This report covers my conservation sketching expedition, titled “Drawing Upon Community”, in which I visited the African People & Wildlife Fund (APW) in Tanzania in July 2011 and then again in Feb/Mar 2012. My aim was to sketch in the field & see all aspects of the project in action. I’m going to write 3 or 4 sections focusing on aspects of my visits, rather than a daily report of my activities. This section is about APW’s environmental education for children, but in later sections I will talk about rangeland management, their work to reduce human-wildlife conflict, and general information about the project and the local Maasai community. And as I’m a professional artist, I’m illustrating the report with some of my field sketches. I hope you enjoy it!
Noloholo Environmental Center, APW's headquarters. Field sketch by A Nicholls.APW is located next to the eastern boundary of Tarangire National Park and the Noloholo Environmental Center is their headquarters – a great facility built on land donated to the project by the Maasai community of Loibor Siret. During the dry season it is a 4 hour drive from Arusha, during a good wet season it can apparently take up to 11 hours! It was July 2011 (dry season) when I first visited APW and the land looked parched as we bounced past the occasional stately baobab and plentiful herds of cattle, often tended by young boys. Unfortunately, on my return in late February 2012 (wet season) the land looked much the same. The rains had not been kind and although many of the trees were green with new leaves, many areas still looked dry and brown. It was not the contrast between seasons that I had hoped to see and sketch, but I had 2 weeks and knew that the landscape could green up in no time at all if the rains came.
Dr Laly Lichtenfeld is the Executive Director of APW (she founded the project after conducting her PhD research in the area, focusing on human-lion relationships) and her husband Charles Trout is the Director of Programs. In addition, APW employs 12 permanent and 8 temporary Tanzanian staff. The project’s aim is to help rural communities manage natural resources for the mutual benefit of people & wildlife.
On my first visit, I arrived as the sun set, with just enough time to get my bearings, find my tent and the bathroom. With those important missions accomplished it was time to dig out my flashlight and head for the kitchen, where we would plan my schedule over dinner. I was extremely fortunate that APW’s solar panel system, donated by the Wildlife Conservation Network, was installed just prior to my arrival and as a result they now have the luxury of 24 hour power!
Children at APW Summercamp. Field sketch by A Nicholls.I knew that the first week of my visit would be hectic because it was scheduled to coincide with one of APW’s Children’s Summercamps. A couple of years previously I spent 6 weeks at the Painted Dog Conservation project in Zimbabwe on an Artists For Conservation Flag Expedition, tracking and sketching African Wild Dogs. PDC also runs a very successful Children’s Bushcamp program so I was keen to see similarities and differences between the 2 programs operating in very different environments. Pretty soon I saw the first similarities – the infectious exuberance of children and staff, and the serious environmental lessons being learned through a variety of fun activities.
During the APW Summercamp, 24 children from the 2 local primary schools of Loibor Siret and Kangala are hosted at Noloholo for a week to learn about a wide range of topics associated with the conservation of their local environment. In order to be invited, a child must have good school grades and be a regular attendee of their school's Wildlife Club. The Wildlife Clubs were set up in response to local community interest, and members take part in extracurricular activities such as bird walks, village clean-ups and the setting up of village vegetable gardens. APW's Conservation Education Officer, Neovitus Sianga, with whom I worked closely during my time at Noloholo, runs the Wildlife Clubs and the Summercamp activities, including classroom sessions, field trips, team-building exercises and educational games. Organizing the activities and keeping the children fully occupied is no mean feat because they have boundless energy! But Neo is equal to the task and loves working with the children so the camp atmosphere is always positive and inspiring.
Children at APW Summercamp. Field sketch by A Nicholls.
Here’s a sketch I created while Neo held a meeting of the Loibor Siret Wildlife Club. Some of the children were shy but others were busy looking over my shoulder so I decided to add watercolor to the sketch so that they could see it completely finished. If, as an artist, you ever have any qualms about sketching with an audience, then I don't suggest a visit to rural Africa. Often I'd find that the people I was sketching were so interested that they'd come over and end up standing behind me!
Meeting of the Loibor Siret Wildlife Club. Field sketch by A Nicholls.
One of the activities at the Summercamp was a Medicinal Tree Walk, conducted by elders from the local Maasai community, who showed the children how particular trees are used for medicinal purposes. One of the most useful trees is the Oloisuki (in KiMaasai) or Zanthoxylum chalybeum, a type of knobthorn. It has incredibly sharp thorns on its leaves and smaller branches, but if you can get past those, its seed pods, flowers and seeds can be used to treat fever, while the roots can be used to treat stomach-ache. The sketch below shows an APW staff member, Lengurwa, cutting Oloisuki tree roots to treat a friend's stomach-ache.
Oloisuki Tree. Field sketch by A Nicholls
During both visits, I spent time at the local schools, teaching drawing. The schools are like many I have seen in various African countries – a few rectangular buildings sitting in dusty but well-swept yards, punctuated by a few shade trees. Inside, on crumbling floors, sit a few thoroughly-used desks consisting of seat and writing shelf all in 1 piece, each seating 3, 4 or sometimes 5 children. The walls are completely bare, although also pockmarked with holes, and the windows have shutters but contain no glass. There are no lights and there is no heating. Each room has a large blackboard, but books, pencils & chalk are moved, along with extra desks, from room to room to wherever they are needed. The children wear navy blue uniforms, although most have seen far better days. This is school, but it is not a classroom many western children would recognize. And yet, as in much of Africa, education is highly valued as a passport to a better life.
Lengurwa preparing Oloisuki. Field sketch by A Nicholls
A few years ago I created a set of Wildlife Drawing cards to teach children (and any interested adults) how to draw animals using simple shapes. The laminated cards show a photograph of an African animal, a simple drawing of the animal using circles and other shapes, then a more detailed drawing showing how the shapes are connected to create the animal's outline. The name of the animal is shown in English and in the local language. I have donated sets to several African conservation projects in different countries and brought 3 sets with me on this trip - 1 for APW and 1 for each of the local primary schools. Recently I started adding livestock to the cards because it is livestock, rather than wildlife, that the children see on a daily basis.
Wildlife Drawing Card.
Wherever I’ve used these cards I’ve found there are children with a natural ability to draw even though they may have had absolutely no tuition. I used the cards during the Summercamp and in both the primary schools. Here are some of the children’s drawings - I'm sure you'll agree that they are quite accomplished.
Another aspect of APW’s environmental educational initiative is their Environmental Scholarship Fund in which select students are offered scholarships to private schools in Arusha for the full 6 years of their secondary education (high school). Currently there are 12 scholars in the program, chosen by means of a thorough evaluation, and they act as mentors to the younger children each year at Summercamp. I interviewed 4 of the scholars and each of them was very proud of their scholarship. Most come from extremely poor families and are very aware that without the scholarship they would no longer be able to continue their education. Every year APW adds more scholars to the program, giving real opportunity to local children and gaining the support of the entire community. As I write this, all 12 scholars are at Noloholo taking part in the 1st Scholars Retreat which emphasizes educational excellence, environmental leadership and no doubt plenty of fun!
Children's Drawings using Wildlife Art Cards
Maasai Woman. Field sketch by A Nicholls.
I'm still working on the next section of my report, but it will include sketches of the Maasai, their livestock and APW's Living Wall bomas which are helping to reduce human-wildlife conflict in the area.