UNITE works closely with the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the District Education Offices, schools and community members to ensure that all activities are meaningful, relevant and initiated by Ugandans. This is a critical component to our philosophy: what we do must come from the Ugandans we are working with and for. In doing so we have created a model of conservation education that works within our communities and can be replicated (with appropriate cultural changes) in other areas.
UNITE offers teachers in 11 schools the opportunity to attend at least six two-day trainings each year. Training topics depend entirely upon the teachers' needs and wants and have included topics such as biodiversity, sustainable agriculture, population growth and the environment, and forest ecosystems. Teacher attendance at our trainings is voluntary; in 2012 89% of teachers attended at least one training, 35% of them attended four or more trainings.
The trainings incorporate four vital components: culture, conservation knowledge, student-centered teaching methods and integration into Uganda's National Curriculum. We believe strongly that cultural sensitivity is imperative to the success of any international program and we do our best to respect the culture of the teachers we work with. While many would consider conservation knowledge a given, many rural teachers do not have the basic environmental concepts to help them teach conservation. With this in mind, we make sure teachers receive as much information about training topics as possible, including training manuals they can take home for reference. The trainings are designed with an emphasis on student-centered teaching methods since research shows that students are more likely to perform better when taught this way. With large class sizes (sometimes reaching nearly 200 students!) and few resources, UNITE develops trainings to address these issues. Conservation education is often done as an extra activity during an already busy day; UNITE works with teachers so that they can integrate it into their existing classes such as art, English and of course science. Uganda is one of the few countries in the world that has environmental education already in the curriculum so it’s just a matter of making sure the teachers understand the concepts and have the resources they need to integrate.
Training is critical to UNITE's work, but knowing how these trainings translate in the classroom is equally important. To determine if teachers are passing their knowledge on to their students UNITE staff visits each teacher at least three times each year to observe them in the classroom. The teachers are evaluated on the integration of conservation education, the use of student-centered teaching methods and their attendance. With low wages, long distances to school and overcrowded classrooms, teacher attendance is a problem in many Ugandan schools.
UNITE offers student field trips to three key conservation areas in and around KNP: Bigodi Wetland, Tooro Botanical Gardens and the park itself. UNITE chose these classes and locations based on Uganda's National Curriculum; each location directly addresses subjects these class levels are required to study by the Uganda Department of Education. We take over 1,000 students on field trips every year.
Primary Five (Fifth grade) students visit Bigodi Wetland, home to seven species of monkeys and over 250 species of birds. The wetland is a key wildlife corridor connecting two different parts of Kibale National Park. Bigodi Wetland is managed by a local community group, the Kibale Association for Rural and Environmental Development (KAFRED).
Primary Six (Sixth grade) students visit Tooro Botanical Gardens (TBG), which is located near KNP and focuses on indigenous tree and plant species that provide habitat to the wildlife of KNP.
Primary Seven (Seventh grade) students visit Kibale National Park for a forest walk to learn about the many species of wildlife that live there and about how the government works with local communities to conserve the park.
Senior Four students from UNITE's Secondary School visit either Kibale National Park for chimpanzee tracking or Semuliki National Park for bird watching. This offers students an opportunity to see chimpanzees in the wild for the first time or visit a new region of Uganda.
These field trips help students develop a deeper understanding of the environment and a greater appreciation of the natural environment. Students are often asked to conserve the environment, especially those living in close proximity to a world renowned national park, yet are not given the opportunity to explore it themselves in a positive manner. Most local children only experience the park while illegally gathering firewood or through involvement with poaching. For most of these children, the cost of a formal visit to the park (even at the reduced rate given to Ugandans) is beyond their means.
UNITE schools work tirelessly in their effort to improve their teaching and conservation methods. Recognizing this, UNITE offers the best performing school a cash prize to go towards a school infrastructure need. The school is determined by criteria set by head teachers (principals) and UNITE staff. The criteria is based on each schools initiative to develop conservation projects, teacher attendance at school and at the trainings, the Primary Leaving Exam (PLE) scores of Primary Seven students and the involvement of the head teacher. Past winners include:
As is the case the world over, Ugandan teachers are underpaid and overworked. We ask a great deal of our teachers and we reward them for the amazing work they do on a voluntary basis. We offer the best performing teachers (based on classroom observations, attendance at trainings and participation in conservation activities) the opportunity to visit national parks and other conservation related areas. To date 30 teachers have been to Lake Mburo National Park, Murchison Falls National Park and the Uganda Wildlife Education Center.
