Education & Outreach

Alongside our field conservation and research efforts, the African Wildlife Conservation Fund runs a comprehensive and multifaceted education and outreach program in the rural schools and communities surrounding the wildlife areas in which we work.

We engage with 128 primary schools in five districts, involving over 60,000 students and 500 teachers. We also engage with 37 communities (defined by wards). The education program around Savé Valley Conservancy has been in place since 2011, and since early 2015 around Gonarezhou National Park (carried out by the Chilojo Club).

When the program started it simply included conservation awareness lessons and the showing of relevant wildlife movies/media to students. Since then the program has expanded significantly, and today involves a host of activities geared to enable children and local communities to enjoy and experience wildlife first hand, understand the many opportunities linked to protected areas, and to develop an appreciation for wildlife and an understanding of the importance of conservation.

Photo Gallery

Conservation awareness materials and program in primary schools

Our education officers visit each school within our program at least once per term (three times per year) administering their conservation awareness lessons, following up on distributed resources and engaging with the teachers. We only administer curricula-friendly conservation-awareness material and work with the teachers and school heads to ensure we create resources that they will find helpful and easy to use. To date we have distributed a variety of resources to all of the schools in our program, including; wild card files, carnivore posters, lowveld ABC sets, carnivore fact books, wild dog board games, as well as literacy books and book donations for establishing libraries.

The lessons cover a variety of environmental topics (information on African wild dogs and other large carnivores, soil and water conservation, living with wildlife etc.) and often the lesson is concluded by showing the children a relevant wildlife DVD. This is a very popular activity for the children and they literally cram themselves into the tiny classrooms in anticipation of the film. The use of visual media is a phenomenal way to deliver a message, especially for children who have never seen a movie before!

We are not possessive of our resources in any way and strongly encourage the use of our designs and ideas, and the resources themselves, as widely as possible.

All of our resources can be downloaded here (280mb)

Secondary school scholarship program

Here we invest in youngsters that show immense potential to be leaders and ambassadors for conservation in their communities. This program began in 2012 and today we support 25 promising individuals through secondary school. Our scholars are selected (at least five per year) on a number of criteria including how well they perform academically, if they show a genuine interest in conservation, and how ‘needy’ they are. Not one of our students would be able to attend secondary school without our support.

The students are known as Predator Scholars to maintain the link between the benefit and the wildlife resource. Our support includes school fees, uniforms, text books/supplies, extra lessons throughout the year where needed, as well as accommodation costs (the secondary schools are often far from the children’s homesteads).

This initiative feeds directly into our overarching goal of providing upliftment and opportunities for local communities so that, in some small way, we may enable them to break away from a subsistence lifestyle reducing pressure on natural resources and systems.

Field courses: in-situ exposure to wildlife areas

There is no better way to foster an appreciation and understanding of wildlife than to expose individuals to wildlife first hand. This is even more so for the rural children and communities with whom we work; all of who live within 10-15 km of the boundaries of either Savé Valley Conservancy or Gonarezhou National Park, but most who have never seen wildlife or the protected areas.

Our four day long field courses are coordinated and run by wildlife enthusiasts and professionals (retired parks warden and professional guides) who have a wealth of experience with youth camps, expertise and knowledge of the bush, and an excellent rapport with children. The field trips are always a great success full of enjoyable activities and meaningful lessons, including; bush walks and drives, learning about local tree and animal species, bush survival skills, snake identification and first aid, watermanship, demonstrations of practical field-research techniques (spoor/telemetry tracking, camera trapping etc.), and team-building and leadership development exercises.

We organise at least five field trips each year benefiting at least 125 children. Through in situ practical demonstrations, interactive exercises and inspirational talks (from e.g. the anti-poaching units, camp managers, scouts etc.) we aim to instil an appreciation and understanding of the natural world and current conservation challenges, and provide a direct link between the preservation of wildlife areas and community benefit (employment opportunities, education initiatives, tourism benefits etc.).

Day trips into the Gonarezhou National Park

As well as the field trips, we also conduct at least 20 day trips per year into Gonarezhou National Park benefitting at least 500 children and 40 teachers annually. The children are transported on a return journey from Chipinda Pools headquarters in Gonarezhou National Park to the iconic Chilojo Cliffs, stopping at a few viewpoints and dams along the way. They are transported in a specially designed game drive truck which comfortably accommodates at least 25 children, and provides them with a truly accessible way to enjoy the majesty of the park.

The on-site visits are the perfect opportunity to show the children many of the species of animals that they had been learning about in the classrooms and through our lessons.  The reactions of the children whilst on these day trips is truly inspiring, and we have no doubt that these trips are helping to instil an appreciation of wildlife and conservation in the children. We also extend this opportunity as often as we can to head-teachers, chiefs, village headman and councillors; key figure heads within the communities we work.  Their interest and awe is no less than that of the children.

