Category Archives: Maasai Steppe Conservation Education Program

10 Years of People & Wildlife [VIDEO]

Full article published on National Geographic Cat Watch

Just ten years ago, two young explorers set up camp by a small acacia at the top of a hill given to them by the rural Tanzanian community of Loibor Siret. That camp was to eventually become a permanent base for the African People & Wildlife Fund’s conservation programs focusing on the lions of the Maasai Steppe – a program that now protects thousands of head of livestock and 100 lions every year with over 500 Living Walls. With one side of the hill looking to the community rangelands and the other side looking to the eastern edge of Tarangire National Park, a flagship haven for African biodiversity, the location was a perfect metaphor for the work they set out to do.

Those two explorers were Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld and Charles Trout, now directors of the African People & Wildlife Fund (APW). What started as a tent on top of a land rover has grown into an operation that spans 19 communities across 30 000 km2 of Northern Tanzanian rangelands. The small two-man tent has been replaced by the Noloholo Environmental Center, a one-of-a-kind emblem combining traditional architecture and sustainable design that stands on top of the hill where it all started and marks the organization’s headquarters in Tanzania. The newly released 2014 Annual Report highlights the milestones of the last ten years, and as we celebrate a decade of success on the Steppe we invite you to share in celebrating Big Cats and Communities in Northern Tanzania.

This video highlights the journey we have taken over these past 10 years, and the strong relationships that have stemmed from it:

Three New Schools Join the Fun at 2014 Noloholo Environmental Camps

By Deirdre Leowinata

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Summer Camp: For many, the term brings fond memories of campfires, fast friendships, ”cannon balls” into cold water, mess halls, and hiding from the counselors when they tell you to go to sleep. For many families in North America, summer camp is a given.

In the communities that we work in here on the Maasai Steppe, summer camp is a little different. For those students who participate, our Noloholo Environmental Camps are highly competitive, involving a combined evaluation from school grades in addition to two separate tests. And if they don’t study, even the best students can’t assume they will get in, with only five boys and five girls taken from each school. When they finish their tests, students wait anxiously to hear whether they will be taking the bumpy ride to camp in our trusty lorry. For those whose names are called, you will never see children run as fast to get permission forms signed by their parents. For those whose names are not called, some can try again next year, and a gentle pep talk from our Conservation Education program officer, Neovitus “Neo” Sianga, returns smiles to the children’s faces.

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This year, we added three new primary schools to the environmental camp program: Emboret, Loibor Soit, and Mbuko. So far, we have held two weeks of camp: one for the students of Loibor Soit and Mbuko, and the second for Kangala and Emboret. As per usual, and especially for the new schools, students entered cautiously, with wary glances at unfamiliar foods (like bread and peanut butter). But also as per usual, they quickly became accustomed to camp, and the initial timidity dissolved with the small candy rewards they placed in their mouths. By the end of the week, virtually every arm went up when a question was posed.

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On the list of draws for the kids, camp provides three good meals plus two snacks a day, a severe lack of chores, clean rooms to sleep in, and absolutely no physical punishment. Our Conservation Education duo consisting of Neo and Revocatus Magayane use teaching methods that are both instructive and fun, which are two words that aren’t often used in the same sentence here on the Maasai Steppe. Children receive prizes for raising their hands, games of tag teach lessons about ecological relationships, and game drives treat them to a different perspective on the wildlife that live in their own backyards. Each day, campers have lessons on topics from ecology and natural history, to project management and astronomy, while at the same time learning about what our team does here for conservation. Lessons are taught in dynamic and interactive ways that are constantly raising their confidence in important life skills such as public speaking, organization, and debate. They are exposed to role models such as our own Joyce Ndakaru and Elvis Kisimir, and on culture day, even our interns get involved in presenting their own special family traditions alongside Maasai elders. At the end of the week every attendee receives a certificate of completion, and the most actively participating boy and girl receive their deserved recognition. Each and every child goes home a little bit wiser, a little bit braver, and a little bit plumper.

It’s no wonder our camps are so popular here.

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Noloholo Environmental Micro-grants Empowering Women for Big Cat Conservation

By Anna Flam

 

“I don’t have any children.”

Gathered women, waiting for a meeting to start, were quizzing Alison Nicholls, a visiting artist at APW’s Noloholo Environmental Center. Inquiries about children are common worldwide. However, to this group of Maasai and Swahili women, her answer was unthinkable.

“Why not?”

“My husband and I chose not to have children.”

