CITW Malawi – Changing the Lens on Conservation 2023

In 2021 CITW developed a project known as Changing the Lens on Conservation in Malawi. This project aimed at increasing knowledge, leading to a positive change in attitude, resulting in positive change in behaviours among its participants (targeted children) and their communities.

The project was designed to be educational for the participants, as well as a messaging tool that participants could use to increase awareness of wildlife and environmental conservation among fellow children, and their local communities. The project was designed to use the approach of photography and storytelling.

The project was presented to the National Geographic Society as part of the process of seeking financial support. By April 2021, the project had received a grant to fund the major activities of the project. In May 2021, the project activities started with 300 entries from individual Eco-Club members who submitted their stories.

The story-writing framework included identifying various environmental issues from around schools, market places and villages where these children live. The project had a lifecycle of 3 phases.

Phase 1 was at school level. Twenty Eco-Club members’ stories were submitted; after local editing, a celebration was conducted and the best three stories were selected. From 15 participating Eco-Clubs, a total of 45 top stories then entered the second phase.

Phase 2 was at zone level. Fifteen stories from five Eco-Clubs at zone level went through further refining, writing and editing processes; after this, the zone level celebration was held. From these celebrations, five stories from each zone were selected and made the list of 15 top stories, which entered Phase 3 at national level.

National Storytelling Celebration Event – March 2023

This final phase included learning about writing, photography, basic media graphics and storytelling. These trainings were facilitated by reputable media experts, with the help of the Eco-Mentors (teachers at the schools). Both teachers and children (storytellers) benefited from a number of workshops, which were conducted in order to get the final products (stories) ready.  

The final celebration was a national-level event. The top story from each school – five stories from each zone – made the list of 15 top stories, which were exhibited at a national level event in the capital city of Lilongwe in Malawi’s Central Region. The story-writers and their teachers travelled distances of over 300km to the city to be part of the event.

The national event aimed at sending the children’s messages to a wider audience through national media houses. It was also believed that the messages in the children’s stories would be amplified through feedback and comments from some high-profile figures (Government and Private Sector officials) who were invited to the event.

The national event was also a morale-booster for the story-writers, in that it required them to travel to the city (some of them for the first time), and meet and shake hands with important officials who had been invited to the event.

Indeed it was an educational trip for the children. Plans within the trip included a city centre exploration; relevant office visits and educationals; town-life assessments; and environmental evaluations. Yes, fun and education was mixed to give the children a once-in-a-Blue-Moon experience that also motivated them to work harder in school.  

Targeted guests and participants for the final event included the following:

  • The Minister of Natural Resources
  • The Director of Basic Education
  • The Deputy Director of Environmental Affairs
  • The Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources and Climate Change
  • The Managing Director of Central African Wilderness Safaris (CAWS)
  • The Director of Lilongwe Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi
  • Director of Lilongwe Wildlife Trust
  • The Chairperson of National Youth Network on Climate Change
  • The National Coordinator of Civil Society Organization Network on Climate Change
  • Main Media Houses

The activities of the final events included:

Opening remarks from CITW Programme Coordinator, who welcomed the invited guests and gave a brief history of CITW, then talked about the project “Changing the Lens on Conservation”. The Coordinator further explained how the stories and the writers had grown through training and editing processes throughout the phases of the project. He concluded by praising the top 15 story-writers and thanking the invited guests and the media houses for coming to the event.

After the opening remarks, there was an exhibition of the stories. The stories were displayed, with each writer standing next to their story. The invited guests walked from one story to the next, and at each story, the writer would briefly and passionately explain their message. The invited guests were able to ask questions, which the writer could elaborate on.

After the exhibition, two writers recited their stories clearly from their hearts. This was followed by speeches from two youths (Eco-Club alumni) who are university graduates. They gave their testimonies about how their knowledge, attitudes and behaviors were positively changed, and conformed to conservation, by being CITW members, and by participating in the Changing the Lens project. These youth also mentioned that they had helped with coaching the story-writers, and further commented on a number of stories and the messages the children were conveying.

This was followed by speeches, and comments and feedback from some of the invited guests.

Then came the media interviews. The media houses included:

  • Malawi Broadcasting Corporation – national public media house
  • Zodiak Broadcasting Station – national private media house
  • The Nations – national private newspaper 

The media houses were amazingly generous, demonstrating their willingness to broadcast the children’s messages far and wide in their radio, television and press programmes for a good two days. An indication that the messages reached many people across the nation came through public feedback and telephonic comments from different districts and offices to the Programme Coordinator.    

General Comment on the Project from the Programme Co-ordinator

Changing the Lens on Conservation has been a wonderful project. The project provided a huge opportunity for the children, youth and participating teachers to learn and practice a number of skills – from story development to the flow of the message within, as well as in photography and photo editing.

The project was also used as a very clever way of allowing the children to express their thoughts, and send important messages to their own people through a storytelling platform. The power of storytelling was keenly felt across the targeted audience. Parents and community leaders expressed their feedback about being proud of their children to have written messages that went beyond cultural barriers – for example, saying “Children are supposed to be good listeners and not speakers”. Parents and community leaders expressed their pride to the invited officials that their own children had done something uncommon, by embracing the platform and being able to speak to the public. Parents and community leaders were hugely challenged and heeded the appeal for a change of mindset (lens) on considering conservation as the way to go.

On behalf of CITW, the Programme Co-ordinator expressed gratitude to the National Geographic Society, CAWS, and individuals (experts in story-writing and editing) who believed in the power of the children’s minds, and provided their passionate support for the project.

Report compiled by Symon Chibaka (CITW Malawi Programme Coordinator) – March 2023

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