31 May 2022

STORIES FROM KENYA

Our Head of Education, Laura Gosset, shares stories from her fascinating trip to Kenya, where she visited several of Born Free’s conservation & education projects.

A photo showing a group of school children in Kenya and on the right, the Born Free education team

For the first time in nearly 3 years, we have been able to start visiting our teams outside the UK again. Spending time in the field with our Kenya team has reminded me of the value of face-to-face contact and getting a first-hand perspective about what they have been working on, to ensure I can support the teams and projects effectively. 

Since July 2019 so much has changed in our Kenya education programme. We have expanded our partner schools from 3 to 16, we have developed and implemented community outreach around both Amboseli and Meru National Parks and we have built partnerships with other organisations and government departments. 

The visit started with a long journey, or two, followed by meetings, as most work trips do. I arrived on the Tuesday night, so nothing much to be achieved other than a night’s sleep. The next day Phoebe, our Education Programmes Manager in Kenya, Mwangi, one of our amazing drivers, and I set off from Nairobi to drive north, past Mt Kenya to Meru Town. The journey is a long one, at around 5 hours, past towns, rice paddies and small farms growing tea and maize. The poor waste management options available to communities means towns can struggle with litter and the sheer scale of the problem is immense. However, soon towns give way to mountains and the foothills beyond. 

On Thursday morning, accompanied by Charles, our Meru Community Officer, we met with the local Water Resource Authority to discuss ways we can start to help communities along the western boundary of Meru National Park to manage their water in a way that benefits all. Last year we commissioned a survey of the water situation in the area, which highlighted extensive abstraction resulting in reduced water flow downstream. This means the Park, wildlife and all the communities between them and the Indian Ocean are effected by the actions of our partner communities. 

The meeting resulted in some clear actions and an agreement to work together to help the communities through reinstalling river gauges and regular monitoring to guide usage, as well as awareness for the water users. 

Next, we met with the Department of Public Health to discuss our new joint project, Population, Health and Environment, which will allow us to facilitate the delivery of primary health care services to our partner communities. All too often services like this struggle to reach very rural areas. This project, after years of planning and discussion, is set to start in the next few months with regular mobile clinics offering preventative medicine, family planning and health screening. 

Laura Gosset

"Overall, this was possibly the best field visit I could have asked for and will set the stage for our upcoming work in water, health, pasture regeneration, livelihoods, conservation education and more. On the understanding that a healthy community supports a healthy environment."

Then it was off to the park. Another 2-hour drive down increasingly bumpy roads. For the next two and half days we met with communities and visited partner schools. 

Starting with Nkiri Primary School, where we have a dedicated conservation club, followed by an adult education school, where community members study for the primary or secondary school certificates, alongside working and childcare. The simple provision of revision textbooks can help them achieve their certificates and increase literacy within the community, promoting the importance of education. 

The next morning, we travelled to Kanjoo Secondary School, started with the help of an amazing Born Free supporter in 2016, the school now has seven classrooms, a teacher’s office and science lab. With over 400 students they are ranked number 3 in the sub-county, a fantastic achievement and testament to the dedication of the teachers. The neighbouring primary school has continued to plant their Born Free forest, focussing on ensuring they plant three trees for every one they cut down for cooking. To ensure the wood they use in the kitchen kindly supported by the Woodhaven Trust, and completed this year, does not contribute to local tree loss. 

On Saturday, along with members of the wider Born Free team, we visited the Mwitethia- Nkiri water group. They have come together to manage their own water resources and with some guidance and advice from Charles, along with tree saplings and fencing materials, they have managed to protect the area around the spring, their water source. After just a couple of years the one-acre area has shrubs regrowing amongst the trees, protecting the soil and creating a more complex habitat for insects and small animals. They have also started bee keeping and are interested to start adjusting the crops they grow to diversify their income and reduce the need for irrigation. 

Later that day we went over to the north eastern park boundary, near Bisanadi, and met a truly inspiring women's group. Again with some advice and guidance (aka education) they have diversified their income, adding to their existing business of accommodation and catering, to include a conference/meeting hall, agriculture (including vital agricultural research), fish farming as an alternative protein source for this traditionally pastoral community (also resulting in a reduction in the number of livestock they keep), beekeeping and the farming of black soldier fly larvae (as a sustainable source of fish food). The drive to learn and develop their skills and knowledge has led the women to truly transform their activities and start to share that knowledge with others. 

After a quieter day, Pheobe and I travelled down to Amboseli to meet Elizabeth our Education Officer based there, this time joined by our colleague from Born Free Ethiopia, Lemessa, to see our projects there. The exchange of knowledge between team members is essential to make the most of the individual’s expertise, and Lemessa travelled to Kenya to learn about the team's community work. This will help him develop his own projects in Ethiopia. As a trained teacher, while with the team he can then also support their lesson planning to ensure a two-way flow of skills. Sometimes seeing something with your own eyes can make all the theory come to life and really impact the quality of the work we deliver for our partner communities and schools, and of course for the benefit of wildlife. 

Our projects in the Amboseli Ecosystem are very far apart, down roads that can make a four-wheel-drive vehicle struggle, but after a couple of hours drive from the park we reached Olmapitet Manhae Secondary School in Imbirikani group ranch. A school with a management team dedicated to the development of their student and teaching facilities. After meeting with the school deputy head, where we discussed ways they might be able to increase enrolment, we had a fantastic session with the Conservation Club, discussing what they have learnt so far, telling them about the UK and Ethiopia and encouraging them to focus on their studies. Before we left, we were also able to meet with some of the girls to ask them how they had got on with the feminine hygiene products we had provided in January, especially as many of them had opted for reusable pads. This chance to gather first-hand feedback about the practicalities of reusable sanitary protection for teenage girls in Kenya was invaluable and we thank them for their honesty in talking to us about what can be an uncomfortable subject sometimes. 

After another school visit in the afternoon, it was back to the lodge for more meetings and a late dinner. 

On Tuesday we then met with a women's group to understand what we have been doing with them and to distribute 47 solar lamps. These lamps mean that their children can do their homework at night, they reduce the amount of wood needing to be burnt, with both conservation and health benefits, and they can charge their phones which saves them the weekly cost of going to the nearby town to pay for charging time. Hearing from the women directly, who were so aware of the value of wildlife, was a heart-warming experience that I don't get very often and helps me to better support the team in their efforts to support and work with people living alongside elephants, lions and other large mammals. 

With further meetings in Nairobi, including with our partners at the Amboseli Trust for Elephants, the brilliant Wildlife Clubs of Kenya and more, the trip came to an end on Friday morning when we landed at Heathrow. This trip coincided with a field visit from the UK conservation team, enabling us to have much-needed meetings and discussions about community-based work that transects both their objectives and those of the education team, while also allowing them to see the conservation projects in action. 

Overall, this was possibly the best field visit I could have asked for and will set the stage for our upcoming work in water, health, pasture regeneration, livelihoods, conservation education and more. On the understanding that a healthy community supports a healthy environment. 

Signing off now for some much-needed sleep.

Laura.

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