Youth Environmental Stewardship Camp, Zimbabwe

Children in the Wilderness’ Youth Environmental Stewardship (YES) programme is a voluntary, project based programme that focuses on secondary school students with a particular interest in conservation and/or leadership potential. With the majority of students having been members of the CITW Eco-Clubs at primary school, the curriculum is an extension of concepts introduced in these Eco-Clubs and on annual CITW camps, but has a greater focus on problem solving, leadership, team building, communication, further environmental education and career opportunities.

At the end of the first school term this year, the YES clubs in Tsholotsho hosted a camp at Wilderness Safaris’ Makalolo Camp in Hwange National Park. Thirty students attended the three-night four-day camp, and included visiting students from a school in Germany, as well as from schools in Harare. The days’ events were a combination of life skills, cultural and environmental activities which included some incredible game drives in the Wilderness Safaris concession.

Despite the initial language and communication difficulties between local and international students (speaking German, Shona from Harare and Ndebele from Tsholotsho), the combining of three different cultures  was hugely successful. Students interacted well, shared tents and meals and took part in various cleverly designed group activities that allowed for brain storming and a good mix of theoretical and practical studies on environmental, cultural and sporting pursuits. In an effort to teach and develop an understanding of biodiversity, particularly in habitats and ecosystems, qualified and enthusiastic Wilderness Safaris guides led the students on walks around Makalolo Camp collecting samples of plants, leaves and insects from the area. Once back at camp, the students, under guidance of our wonderful guides, discussed their findings, considered the advantages of diversity in plant life and were amazed that such a small sample area offers a wide variety of plants, insects and animals.

A favourite among the children, were the game drives where students encountered some amazing sightings of creatures great and small, including lion and elephant. These activities were followed by animated discussions on various important environmental issues impacting ecosystems in the Hwange National Park. Students also participated in structured group activities and games that facilitated the message that all the choices they make have consequences, and that those consequences affect not only themselves but others around them, too. The Zimbabwean youngsters were surprised, but pleased to hear from their German counterparts that they all have pretty much the same issues in their environments, despite of being from different cultures and continents.

Although there is an underlying message in all the activities done at camp which encourages students to think carefully and make responsible decisions, they also teach the students to break down their own barriers and hang ups, and to engage in new and fun activities to help them grow as young adults.

The 2017 Youth Environmental Stewardship Camp provided each student with life lessons and memories that will last a lifetime. Grateful thanks are extended to all who contributed to its success.

Memorable quotes from some of the students on the YES Camp:
Natasha Marere – Harare : “This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me and a dream come true, let’s keep our parks safe and free from poaching for years to come so my children can benefit like me this weekend’’.
Theima Mutsago – Harare: “I am now a true ambassador of change in my community. We are told lions are bad animals and they kill people, but today I appreciate that lions have a place in the environment and are to be respected and looked after AND I loved the camp’’.
Nelisiwe Sibanda – Tsholotsho: “It was nice to learn from and together with friends from another country and part of Zimbabwe, I am proud to be part of the YES Club”.

In a letter of thanks to Children in the Wilderness, Reinhard Thiemann from Lessing-Gymnasium Norderstedt, Germany commented, “I am sure the days at Makalolo [CITW YES Camp] will have a lasting effect on all participants. With my German students, who I meet in classes regularly, I have noticed a tremendous change. Not only do they speak English more fluently now but they also appear to be more independent taking up the initiative while working in groups and presenting themselves as self-confident adolescents. All these achievements beg for a continuation of this project with further groups in future. Thanks for an unforgettable time in Zimbabwe”.

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