Since launching its innovative Eco-Club programme in 2001, Children in the Wilderness (CITW) has focused on reaching more children, more often, and now proudly runs 67 Eco-Clubs across seven African countries. In addition to hosting 3 300 children at Eco-Clubs throughout the year, CITW has hosted nearly 7 000 children and 402 teachers at 207 annual Eco-Club Camps over the past 17 years, greatly amplifying its reach in environmental and life skills educational programmes.
“We are thrilled to have reached such a milestone with our Eco-Club programme, and to be able to educate, inspire and influence so many wonderful students who take part in our Eco-Clubs throughout the year in Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe”, said Janet Wilkinson, CITW Regional Programme Manager.
CITW’s Eco-Clubs are based around a structured programme that gives interested primary school students a chance to learn, discuss and expand their knowledge of environmental issues with fellow school mates. The programme takes place weekly, monthly or every three months, and the sessions are designed to be fun yet informative and educational.
As one of Wilderness Safaris’ non-profit partners, CITW forms part of the company’s commitment to Community, which is an important component of its 4Cs sustainability ethos of Commerce, Community, Culture and Conservation. The Eco-Clubs are therefore often run by Wilderness Safaris’ camp staff and members of the local community who volunteer. This not only exposes the children to different mentors, but increases the respect of the staff members with their community.
The environmental projects and tasks of the programme are specifically designed in cooperation with the community members and teachers so that they remain relevant to each community. Learners are also encouraged to participate in the planning process, so that they can generate their own ideas and take ownership of their clubs.
The presence of CITW in a place like Zimbabwe is an excellent example of the real difference formalised conservation initiatives can make. As Sue Goatley, CITW Community Liaison and Programme Coordinator for the Zambezi Region, said, “Through CITW’s presence in the schools, there has been a notable improvement in the Grade 7 results, emphasising the support that the CITW programme provides to the national school curriculum”.
The other regional coordinators for CITW also emphasised that the Eco-Clubs give the children an opportunity to expand their knowledge on their heritage, environment and wildlife, as well as to learn a variety of life skills in a way that goes beyond the learning they would normally receive in their environmental studies at school.
“The dedication and the enthusiasm displayed by both the coordinators and the Eco-Club members makes it easier to work with them in taking care of our environment. The fact that they are reaching out to their communities as well is a huge inspiration to us”, commented Kelly Baitshoki from CITW Botswana. A favourite quote amongst the students is: “A healthy environment, a healthy us”.
“If we are to ensure that pristine wilderness areas continue to exist, we need the children of Africa to understand the importance of conservation and its relevance in their lives”, Janet added. “Our goal is not only to continue growing our Eco-Clubs to reach more children, more often, in more areas, but also to continue to support them into the future by offering scholarship opportunities and exposure to potential career options once they complete school”.