2003 – 2006
Children in the Wilderness Malawi was established in 2003. It started with a camp programme, and hosted 10 children from the SOS Village in Lilongwe. A five-night/six-day camp was held at Mvuu Camp in Liwonde National Park, in the southern region of Malawi. It was full of fun, unstructured environmental education, mainly conducted through game drives and boat safaris. The camp programme was a curiosity to many, including the potential sponsors.
The major sponsors in that first year included: Total Malawi, Aquapure, J & B Circle and the International Women’s Association of Malawi (IWAM).
This first CITW camp in 2003 was planned and conducted by camp mentors, who were all Wilderness Safaris Malawi employees, and led by Ellen Wolford (a young English woman based in Malawi at the time), who was hired as caretaker Programme Co-ordinator.
In 2004, the camp programme was expanded to include Wilderness Chintheche Inn in the northern region of Malawi, on the lake. With support from the Hole in the Wall (HITW) Programme, which had sent its experts in developing and running kids’ educational camps, the programme was more structured than the first camp.
A total of four camps were held in 2004, two at Mvuu Camp and two at Chintheche Inn. Camps at Mvuu Camp focused on the wildlife in Liwonde National Park, and how conservation would be achieved if local people would be involved positively, while Camps at Chintheche Inn were all about natural forests and the wildlife in and around Lake Malawi. At this time, HITW experts started identifying local Wilderness Safaris staff (especially guides), in order to develop their leadership skills for the CITW programme.
In 2005, the programme became even more structured, aimed at helping the participating children from local communities to gain more knowledge about wildlife, and start thinking about “What to do to make things better for wildlife and tourism as leaders in their local communities”. More volunteers and experts, hired and sent by HITW, were at the core of planning, conducting, and training local WS staff for leadership roles in the programme. The Programme Co-ordinators were Mayie Esmy and Jennifer Fowler, English ladies based in Malawi.
2007 – 2010
The programme made further progress in its growth and development, as, having acquired more knowledge and skills, Wilderness staff were recommended to lead the camp programme.
Programme Co-ordinator Amanda Joynt led the programme in 2007, although up to this year, the programme had struggled with funding. The programme was all about camps. It was Amanda who sold the programme concept to USAID, and sought funding from them.
USAID gave CITW Malawi a grant (comprising full funding), to run the programme for three years. The funding meant the programme could expand, and during this period, CITW Malawi developed a follow-up activities programme, which eventually led to the development of Eco-Clubs.
In 2010, 12 Eco-Clubs were established. Follow-up activities and Eco-Clubs meant that camp participants could be monitored at their schools and in their Eco-Clubs, and membership became stronger. It was at this time that teachers and local eco-mentors were trained to manage the Eco-Club as an ongoing programme.
It was also during this period that the first black Malawians were hired as a full-time Programme Co-ordinators. Gladys Msonda was the first black Malawian to run the programme, with Symon Chibaka as her deputy. Gladys led the programme from 2007 to 2010, and when she left, Symon was promoted to Programme Co-ordinator (from being a safari guide at Mvuu Camp). He worked his way up from Camp Tent Leader, to CITW Camp Director, to Assistant Programme Co-ordinator, to finally becoming Programme Co-ordinator for CITW Malawi.
It was at this time that CITW Malawi introduced its Secondary School sponsorship programme as the need to help those exceptional but disadvantaged members of the CITW programme became obvious. High-potential future leaders were failing to proceed with their education because they came from financially challenged families. This caught the eye of Gillian Rose (President of the Rosemary Pencil Foundation USA), and since then The Rosemary Pencil Foundation has been the major contributor to CITW Malawi’s scholarship programme, alongside a few other generous supporters.
2011 – 2015
During this period it became apparent that the programme could no longer host those participants who had been in the programme for more than 10 years alongside primary school children, and the CITW Alumni programme came about.
In 2011 a well-structured programme for youth beyond primary school level was established, registering over 70 participants in its first year, all of them in secondary schools.
This programme was a remarkable development for CITW Malawi. At this time, it was clear that whatever children learnt during their Camp week, and during their after-school Eco-Club sessions, had no better outlet to put into practice than the Alumni programme.
It gave the youth opportunity to showcase their acquired knowledge, demonstrate their new (positive) attitude, and exhibit their new behaviour towards wildlife and environmental conservation.
They did this through various activities, which included environmental awareness visits to their former Eco-Clubs and schools; Open Day events, as well as different media productions and through hands-on conservation action like establishing demonstration woodlots in schools and local communities.
Symon continued leading the programme, with other key pillars in the leadership structure including Joseph Nyirenda, Nation Nyirenda, Matthews Matewere, Christopher Mvula and the amazing school teachers (Eco-Mentors). Wilderness Safaris’ on-site managers like Richard Chimwala, Dinala Kankhuni and Julius Chiwomba acted as ground pillars, making sure that the camps and follow-up programmes were functional and effective.
2016 – 2021
During this period, CITW Malawi started seeing more youth (former Eco-Club members) coming back to help with the running of Camp and Eco-Club programmes.
A more structured programme for the youth was established, and they were now organised through the Youth Environmental Stewardship (YES) programme. This programme gave the youth more knowledge and skills to conduct environmental awareness activities. The YES programme included those former Eco-Club members who were now in secondary school, registered for tertiary education and those who had finished school and were currently employed.
CITW is specifically organised to facilitate sustainable conservation. This mission is actualised by identifying and nurturing those would-be leaders into conservation champions.
CITW Malawi bases its approach on continuing its membership system in the programme. Eco-Club members are followed up and encouraged to be active members, progressing into the YES programme, and thereafter, guided into various leadership roles and positions in their communities and at a national level.
Looking back to 2003, CITW Malawi is able to appreciate the outcome of the programme through the years, and as our journey continues, confirm that indeed Sustainable Conservation through Leadership Development is achievable!
So many thanks go to our core sponsors and those Eco-Teachers, local mentors, and all volunteers who have helped us with technical advice and human resources capital in one way or another.
Bravo CITW! Bravo Wilderness Safaris! Bravo Central African Wilderness Safaris!
Compiled and written by Symon Chibaka – CITW Malawi Programme Co-ordinator