Rushed chatter in Kiswahili and Kimaasai immediately prompted several offers.

“You can have one of my children.”

“How about a girl? Only this high,” indicating just over knee height.

Alison fended off the well-intentioned offers. Commenting that she only had one plane ticket back to the U.S. was her escape from an unsought adoption.

Where we operate on Tanzania’s Maasai Steppe, choosing childlessness is unthinkable. According to multiple Maasai staff at APW, eight is the minimum number of children a woman must have to be considered respectable. “More are better,” says Joyce Ndakaru, APW’s Conservation Enterprise and Development Officer anda very unconventional Maasai woman.  “If you have five children, people will always ask: ‘why not more?’ You must have enough children to accommodate one or two deaths, and a few that do not have good personalities. Family planning is a bad word around here.”

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Tanzania’s population is growing rapidly and shows no signs of slowing. Current UN estimates rank Tanzania as the world’s 26thmost populated country. But by 2050, Tanzania is predicted to jump to 13th place. Escalating human demands place increased stress on already limited big cat habitat. More people need more space and more food, but lions and cheetahs also need lots of room to wander. On the Maasai Steppe, more humans usually mean more cattle or cultivation, pushing out native lion prey and reducing grasslands. With fewer wildebeest and zebra to eat, lions are more liable to prey upon livestock, triggering retaliatory killings. Our Living Wall project is one initiative aimed at preventing such conflict. However, we also tackle conservation issues more broadly and in less obvious ways, for example by addressing women’s position in society.

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The ladies chatting with Alison were waiting for a micro-grant award ceremony to start. So far this year, APW has provided start-up funds to 10 women’s groups as part of our environmentally friendly business initiative. To some, supporting women’s businesses might seem like an indirect step for women’s rights and wildlife conservation. Of course, encouraging sustainable livelihoods is an important part of what we hope to achieve with these grants. But by giving local women something they desire — additional income — we can also subtly change their position in society. Managing a beekeeping business, for example, gives many local women their first opportunity to have something completely their own, completely apart from male family members.

 

Joyce, our indefatigable Conservation Enterprise and Development Officer, is a fantastic example of how hard a Maasai woman must work to escape her society’s female norms. For several years she was her family’s black sheep. Joyce defied her parents to obtain a secondary education and thereby avoided marriage at 15 (a common age for Maasai girls to marry). Years later, she reconciled with her family. Marrying a Maasai man — “of my own choice,” she is quick to point out — undoubtedly helped. Today, she is proud of her two – yes, only two – children.

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Now, Joyce routinely shocks young Maasai men as she works. Watching her switch among Swahili, Maasai, and English while directing emergent women’s groups, they comment, “How can a Maasai woman know so much?” Hopefully, through projects like the recently funded beekeeping businesses, young women choosing their own path will be less of a shock to the community in the future.

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Along with supporting female empowerment and local economic development, these beekeeping businesses also promote habitat retention – the bottom line for big cat survival outside of protected areas. Tanzania’s National Beekeeping Policy of 1998 prevents people from cutting down trees around hives. So, each new beekeeping venture helps keep important lion, cheetah and leopard habitat open.

 

A win for women and wildlife – well, that’s exactly what we are hoping for.

The Colors of Conservation

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Colors make life brighter, and our Loibor Siret Simba club just added a whole lot more color to their school walls. Over three days, some very committed Wildlife Club members decorated two classrooms and one very large outside wall with letters, numbers, and local wildlife.

WDPainting-7We had the great pleasure of hosting wildlife artist and conservation advocate Alison Nicholls at Noloholo for just over a week, and as soon as she arrived we hit the ground running with three long days of taping walls, stenciling, mixing colors, and painting.

WD_Painting-1-2The classrooms of standards 4 and 6 were filled with the animals that not only represent their own wildlife club but the relationships that make up the Tarangire ecosystem. Impalas were placed opposite to hyenas, and livestock faced off with lions in a symbolic representation of the predator-prey system that shapes not only the environment but the culture of the Maasai Steppe. Ungulates followed each other in lines that may (perhaps unintentionally) represent the great seasonal migrations of the region.

WDPainting-4Later in the week, wildlife club members of Loibor Siret, Kangala, and Narakauwo got a life drawing lesson from Nicholls herself, which was a very special treat for schools that don’t offer art as a subject. The lessons revealed some hidden artistic talent within the stack of sketches.