UNITE students are the future of Uganda and we rely heavily on them to conserve the environment. With this in mind, every year we offer a student competition (drawing or writing an essay explaining how they conserve the environment at home). We choose two winners from each UNITE school to go on a trip to Queen Elizabeth National Park for a day. At the park the students enjoy a three hour boat ride along the Kazinga Channel, oftentimes this is the first time students have been on a boat!
Films are a fun and exciting way to convey conservation messages. In collaboration with UNITE, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI) and the Kasiisi Project, the Dutch NGO Nature for Kids (NfK), produced three films focused on great ape conservation. These films are based on the "Edutainment" concept pioneered by NfK, which uses engaging and exciting stories to teach conservation messages. The films are made so as to be relevant and meaningful for rural Ugandan audiences, as local communities are closely consulted on their content.
The films, which highlight conservation issues faced by both chimpanzees and gorillas were shot on location in Uganda with local actors. The films and their supplemental materials (posters and student magazines) were produced in English, Runyakitara (the local language where UNITE works) and French (for use in Francophone Africa). The films form the core of an education outreach project lead by UNITE, MPI and Kasiisi Project, which seeks to change local attitudes towards great apes. Collectively, UNITE and our partners will work over the next two and half years in 33 schools around Bwindi Impenetrable and Kibale National Parks, reaching over 15,000 children.
School infrastructure is a small but integral part of UNITE's work. The majority of UNITE schools are in need of classroom renovations, entire classroom blocks, desks, offices and libraries. Without these students and teachers can be unmotivated to attend class which means they aren't learning and will be unable to make good informed decisions about the environment. To address this need, each year UNITE holds its Make a Change, Make an Impact fundraiser for two weeks, coinciding with Earth Day in April. All proceeds go to school infrastructure needs that have been identified by the schools and the UNITE staff on the ground in Uganda. With funds raised during its inaugural year in 2012 UNITE renovated two classrooms at Rugonjo Primary School and one classroom at Bigodi Secondary School.
UNITE also works with other organizations to raise funds to build entire classrooms. In 2012 we worked closely with Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary School in Vancouver, WA, the North Carolina Zoo, Asheboro, Midstate, Randolph County, Kabarole and International Rotary Clubs to obtain funding to build an entire school at Busabura Primary School. Prior to that, students at Busabura were learning under trees, in church closets and mud huts. With the construction of Busabura Primary School they were able to add a Primary Seven class and alleviate some pressure from overcrowding at nearby Busiriba Primary School.
In 2010 UNITE collaborated with valued partner, the Kibale Association for Rural and Environmental Development (KAFRED) to hold Uganda's first ever Earth Day Celebration. This has since turned into an annual event with on average, 1,000 people in attendance. Held in Bigodi the event is an opportunity for government departments, schools and NGO’s to showcase the conservation work they do. Past exhibitors have included: KAFRED, UNITE, Uganda Wildlife Authority, Uganda Wildlife Education Center, Kibale Fuelwood Project, Kasiisi Project, Camp Uganda, Tooro Botanical Gardens, Bigodi Women’s Group, numerous schools and local community based organizations.
The Earth Day event is organized by UNITE teachers who coordinate fundraising as well as logistics, which encourages ownership and capacity building among UNITE members.
UNITE staff have had the opportunity to present at numerous conferences and workshops over the past few years. These include the following:
In 2012 UNITE entered into a partnership with Camp Uganda which allowed ten UNITE students and two UNITE teachers from Bunoga Primary School to attend a one week conservation camp at the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC) in Entebbe. At the camp the Bunoga students met other students from around the country and together they fed white rhinoceros’, chimpanzees, giraffes and zebras. They learned what wild animals need to survive and they learned how to make fuel efficient stoves to help their families use less firewood when cooking.
As a result of the 2010 Zoos and Aquariums Committing to Conservation conference, UNITE met and later partnered with Green Living Project (GLP) to make a documentary about our program. The film will be shown at film premieres around the US as well as in schools through GLP's mobile education program.
In 2012 UNITE received funding from the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo to hold four human-wildlife conflict trainings in UNITE school communities. The trainings were coordinated and facilitated by UNITE teachers and held in the local language. This was UNITE's first foray into community trainings and the results were impressive.