Promoting small scale fish farming is our main Peace Corps project (read more about this initiative!), but volunteers have the freedom to work on secondary projects in work such as gender, health, education, agroforestry, etc. Camps are a big part of Peace Corps Zambia. There’s GLOW (Girls Leading Our World), BRAVE (Boys Respecting and Valuing Everyone), and coding camps where students learn about computer programming. This past week, I was fortunate enough to facilitate Camp TREE (Teaching Respect for Everyone’s Environment) where we taught about life science, ecology, organic farming, wildlife, resources, climate change, etc. Additionally, we led sessions about malaria every day.
Every volunteer brought two campers (grades 7-9) and a counterpart who would help facilitate an environment and malaria club in their respective communities. The week-long camp is an excellent opportunity for students to experience the beauty of their own country and to empower them to become leaders in their community with respect to environmental issues.
Why Environmental Education?
HIV/AIDS, malaria, food security, and gender are some of the most pressing issues in Zambia at the moment, but environmental education also has its place. Slash and burn agriculture, deforestation, poaching, pollution from mining and litter are some issues destroying resources and eventually affecting the climate and rain patterns. A large percentage of Zambia’s population are subsistence farmers and rely heavily on the rains from November to March. The rains bring them all of their food and income, so if there was a drought, which does happen, families will suffer immensely. So they found value in the lessons about ways to conserve resources like planting trees after cutting for firewood, charcoal, and timber. It’s also important for Zambians to learn about climate change because even though villagers might not contribute much to global warming, they unfortunately suffer the consequences of other countries’ unsustainable depletion of natural resources and pollution. Therefore, people need to prepare in the event that changing climate affects their crops by diversifying, practicing crop rotation, mulching, collecting and controlling rain water, install drip irrigation systems, and incorporating animal husbandry and beekeeping.
Kasanka National Park
The camp takes place every year in Kasanka National Park in Central Province, about a 7-hour drive from my nearest town in Northern Province. The 420-square meter reserve is Zambia’s smallest national park, but a very special one in that it is home to the largest mammal migration in the world. Every November, up to 10 million bats make their way to Kasanka to feed on the abundant fruit trees such as wild loquat, mulberry, and water berry. There isn’t a whole lot of development in terms of transport and facilities, making it not a highly visited park, but it’s still a special place and I’m glad everyone got to experience the beauty of Kasanka.
The staff were incredibly accommodating and hospitable. They served delicious food in a timely manner every day and even made cake to surprise two volunteers whose birthdays were that week!
Volunteers taught four environmental lessons every morning until lunchtime. We tried to make them interactive and engaging so it felt more like camp than school lectures. We encouraged them to discuss amongst each other and ask questions, not a common practice in the typical classroom. Like from what I observed teaching in Japan and Korea, teachers tend to dominate the classroom with lectures while students take notes and passively memorize information. Some students were still shy, but everyone became a little more comfortable to participate and let their voices be heard.
I enjoyed the puku game where campers learned about limiting factors in the environment and how nature keeps resources balanced so everyone should have enough to survive. They also learned how drought and deforestation created an imbalance and can lead to wildlife populations decreasing.
My first lesson was the parts and functions of trees. After discussing the importance of trees in a game, I taught the parts (e.g., leaves, roots, heartwood) and then students became a human tree by acting out the functions of the parts! For example, the leaves fluttered around saying “Making food!” and the bark surrounded the tree saying “keep out!” to protect the tree from disease. I love being silly and having fun while learning!
My other lesson was about the consequences and solutions to litter. Unfortunately, people often just throw trash on the ground and into streams, contaminating the land and oceans with plastics and microplastics. As a result, animals confuse trash for food and end up dying. So not only is litter polluting our resources, people are losing money when their goats die because an animal is like a bank account. I taught about refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle with skits and examples of what you can do with trash including eco bricks, deep watering systems, and making bracelets from paper waste. Finally, I taught about composting and then we made a human compost heap! The bottom people were browns (dry leaves and grass), middle layer represented greens (food scraps and green leaves), and the top was a thin layer of manure!
