more students, without funds to pay for this year’s tuition fees, were able to indeed go to school. This weekend, he is applying some last minute donations to pay for much-needed clothes and shoes for the children – something he wishes he had more time and money to accomplish for this year. Already, he has big ideas for what can be accomplished for next. I don’t doubt that he will achieve them.
Needless to say, Patrick is a man of manifest, a champion of change, and supporter and protector of the children and the natural world of Kenya. It is an honor that he believes in me as much as I believe in him. And now together, we have partnered on a project that seems have created something spectacular – a group of children who are empowered to create a change in the world around them.
This new project, called the “Wildlife Conservation Student Group” or WCSG, is a joint, collaborative effort between Patrick and myself that intends to inspire secondary age school children to defend and protect Kenya’s environment and wildlife.
It all started after Patrick had returned to Naisula from his trip to Campi ya Kanzi and he thought it might be interesting to poll his students with a strategic question. “Given a choice, which do you think is more important real estate or wildlife?”
Most, if not all of the students, answered real estate.
It was a shocking revelation to Patrick (and of course to me when we discussed it) and at once he knew that wildlife deserved a place in the student’s curriculum. With much thought, he found an appropriate outlet in forming an after school club originally named the “Wildlife Group” and is now known as the WCSG after some strategy and planning around the group’s intentions.
There are important points to make here. Naisula students are educated children. They are not considered kids that come from economically challenged families. And they are not impoverished kids from the bush unless they have received a scholarship. Most have attended formal schooling all the way from nursery, through primary and now into secondary school at Naisula. The school is ranked as one of the most expensive international schools (not by Kenyan standards) as well as a best performing and disciplined school by the IGCSE ratings. And it is truly an international group of students. Just within the WCSG, we have students from Kenya, England, Italy, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Switzerland and the Ivory Coast. So remarkable it is to think that just one of these children could have an impact in one of these countries listed.
Having the experience to work directly with Naisula has taught me something very vital. It is simply not enough to send Kenya’s (and the world’s) children to school. We must also teach them about the value of wildlife and what that value brings not only to them as an individual, but also to the wealth of their community, their specific country as well as the the rest of the globe.
Naisula is an excellent example of well-educated children from Kenya and different countries who were not yet fully aware of the value of the wildlife that surrounds them everyday and the critical threat to that wildlife that may rob them of their cultural heritage and for the Kenyan students, their natural birthright.
And so because of this, Patrick and I have set out to help them understand the issues the land and animals are faced with and perhaps inspire them to do something to help.
As an exercise one day during a Skype call, I asked the children to look outside the classroom window and take in what they saw. Chances are there were zebra, ostriches, gazelle and other wild creatures within their view. I asked them to consider that most American children have to go to a zoo to see the animals that they were looking at right outside that window, and importantly, that these animals were currently in their natural environment. I clarified that many animals in America and in other places are behind bars, in cages, or are in enclosures that are not native to their genetic and natural understanding.
The students became very quiet.
“I believe that every child in America would like to have what you have, the ability to look outside the window and see these animals freely roaming everyday.” I told them. “These animals need your wisdom, your energy and your care. They are yours to defend and protect, not only for yourselves, but also for your children and all of us around the world. Will you connect your hearts to your voices and speak for them?”
And they have answered that question with a resounding yes because indeed they have begun.
This small after school club is growing so quickly and in such a short period of time. Just at the beginning of January, we had 9 students, then by mid-January, approximately 46 students, and now by mid-February, approximately 113 students with a word from Patrick that we have a few more to add.
The group is naturally forming leaders and sub-groups based on ages and understanding ability. We have been able to account for the students by school year as follows:
Junior Group: Year 7 & 8 (11-13 years of age) = 21 students; Year 9 (14-16 years of age) = approximately 60 students and now are largest group; and Senior Group: Year 10 & 11 (17-18 years of age) = 32 students.
WCSG is a Naisula School after school club under the direction of Patrick and myself along with help and assistance from our friend “Professor George” who teaches English and Literature. Professor George has proven himself not only a faithful attendee to our discussions, but also a miracle worker when it comes to our Internet connectivity needs. Many thanks are due to him for keeping all of us connected during our weekly Skype sessions.
