In August 2009 Singita Grumeti Reserves, located in the western corridor of the Serengeti in Tanzania, opened an environmental education centre (EEC) on its site to educate youth from surrounding communities about protecting communal lands and the Serengeti eco-system.
As custodian of this magnificent wilderness that spreads across 142,000 hectares of game rich savannah, SGR says it 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.
Today, 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 swelling numbers of local children who have completed the training programme to date.
A heart-warming 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, and now 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.
Some 25 five-day courses per year are conducted at the EEC, attended by 300 high school children from 26 secondary schools in the Bunda and Serengeti districts in Mara Region, which border the Singita Grumeti Reserves.
Each course is attended by 12 Grade II 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 focusing 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 their 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.
Singita Community Development and Human Resources Manager Pam Richardson 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,” adds Richardson.
SGR has funded the construction of the EEC 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. These either sponsor the cost of a five-day course for the 12 learners and two teachers ($2,000), or sponsor a student for $150 for the five-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.