Literacy program

Whilst official literacy figures in Zimbabwe are over 90%, in reality it is as low as 30% and considerably lower in the poorer rural primary schools where barely 1 in 10 can read more than a few words. Reading is the foundation of education, and the consequences of an illiterate and impoverished population around protected areas often presents serious problems. Children that can read, can read to learn, and can begin to teach themselves more about the world around them, stand a better chance of finishing school, receiving tertiary education and gaining employment.

We work hand in hand with the Happy Readers Literacy Scheme to improve literacy in the schools in which we work. The Happy Readers Literacy Scheme is a tried and tested program with outstanding results from rural communities in Zimbabwe and Zambia. The books are produced in Zimbabwe with endorsement from the Ministry of Education and used by almost every private school in Zimbabwe. To date we have established the literacy program in 31 of the 128 schools we support and the results so far have been significant (an average improvement from 9% literacy to over 30% literacy after just three years).

Every distribution of Happy Readers books is accompanied by a training workshop to ensure the teachers are fully equipped to implement the program effectively.

Library program

This initiative goes hand-in-hand with the Happy Readers scheme mentioned above and aims to assist with literacy and improve student’s reading skills, as well as a love of learning through access to fun and interesting books. To date, and through very generous donations from the Zambezi Schoolbook Project we have proudly been able to stock 115 of the local primary schools we support with library books. This has been achieved through the donation of more than 150 000 books.

It is hoped that through the cumulative benefits of the literacy and library program, that students will be able to extend their reading skills, and therefore improve their knowledge in a variety of subjects. Further, we are encouraging those schools that are better equipped to open their libraries to community members too. There is much to be said for providing information and knowledge to people who generally have no other access to resources or media.  Of course all these benefits are closely tied to the protected areas and wildlife.

As with everything we do, proper training and support is provided. Librarian training workshops and an inter-library support structure are a key element of the library program, and help ensure that schools are able to derive maximum benefit from the facility.  Evidence has shown the program has already significantly improved overall school exam results and the piles of full counter books documenting books borrowed speak for themselves.

Provision of solar lighting

To further the students’ educational growth, we felt that the opportunity to access literature and educational material after school was important. As most of the students in our schools program live in rural areas where there is no electricity, the ability to study at home and after school hours was limited.

As such, after securing a donation of solar lamps from The Bourke Family Foundation we started to set them up in the schools, usually linked to the libraries (we also provide a solar lamp to each of our scholarship students). These solar lights were donated in the hope that students will now be able to continue their studies at night or when borrowing library books to read at home. We have secured donations of 2 000 solar lights to date which has been a significant help in facilitating the use of the school libraries for after hours studying, and to assist with adult literacy in community members.

Further, we have recently installed solar panels (also through collaborations with The Bourke Family Foundation) into three rural primary schools that were without electricity.  Already the changes engendered by this simple provision of light are noticeable and heart-warming.

Cluster competitions to incentivise community engagement

A key activity linked to our schools-based program is cluster competitions. Cluster competitions are day long, interschool competitions, where teams of students from different schools compete against each other to show who has the greater knowledge of wildlife conservation and large carnivores.

The aim of the cluster competitions is to test the student’s knowledge of the conservation lessons/material delivered throughout the year, with the ‘big picture’ goal being to disseminate our conservation messages and information to all ages and demographics of the community in a fun and rewarding way. The cluster competitions always draw in a large crowd from the respective communities.

Most, if not all, of the threats to wild dogs and other wildlife in our study areas are human related; poaching, human-wildlife conflict and direct persecution of carnivores is often provoked/instilled by the older generations. Cluster competitions are the perfect way to create broader awareness of our conservation education program, effecting significant and positive impacts on the surrounding wildlife.

We try to engage with our surrounding communities as often as possible, and through various different avenues, including district-organised cultural shows/fairs and other such events etc.

Strengthening local secondary schools

To date we have built up incredible capacity and programs within the primary schools we support, but are increasingly aware of the need for similar investment in the secondary schools in our area. This became increasingly apparent when our bright and well-supported scholars were failing their O-level exams; we knew we had to address the issue from the root cause.

We have therefore selected 10 key secondary schools situated around Savé Valley Conservancy (6) and Gonarezhou National Park (4), and will be starting to build these schools up into ‘centres of excellence’, including through investment in resources and teacher training and the establishment of libraries and computer labs. Our scholarship students will only attend these selected schools, and over time the schools will provide a multitude of positive benefits to thousands of other local students.

AWCF monitors all aspects of our education project and contracts formal, external evaluations every few years. The latest evaluation report can be downloaded below.

Evaluation Report for AWCF’s Education Program

How you can help

If you would like to support any aspect of this important work, please contact us or make a safe and secure donation