In August 2009 Singita Grumeti Reserves, located on the Western corridor of the Serengeti in Tanzania, opened an Environmental Education Centre (EEC) on site to educate youth from the surrounding communities about protecting communal lands and the Serengeti eco-system. As custodian of this magnificent wilderness that spreads across 340 000 acres (142 000ha) of game rich savannah, Singita is determined to play a significant role in ensuring the sustainability and protection of this vast, pristine wildlife area, by inspiring the local youth – and so encouraging a sense of responsibility towards the use of natural resources.
Now, barely two years later, the positive effect of this training programme, which routinely ‘graduates’ students with a newfound conviction and verve, can be seen in the communities surrounding the reserve, as a direct result of the increasing number of local children who have completed the training programme to date.
A heartwarming story is that of six students from the Dr Nchimbi School, who, after completing the course, motivated the management of the school to the point where an Environmental Committee was formed at the school, which works to continuously improve awareness and implementation of sustainable practices here. Amongst these projects was to find a solution to soil erosion in the local area. They did this by planting grass, which was nurtured by a deliberate process of capturing rainwater, resulting in a new green footprint for the school, making it both a more attractive place to attend school, and a source of pride for the community.
Approximately 25 5-day courses per year are conducted at the Environmental Education Centre, attended by 300 high school children from 26 secondary schools in the Bunda and Serengeti districts, bordering the Singita Grumeti Reserves. Each course is attended by 12 Grade 11 students from two different schools, accompanied by a teacher from each school. The idea is to equip the teachers too to mentor their students, and to enable them to provide practical support once the programme is complete. Enrolled groups and their teachers are also accommodated at the Centre for the six nights of their training.
Two full-time trainers manage the EEC project, with training focussing on the basic understanding of ecosystem functioning, and the identification of threats to the sustainability of the ecosystem. Learning is hands-on and practical, and includes projects, practical research, game drives into the reserves, group work and training sessions. On returning, the students are encouraged to create Environmental Clubs and to create projects of the own, and inspire their peers to participate in these projects and to adopt environmentally friendly practices.
The project, which aims to encourage learners to adopt a lifestyle that is in harmony with their environment, is unique in Tanzania, both in its scope and in its practical implementation. It is endorsed by the Tanzanian Government, which has provided guidance in setting up the programme so that the course syllabus is in line with the approved Tanzanian school curriculum.
Pam Richardson, Singita Community Development and Human Resources Manager says: ‘As an integral part of the Serengeti-Mara Ecosystem, it is of utmost importance to ensure the sustainability of Singita Grumeti Reserves, given that the reserve was first proclaimed by the Tanzanian government in 1994 to protect the path of the great wildebeest migration, and the indigenous biodiversity within this vast ecosystem. In 2002 the Singita Grumeti Community and Wildlife Conservation Fund (SGF) was granted the right to manage and conserve the reserve. Within a national context for Tanzania, this project is critical, as it reaches a large number of young people, among whom are future leaders of commerce, industry and government.’
Singita Grumeti Reserves has funded the construction of the Environmental Education Centre, and finances the running and maintenance of the centre, which includes transporting the students to and from the centre for the programme; food and accommodation for trainees and teachers for the six days; as well as the employment of the trainers and support staff, and the provision of the equipment and materials they require for this learning experience.
The project is supported by Funding Partners – Singita guests who are inspired by seeing the programme in action – who either sponsor the cost of a five day course for the 12 learners and two teachers ($2,000), or who sponsor a student for $150 for the 5-day course. Funds received enable the Centre to maximise the number of courses that are conducted and so maximise the impact of the programme on the preservation of the Reserves and of the community lands.