KEEP is making a difference for giraffe with Namibia’s youth

If you have a child attending primary school in Windhoek, you might already have heard about the Khomas Environmental Education Programme (KEEP).

In 2018 over 2,500 Grade 3 and 4 learners from 26 primary schools have participated in this fun, interactive and hands-on environmental education programme that is implemented by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) in Daan Viljoen Game Reserve.

While GCF is the only organisation in the world that concentrates solely on the conservation and management of giraffe in the wild throughout Africa, here in Namibia they also implement the largest environmental education programme when it comes to sheer numbers. KEEP started in 2016, after the Directors of GCF realised that many young Namibians living in the capital had never seen a giraffe – despite these iconic creatures living just on their doorsteps. But KEEP is not only about giraffe – the programme aims to inspire young Namibians to care for the environment by allowing them an opportunity to reconnect with nature through a targeted field-based EE approach.

KEEP was developed specifically for grade 3 and 4 learners from primary schools in the Khomas Region. The aim is to get city kids out of the classroom and into nature. The programme takes place in Daan Viljoen Game Reserve only 20km outside of the capital, Windhoek. During an exciting day in the bush, the students spend time tracking wildlife, identifying plants and animal species, and learning more about environmental challenges that impact conservation in Namibia. GCF believes that KEEP can help build a culture of environmental awareness, social responsibility and action that in turn will equip our future leaders with the skills to live more sustainably.

While in the field, participants experience the beauty of nature and learn how easily human lifestyles can affect our fragile Namibian environment. Students get actively involved in the programme and experience first-hand how everything in nature is interlinked. They go home with a better understanding of their part in the bigger picture and how all their actions have consequences. A specially developed workbook is used as a resource during the field day and each student takes it home afterwards. With a focus on a range of environmental topics and its close links to the Namibian primary school curriculum, it is an excellent teaching resource for both teachers and learners.

There is never a dull day in the bush and no two field days are ever the same. Participants get to see different wildlife and partake in exciting activities and games. But one thing is for sure, the learners love their time out with KEEP and this experience helps young children to connect and develop a positive attitude towards nature. A first step of many to become a custodian of our beautiful Namibia.

GCF employs a young and enthusiastic team of three to implement KEEP. All three are recent Nature Conservation graduates from the Namibia University of Science and Technology, providing a positive role model for young Namibians and positively influencing and boosting some learners’ career choices.

“Our team just loves the opportunity to share our passion for giraffe and nature with young learners every day. Not many of our fellow graduates enjoy their jobs as much as we do! It is also exhausting at times – especially on hot summer days, but still – we love what we are doing.” says Naemi Antonius, KEEP team leader at GCF.

KEEP is now entering its 4th year and so far over 6,600 learners and 200 teachers have participated in the programme. KEEP invites all schools from the Khomas Region to join the programme and many government schools have followed this invitation. GCF is committed to making the programme accessible to all schools and work hard to source outside funding to provide a free service whenever possible. In some cases GCF even provides funding support for transport to allow school groups to participate. All learners also get a healthy snack (an apple, crackers and a sandwich for lunch) to make sure they keep their strength in the bush.

KEEP is endorsed and supported by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) as well as the Ministry of Education. Both ministries have recognised the need for a dedicated EE programme in the region. Additionally, MET graciously allows the use of one of their jewels to implement KEEP – a great opportunity to showcase Daan Viljoen Game Reserve and remind the learners and their families of this amazing asset on our doorstep. To implement KEEP, GCF relies on international donors (Auckland Zoo, Blank Park Zoo, Columbus Zoo, Leiden Conservation Foundation, The Waterloo Foundation and Woodland Park Zoo),  but has also succeeded in finding some local support. Nedbank GoGreen Fund and Pupkewitz Foundation have provided well needed support, and most recently the new safari company Natural Selection have provided significant funding for this worthy initiative. Providing healthy snacks for all participants continues to be a challenge and while the KEEP team has added ‘sandwich-making’ to their daily tasks, they would love to find a dedicated donor to provide the healthy snacks on a regular basis. If you want to get involved, please get in touch. Your support would make a big difference. Remember, support does not necessarily have to be financial.

The KEEP field experience is summarised best in the feedback of some of the teachers and students who participated in KEEP:

“KEEP is so informative and makes learning fun.”

“My highlight of the KEEP field day was the joy on my learners’ faces. Some of them have never seen a giraffe or a zebra before. Thanks to KEEP, now they have.”

“My best highlight of the day was seeing my learners enjoy tracking animals. They enjoyed learning about the importance of protecting the environment and were all fascinated by all the things they learnt about nature.”

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