The knowledgeable staff also led lessons on the importance of conservation, history of Kasanka, anti-poaching, and careers in national parks.
Game Drive and Nature Walks
On the second morning, we went on a 6am nature walk through the park where we saw baboons and puku, or deer. The Kasanka staff promote the planting of red mahogany trees as they are sturdy trees that grow fast and are a good source of timber. We also visited a tree nursery with a fence made from plastic bottles!
The game drive was exciting, though a bit exhausting being out in the sun during the hottest part of the day. We spotted sitatungas, a kind of marsh-dwelling antelope with short front legs, two beastly crocodiles, plenty of puku, and rambunctious baboons. It’s unfortunate we didn’t see elephants or hippos, but we saw their footprints and even heard a hippo grunting at us from the grasses. I personally enjoyed just being outside, seeing the park and the magnificent river views from the makeshift platform in giant mahogany trees. We also stopped by the Kinda research camp where scientists have been observing and collecting data about the social structures of baboons.
Peace Corps volunteers can apply for grants to run projects such as camps. This camp was funded under a malaria grant, so we taught malaria lessons every day. Malaria is very common and people often do not take this dangerous disease seriously. Yet, the parasite is responsible for a significant amount of deaths –especially for children under 5 — and economic loss. Unfortunately, people are not likely to seek treatment and if they do, stop taking the drug course when they start to feel better. There are also myths surrounding malaria like you can contract malaria from rain or eating mangoes, so we debunked some of those myths.
The important points we stress are malaria prevention and control such as using insecticide-treated bed nets as the cheapest and most effective way to prevent malaria. In 2017, the Zambian government did a nation-wide bed net distribution so every household should be equipped with nets, but unfortunately some people misuse it as fish nets or don’t use it properly, if at all.
One of the most effective activities was a play! We provided a scenario and expected them to perform a short skit for the other group, but they got really into it and it became a full on performance! Our group’s skit was about a child who got malaria from me (I played a pregnant female Anopheles mosquito) and the parents bought sketchy drugs from the street instead of going to the clinic. When the parents saw the child wasn’t getting better, the uncle (played by my counterpart) educated the parents in that they need to go to the clinic and take Coartem to properly remove the parasites from her bloodstream. They went to the clinic and had a long discussion on Coartem and to properly finish the course. Anyway, they put on a hilarious play and were such talented actors! The audience was engaged and everybody learned meaningful lessons in an entertaining way. Because of this success, I want to get students to put together plays to perform for the village and Under 5 clinic. It is much more fun to learn from a play than me lecturing in pathetic Bemba.
Peace Corps second goal is to share American culture, so throughout the week as we lived together, we learned a great deal about each other’s cultures. On the last night, we had a bonfire and shared the delicious all American treat that is smores! While on a sugar high, we sang chants around the fire and played games like the Bemba version of “down by the banks”. Even though the students were older (14-19) and the counterparts were adults, our inner child were all on display.
The first day when everyone met, people were shy and awkward, but by the next day, kids were holding hands, joking around, playfully pushing each other, and just immediately bonded like they had been friends for years. Even the counterparts got along really well. On the second night, campers and counterparts stood around the bonfire playing games, singing, dancing, and chanting. Meanwhile, others were in the center having a dance party! Watching them get along so well put a huge smile on my face. It reminds me of my summer camp days!
Sustainability – Bringing it Back to the Village
Peace Corps stresses the importance of sustainability and that programs should continue to last even when the volunteer leaves. The purpose of this camp is not only to give an opportunity for students to learn and experience Kasanka, but also to become leaders and teachers. During one session, my counterpart, students, and I created an action plan to start recruiting 8th grade students to join an environmental club and set a date for the first meeting. I will facilitate the lessons, but want the students and counterpart to take what they learned and lead most of the sessions.
Overall, Camp TREE was one of the most memorable weeks of service so far. The students and counterparts got a lot out of the lessons and hopefully will continue to educate friends to protect our environment. Heidi, the amazing organizer, and the seven other volunteers worked well together for a smooth week and I’m thankful for them! Cawams!