Encouraging a life-long involvement with the natural environment is what the Amakhala Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape intends to achieve through its work with school learners.
“We want to ensure that game reserves do not operate in isolation but in conjunction with communities around them,” says Jennifer Gush, co-ordinator of the Amakhala Foundation, the outreach unit set up by the reserve.
“With our environmental education programme, the understanding and love of nature instilled in primary school learners remains with them for life and ensures a new generation with a concern for the natural environment.”
Gush says learners visiting the Amakhala reserve, about 80km from Port Elizabeth, are often experiencing wildlife in their natural surroundings for the first time.
“This has a profound effect on them and it is amazing to share that experience with them.”
The foundation comprises various community and conservation projects. It includes an environmental education programme, craft centre, school bursary fund, water bottle project, vegetable growing project and is linked to a charity helping orphans and vulnerable children.
The environmental education programme forms the biggest project under the foundation and up to 1 000 people of all ages, but largely primary school children, participate in it annually.
Gush says the foundation plans to grow the education programme to reach more schools. “We work with rural primary schools in our immediate area, but there are more schools in the surrounding towns, such as Paterson and Colchester that we would like to work with.
“The biggest challenge in this part of the world is transport,” she says. “We are linking up with other groups who wish to make a difference in the world of environmental education and they are assisting us with donations for transport. This allows us to provide more learners with access to the game reserve.”
Among those who have assisted with transport for learners was a group of tourism management students from Varsity College in Port Elizabeth. They raised funds to provide transport for 50 high school learners to visit the reserve and its wildlife.