WDPainting-8The end of the week coincided with the closing of the primary schools, and Loibor Siret primary school played host to the town’s first ever art gallery. Alison presented her work inspired by the people and wildlife of the area, and showcased in the gallery were the works of 59 Simba Club members, two of which were selected by Alison to receive art supplies for their excellent drawing skills. A game of wildlife trivia selected 33 wildlife club members who would receive a laminated print of one of her special works. Undoubtedly, the first to go were the animal paintings. If the week was any indication of what the future holds, the enthusiasm and dedication of the students as they carefully painted in stencils of elephants and lions, the smiles on their faces as they learned how to draw a rhino, and the murmurs as they listened to the story behind Alison’s pink elephants* bodes well for wildlife conservation in this town.

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As animals mark their territories, so did the students of the primary school this week. On the wall facing the village road, big enough for any passerby to see, a large map of Tanzania has been painted containing its green, blue, black, and yellow flag. And below the name of the school is none other than the mark of the Noloholo Simba Club — a pair of lions, which stand overlooking a parade of African wildlife.

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*The story behind the elephants can be found on Alison’s website under “Artwork,” “Original Paintings,” and “Elephant!”

Noloholo Lion Club Sweeps the Village Market…Literally

Monday mornings, although they may bring about familiar feelings, are different for various regions of the world. In the village of Loibor Siret, the rising smell of roasting meat welcomes a new week. As congregations of red- and blue-garbed men and women head toward the aromatic wafts of beef and mutton, market day in the village begins. People come from all over on bicycles laden six or seven feet high with clothes, house ware, spices, and food supplies.

On one particular Monday though, something changed. A new entity arrived in the marketplace: a wave of blue school sweaters with peaks of white collars. The wave swept into the market with a rush of cheering as our Noloholo Wildlife Club members from Loibor Siret primary school arrived for their first marketplace education day.

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Armed with brooms and rubber gloves, the Loibor Siret Lion Club picked up trash, swept it away, or burned it, until the market area looked brand new. The club chairman then delegated teams of two to circle the assorted stalls to inform community members of what they were doing that day. The scene was truly a sight to behold.

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As the day went on, the market became crowded as community members sought sugar, soap, and meat. The stall that garnered the most curiosity, however, was the one attended by the primary school students where conversations about how to keep the village clean and how to protect their natural resources were overheard. And the most impressive part was that they did it all on their own.

The ultimate measure of success for a program like our Noloholo wildlife clubs is independent functioning. In just the past few weeks, we have seen the members of this year’s wildlife clubs blossoming into true environmental leaders in their communities. Like a family, a huge bonus of working so closely with local communities is being able to watch change as it happens. And, boy, are we proud.

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As elders gathered around the table with genuine questions about how they could help their environment, knowledge passed between generations of the past and of the future with respect and open minds. Perhaps the wider world can take a page out of the book of this little Maasai town.

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Bonding Over Books: The 2014 Noloholo Scholar Retreat

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Left to right: Namelok, Karakai, and Rahely are three of our more senior scholars. Bonding happens quickly during the scholars’ two-week stay at camp.

We all remember high school. The days of cramming for full days (or not), the horror that was public speaking, along with the mild to extreme social pressure that hits everyone at some point in time. Once a year, our Noloholo Environmental Scholars can escape from all that.

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Scholars enter the dorm at camp in Noloholo. During their stay, the students spend every moment together whether sleeping or waking.

They come home from boarding school in Monduli and spend two weeks in camp together to bond and help each other through whatever difficulties they may have, whether in school or out. And if they weren’t close before, everything changes pretty fast while they study for their standardized school exams. With days that start at 8am and don’t stop until 10pm, they spend every moment, whether sleeping or waking, together. When I was that age, a week in I would have been hesitant to return to the classroom at 8pm for the night session, but when asked, our scholars just say “We want to go back to study”. And that’s the kind of commitment that brought them to where they are now. Bringing them together in camp provides a unique opportunity: the younger scholars can gain valuable mentorship from their elders, and the senior scholars can learn all the better, because you never learn more than you do by teaching. Plus, when you’re going to boarding school in an unfamiliar place, it’s always good to have friends.

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A teacher from Moringe Secondary School helps a group of Form 1 students tackle subjects including Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Math, Geography, History, English, and Swahili.

For the scholars, intensive work in new and difficult situations is a part of everyday life. Not only have they left their homes in the villages, but also here in Tanzania, secondary school classes are taught in English with no transition period in between to learn the language. Last week, each of our scholars got up in front of the classroom to teach a subject of their choice – and yes, it was in English. Sure, there were nerves, and watching them may have released my own scary memories of high school French class, but I never had to explain advanced functions, research methods, or the concept of relative density in French in order to maintain my prospect of finishing high school.

