AWF commits to expanding their successful Conservation School model by building or upgrading five Conservation Schools in priority landscapes across sub-Saharan Africa. The primary goal of Conservation Schools is to ensure that communities around the landscapes where AWF works gain access to educational resources that serve as a foundation for prosperous lives. These resources are provided in exchange for the community's participation in conservation. Conservation Schools will only be established in areas where AWF believes there can be net positive results for the local wildlife and land conservation, and AWF will negotiate agreements with the community regarding specific habitat conservation commitments prior to taking any steps towards creating a school.
AWF's previous schools helped to create conservation areas in important wildlife corridors totaling nearly 100,000 acres. These conservation areas are managed by community land or development trusts, and are protected by local game scouts who ensure no poaching, development, or habitat degradation occurs. In the case of the Lupani School in Zambia, every parent who wishes to send their child to the school must first sign a contract stating that they will not engage in poaching, illegal timber harvesting and charcoal production, or other destructive activities within the conservation area.
The Conservation Schools are designed to provide an immersive educational experience where conservation is a part of the core curriculum, extra-curricular activities, and the school value system. The local landscape will be a teaching tool and natural laboratory where students can gain practical knowledge of the local wildlife and habitat and the impact human activities have on the environment. This direct engagement with natural surroundings will help students internalize what they are learning and develop a sense of responsibility for environmental stewardship.
Once construction of the schools is completed, they will be owned, operated, and funded by the local government, with the respective ministry of education employing all teachers, principals and other school staff.
As a part of AWF's long-term strategy to build 15 Conservation Schools in ten years, the following activities will take place over the next three years:
2013: AWF will make the needed upgrades to the Manyara Ranch Primary School and Lupani Community School, in Tanzania and Zambia respectively, to bring them up to AWF's new Conservation School standards. This includes building additional classrooms and teacher housing to accommodate increased enrollment and greater numbers of students reaching the highest grade level, and a greater focus on conservation curriculum. The director of the Conservation Schools program will conduct scoping trips, meet with communities, assess conservation opportunities, and develop a list of target locations for future conservation schools. MASS Design Group will also complete models and standards for the core elements of future Conservation Schools.
2014: The AWF will construct a new Conservation School in the village of Ilima in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is located in a key wildlife migration corridor that links two reserves AWF helped to create. The local community of Ilima has signed an agreement with AWF to conserve forest habitat, stop cutting down trees for agricultural expansion, and protect wildlife, including the endangered bonobo (one of Africa's great apes). Construction is slated to be completed in late 2014. AWF will also complete conservation agreements with communities surrounding Simien Mountains National Park in Ethiopia and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda in advance of beginning school construction in these sites. These agreements will ensure that these communities abide by park regulations, and do not illegally harvest resources from the parks.
2015-2016: Construction of two new conservation schools: one in the Simien Mountains of Ethiopia and one in the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda. The process of identifying locations for future schools will be ongoing.
Africa's population is the youngest in the world. Each year a new class reaches adulthood in rural areas, and they are faced with two divergent paths. Those without education are often forced, out of necessity, to exploit the natural resources around them to survive; this includes cutting trees for charcoal or timber, hunting for bush meat, and artisanal mining. Alternatively, those with a primary school education have many more opportunities such as continuing with their education, becoming a tour guide, or gaining employment in the modern economy. Education is a powerful social investment that helps to disrupt the vicious circle of poverty - and the resulting environmental degradation. Further, it creates a cycle of healthier, more prosperous families that can coexist with wildlife in Africa's priority landscapes. For these landscapes to survive, a rapidly growing population must have options other than exploiting local natural resources.
In Africa, as in many other places, the best teachers, school facilities, and educational resources can usually be found in urban areas. Children in remote regions either have no access to a primary school education or the educational resources are limited and of poor quality. Before the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) rebuilt a school in Zambia, for example, students could not attend class when it rained because of the lack of a roof. AWF aims to provide exceptional educational resources to children in the remote landscapes that AWF prioritizes.
The renowned wildlife parks in Africa draw visitors from around the globe, yet it is rare for African children to have the opportunity to visit these places and gain an appreciation for their local environment. Science curriculum in most primary schools is often generalized, so children do not learn about their local biodiversity and the environmental issues that most concern them and their communities. AWF Conservation Schools aim to develop a special conservation curriculum that will give students a sound appreciation and understanding of their local natural environment.