Starry night sky

Nholwasi volunteer Sarah helps recruit Botswana school for CITW

My African Conservation Experience with Children in the Wilderness

The work done by the CITW is incredibly worthwhile. Working in Africa, the project aims to bridge the gap between rural communities and wildlife, so that the children, as the next generation and future of conservation, gain a respect and understanding of the environment that surrounds them. The camps aim to teach the children in a fun way the importance of conservation, in a non-threatening and caring environment. They also focus on teaching the children about health and hygiene, respecting their peers, building self-confidence, developing life skills, and generally are there to support and encourage the children to achieve their full potential.

Being part of one of the camps run by CITW was a great experience. The weekend was non-stop! We were up at 6am for wake-up games, and went right through until bed time. We played games, sang songs, went on game drives, did team building activities, arts and crafts, and had educational sessions.

The game drives were fantastic! We saw lion, giraffe, and a cheetah which had just made a kill! I think the volunteers were more excited than the children! Each game drive focused on a different group of animals; herbivores, predators and birds. Hence not only being fun and exciting for the children to be out seeing the animals, it was also educational — teaching them about the animals and their behaviour, getting the children enthused about the wildlife that surrounds them so they can too appreciate and respect it.

Each of the volunteers (there was myself and 3 others from Tuli) had to prepare and run one of the educational sessions; mine was on herbivores, and I prepared worksheets for the children to complete after the herbivore game drive. The children were extremely well behaved, were very keen to learn and did really well with the worksheets!

Arts and crafts is an important activity as it encourages the creative side of the children, and for some it allows them to express their feelings which they might find difficult to do otherwise. Team building activities encourage the children to work together which is an important life skill to be able to have.

Throughout the weekend there was lots of clapping, cheering, dancing — anything to make the children feel special and build them up. Each game drive vehicle was sent off with lots of cheering and waving, and the same whenever the vehicle returned, with leaders asking them straight away what they’d seen, keeping the enthusiasm going the whole time.

At the end of the camp, the children filled out feedback sheets. These gave them a chance to think about and reflect upon their time there and write down things like what they had learnt, what their favourite moment was, what animal they enjoyed seeing the most, and what they will always remember from camp. It was incredibly moving to see what some of the children had written and you realise how much they benefit from these camps. I remember reading one comment that said “I liked being able to eat meat” which really highlights the struggles that some of these children experience within their life outside of camp, and why charities like Children in the Wilderness are so important.

Along with the camps, CITW work in the schools that the children go to. They encourage the formation of wildlife and environmental clubs where the children can continue to learn about wildlife and conservation, building on what they learnt on the camps. CITW help the school establish a vegetable garden, where children learn how to grow vegetables, providing them with a skill they can take back to their families. The wildlife clubs also allow the CITW team to get to know the children prior to them going on a camp, as often there are limited spaces and it’s the children who show the most enthusiasm, potential and leadership skills in terms of the future of conservation, who will attend the camps. After the camps, a follow-up programme is in place, making sure that the children don’t feel forgotten after the camp is over.

While I was in Botswana, I visited all 3 schools which CITW Limpopo Valley is associated with. One of the visits involved meeting with the village chief and elders to ask their permission for CITW to start working in their village school. Thankfully they gave their permission! It was good news and they seemed to really understand and appreciate what CITW was all about.