Saturday, February 16, 2013

Project Education Activities- Linking Research with Outbreach

Our Conservation Education Club is an important program in Chobe run as a cooperative project under this program with our local NGO partner, CARACAL. CARACAL was established by Dr. Alexander (project PI) together with Dr. Vandewalle (Adjunct Professor VT and CARACAL CEO). The Conservation Club meets at both Kasane and Kazungula Primary Schools once a week after school is done for the day to learn about the importance of protecting the amazing and unique environment they live in. Our year long, NSF-funded curriculum seeks to educate the students in the Chobe district about environmental problems in their own communities, as well as relate world wide problems to them. The curriculum covers topics like climate change, endangered species, overfishing, and, most importantly, the protection and conservation of our greatest natural resource, water. Both Kazungula and Kasane are located right next to the Chobe River and many people make a living off of this waterway, whether it be from fishing or tourism. Therefore it is of vital importance to teach every generation the best ways to live sustainably next to such an importance resource so that these communities will be able to maintain their livelihoods for years to come.
            We start our program with a brief introduction about CARACAL and the goals of the class, the students are asked about what they thought were signs of a healthy environment versus signs of an unhealthy environment. After talking about some examples, the whole club went for a walk around the school and the surrounding area to look for some of these examples. The goal of this lesson was to help the children understand that when they see healthy animals and growing plants as well as clean water, they will know that the ecosystem is healthy. However, the children were also asked to look for signs of an unhealthy environment, and at both schools the main problem was litter. When the students were asked what they could do to make their environment more healthy, all of them suggested to pick up the litter. Our nature walk ended up doubling as a trash clean up and the schoolyards looked much better after our hard work!
            At Kazungula, the club spotted another sign of an unhealthy environment besides the trash, a leaking sewer pipe. While to the casual observer, this leak would just look like a normal puddle next to the road, the children recognized that this water was coming from a sewer pipe. This was a great example for the kids to find because it showed them that not everything is as it appears in the environment and although they might first think that the ecosystem is healthy, sometimes it is necessary to take a closer look to discover the problem.
After this introductory lesson, the curriculum will be focusing on several different animals that can be found in Chobe that are misunderstood or that the children don’t know too much about, such as spiders, snakes, crocodiles, and bees, and their importance to the environment. Many of these animals are considered dangerous but there is no one to explain to the children what actually classifies these animals as a threat. For example, since they have been taught that all snakes are dangerous, many of the children will throw stones at a snake in self-defense if they see one, when in reality the snake is trying to avoid humans and has no intention of harming anyone. By educating the students about the habits and lifestyles of these misunderstood animals, people will feel less threatened by the wildlife they share their environment with. Since all of these animals need water to survive, although some rely on it more than others, like the crocodile, these lessons will be able to incorporate the main theme of the curriculum, protecting and conserving clean water, into each class.


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