An informal pilot project, I Skype each week with the group to discuss assignments that are formulated and provided by me via email for the students and include videos, specific articles, materials or news stories. We also spend quite a bit of time conducting question and answer sessions together so that the students may ask and debate certain facts or ideas and concepts.
We have already achieved some amazing milestones within less than two months:
- Our group member numbers continue to increase each week as the children share their experiences and the importance of caring for wildlife with other students at the school;
- On a recent field trip, the students were quite concerned with encroachment of a real estate development within the limits of a sanctuary park they were visiting. This was key as these were the same students who had previously stated real estate was a priority for them;
- Desire to participate in more field trips to garner more understanding of the issues Kenya faces;
- Requests for industry experts to come to speak the group at Naisula. The group is also committed to promoting the speaking events to the remainder of the student population and help to guarantee an audience of approximately 160 children for those interested in discussing and sharing knowledge with the group;
- Two of the students planned to visit national parks during this week’s mid-term break – one specifically mentioned wanting to go to The Sheldrick Trust mud-bath viewing to view the elephant orphans;
- One of our Senior group members has indicated that she intends to become a wildlife conservationist;
- They have a strong desire to create a video Public Service Announcement (PSA) after viewing the recent WildAid call to action videos for decreasing demand of rhino horn and elephant ivory in Asia.
- We have secured our first wildlife conservationist speaker for March.
These are very small and early milestones, but hugely important ones. They indicate the understanding of key pieces of information, how this information is relevant, and that the group is interested in learning much more. Importantly, we are at that critical juncture of taking awareness into action – an elusive step if not critically fueled by inspiration and conviction of beliefs.
Information leads to learning. Learning leads to awareness. Awareness leads to action. Action leads to change.
I cannot begin to tell you how excited Patrick and I are about what these kids might do or how much more they will want to get involved. I can only say that it is best not to predict greatness because you might limit the result of what these kids can really do.
It is also very important to state that we are not imposing an agenda or global concept with these children about wildlife. Patrick and I are dedicated to presenting the facts, the news, actions of governments around the world, and the relevant statistics to the children and to ask them how they interpret that information. What do they conclude from it? What are the positive and negatives? What needs to be done? How can change be accomplished? How do they feel they can be involved and do they want to be?
As project leaders, we want to empower the children to have enough information so they can make their own informed decisions. And when they as a group make those decisions, to support their conclusions and the actions that they decide is important to take or perhaps not to take. This is not about getting a group of kids to do what we want them to do. It is about empowering these kids with the ability to understand important issues, take in all sides of an argument, make informed conclusions and then feel confident enough to take appropriate action if they choose to make a difference.
In addition, it is our job to connect the group with the people and organizations already making a difference and help to inspire these kids to get involved. How fortunate they are to be surrounded by some of the world’s top conservationists, photographers, political activists, and wildlife management organizations. They are indeed a very lucky group.
In December of last year, I filed trademark applications for naming conventions with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for an organization that would help fund and foster projects such as this. We are currently awaiting our approvals and once received, will be making decisions about our intended corporation status, both domestic and internationally. In the interim, our group indeed has a wish list and should you be able to help us with it, we would be so very grateful. Please contact me directly at email@example.com. Asante sana!
- Camera and Video Recorder;
- Laptop (with latest version of Windows 8) for our Kenya Project Leader;
- Distance Learning Expert Kenya (technical setup and development);
- An Illustrator or Graphic Designer to Help Us Create Important Logos;
- Video Production Company Kenya (PSA development);
- Speakers and Speaking Topics (we currently have a speaking calendar of events and would like to add to it);
- Park Fee Donations/Discounts for National Park or other Sanctuary Visits;
- U.S. Junior High and/or High School Classroom Participation;
- Additional Ideas of Items of Choice.
Lastly, the fateful meeting at Campi ya Kanzi has come full circle. How special it was for me to have Lazarus and Valentine from Kanzi Academy join our group and I was able to meet them last week during our Skype session. Now part of our Juniors team, I feel honored to be able to build upon their foundation of knowledge of the environment and wildlife that they received while at Kanzi Academy and MWCT. Now, we are able to continue to move forward because of the generous heart of Cecilia and the support of the teachers of Naisula School. Such a joy.
It is fitting to close this post with the definition of Naisula which means “something beautiful” in local dialect. I believe we are in the midst of creating something quite beautiful with these kids and I look forward to sharing our progress with you as we grow each week.
Until next time.