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Kelvin teaches his fellow scholars how to calculate the density of an object. The best way to learn is to teach, and each student taught one subject of their choice during their stay.

What each and every one of these scholars has achieved is nothing short of inspiring. During the day, they display tremendously high levels of discipline, determination, and maturity. It is only when the books are closed, the sunlight hits their faces, and they head down to play and chatter with cheeky smiles that their adolescence becomes apparent.

Work hard, play hard.

Work hard, play hard. After a long day of studying, the students (and the teacher too!) enjoy a game of soccer by the dorm.

So what exactly is our scholar retreat? It is school, it is camp, and it is a little cross-section of life in its most concentrated form. But, like a cocoon, what comes out is visibly and marvelously different from what goes in, and it’s a very special thing to see. For our education team here at Noloholo, it means a whole lot more than any of our scholars may realize. If we had to pick a moment that makes our work worthwhile, a great place to start is this period of time when our scholars come and show us just how much they’ve grown.

 

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Paulo grins behind his Physics textbook, revealing his less serious side!

How An Earth Day Soccer Tournament Cleaned Up A Maasai Town

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Earth Day this year may have been the biggest to date; it certainly was for the citizens of six towns in our part of the Maasai Steppe.  This year marked the first inter-village soccer tournament here, with two preliminary rounds and a final on Earth Day that drew 1500 people to the school field – that’s a pretty big deal for a small community of less than 6000.

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The first preliminary round took place on Saturday in Loibor Soit, between its wildlife club and those of Emboret and Mbuko primary schools. With the hill called Lolkisale situated nearby behind fields of tall-growing corn, and Maasai warriors watching dressed brightly in their traditional ‘rubega’, that first day was nothing short of romantic.  This was the first soccer game ever for the students of Mbuko. So, the idyllic scene was only slightly contrasted by the innocent spirit of the team, who as one might expect, followed the ball in a single cloud with no thought of covering their opponents. As a result, they did not make it to the Earth Day final, but they tried, they learned and they laughed, which is worth so much more.

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Our own home town of Loibor Siret played host to the second and final rounds, where small clumps of goats scattered the field before the days’ events. Unlike the open field and gentle grasslands of Loibor Soit, the ecology of Loibor Siret is slightly more defensive. Acacia trees shielded by thorns abound, not to mention the prickly plants that dot the school field. The two field locations inadvertently represented the main landscapes of the Maasai Steppe, which was fitting for a celebration of the environment. There on the school field, with lines prepared impeccably for the occasion by the members of the wildlife club themselves, Loibor Siret competed with Kangala and Narakauo clubs to qualify for the final. And when the final came on Tuesday, it was Loibor Siret and Kangala who played against Saturday’s qualifying teams.

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On the morning of the 22nd, the sun shone brightly, the crowd cheered loudly, and each wildlife club competed for the title of Noloholo Earth Day Champion. However, despite the action, the pressure, and the penalty shootouts, the most extraordinary part of the day’s events was not the soccer. Before the games began, armed with gloves, rakes, and brooms, the students and teachers of Loibor Siret, Loibor Soit, Kangala, and Emboret flocked the village roads. As the massive wave of blue and green sweaters swept the village clean in a matter of minutes, it was impossible not to be filled with a powerful sense of hope for the rest of the human race. Perhaps, if four school clubs can clean up an entire village in such a short time, cities and countries can work together to clean up the world.

 

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The lesson was the power of teamwork. Whether picking up trash or playing ball, things always go better when you work together. The final match against Loibor Soit proved that the members of our original wildlife club, the Loibor Siret Lion Club, already know that. Perhaps now it’s the rest of the world’s turn – but we might need a bigger trophy.

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The Learning Never Stops – Especially When You’re a Teacher

By Deirdre Leowinata

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Often, the image of education in Africa is portrayed as shabbily clad children sitting at marked and aged wooden desks haphazardly arranged in a broken-down classroom. It is not an image that brings about feelings of well-funded programming and high standards of teaching. However, at a seminar we hosted at our environmental center last week, eight teachers displayed levels of both knowledge and wisdom that are severely underestimated in the stereotypical African classroom.

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Together with the Jane Goodall Institute’s Roots and Shoots program, we hosted primary and secondary school teachers from Loibor Siret, Kangala, Narakauwo, Emboret, and Loibor Soit, for a seminar on environmental conservation education. Our guests arrived on Thursday evening, and after a tasty dinner and a good night’s sleep, they were ready to learn.

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The weekend was focused on the development and advancement of present and future environmental clubs based on progressive teaching strategies that encourage participatory learning styles. In an area where much of the teaching has been done with lectures alone, and discipline enforced with punishment and not reward, the teachers were not only open, but also excited to learn about alternative methods. They were brought together in an unfamiliar environment to learn new concepts and new teaching styles for two intense days, and were exposed to self-criticism and the possible anguish of watching videotapes of themselves on a projector screen, and did it all with respect and smiles on their faces.

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Nevertheless, the thing that stood out above all others was the amount of critical thinking each and every teacher demonstrated. Blind acceptance is often a trait of people who don’t know or don’t care, and these teachers were not afraid to pose tough questions.

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The great scientist Carl Sagan once said: “It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas. Obviously those two modes of thought are in some tension. But if you are able to exercise only one of these modes, whichever one it is, you’re in deep trouble.”

And when the eight teachers sat on top of the hill called Ngahari at the end of the second day, I saw the true state of education in Tanzania, and it’s looking very bright.

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Winter Issue of the Carnivore Chronicle

Find out what our organization has been doing to change the face of conservation on and off the Maasai Steppe. Our latest issue of the Carnivore Chronicle is now on our website! Happy Holidays!

A Budding Biologist – Meet Noloholo Environmental Scholar, Hussein Maricha

The African People and Wildlife Fund’s Noloholo Environmental Scholars program started in 2010. Since then, we’ve sent 16 students from the Maasai Steppe to a private secondary school in Monduli. The six-year scholarship allows these motivated boys and girls to have access to many opportunities and experiences that they might not get in their hometowns. We are very proud of our scholars and what they represent for the futures of their communities and the environment.

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Hussein Maricha was helping APW’s environmental education staff grade exams for the Noloholo Environmental Summer Camps. He has just finished his first term as a scholar but bravely comes forward for the interview, eager to practice his English.

 

African People and Wildlife Fund: Hussein, how are you?

 

Hussein Maricha: I am very well thanks. I have been very happy.

 

APW: What have you been happy about?

 

HM: I am happy because I enjoy being home. I get to relax and rest. It is nice to relax after being at school and working hard.

 

He squints as the sun comes out from behind some clouds. On the balcony at the Noloholo Environmental Center, he glances towards the plains of Tarangire National Park.

 

APW: What do you like to study in school?

 

HM: I love all the science subjects, but my favorite subject is biology. I would like to be an animal biologist one day.

 

APW: What makes you want to be a biologist?

 

HM: I think animals are very interesting. Last year I went to Tarangire National Park (with APW), and I saw so many animals. It was my first time seeing so many animals. It would be great to study them.

 

APW: What animal do you want to study?

 

HM: I am not sure yet, but my favorite animals are lions. I think they are very proud and beautiful.

 

I imagine Dr. Lichtenfeld has found her protégé in this charismatic, outgoing young man. Although he has only been studying English for a little while, he isn’t shy or quiet. He dives into our conversation with confidence and understanding, unafraid to make mistakes in spite of the unfamiliarity.

 

APW:  How old are you?

 

HM: I’m 17 years old and I am in Form One.

 

APW: Do you like your school?

 

HM: Yes, I love it. There are so many great teachers and beautiful buildings.

 

Hussein is the youngest of two boys, living with his parents in Loibor Siret. His father is the English and Mathematics teacher at his old school, Loibor Siret Primary School. Although he says he prefers his school in Monduli, he credits his father with teaching him how to be a diligent student.

 

HM: My father has always been supportive of me, and he has taught me many things about being a good student.

 

APW:  Is your brother also in school?

 

HM: Yes, he will be going into Form 5. He hopes to become a physician.

 

APW: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

 

HM: I like playing football with my friends on my school team. I also like watching football. My favorite team is Chelsea Football Club. My favorite player is Oscar.

 

APW: How has your experience been as a scholar?

 

HM: I feel very lucky to be a scholar. My family is very happy for me and supportive, and I feel successful.

 

We wish Hussein the best of luck as he continues on his journey to become a biologist! We are there to help!

If you would like to help support a Noloholo Environmental Scholar,

you can donate at www.afrpw.org/donate or contact us at [email protected]

The 2013 Class of Noloholo Environmental Scholars

The 2013 Class of Noloholo Environmental Scholars