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The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is a leader in its field. It is often revered and celebrated for its life-saving work with endangered animals. But even beyond its exceptional wildlife preservation work, what made Lewa stand out to us as we were selecting our 2016 conservancy partners is its significant focus on uplifting neighboring communities. Seeking to create lasting, systemic change through education and empowerment, the Lewa Education Programme (LEP) is reshaping the future not only for the animals, but also for the people of northern Kenya.
Lewa Wildlife Conservancy began supporting local education in 2004 in collaboration with four schools. Since then, 21 schools have become community transformation centers serving over 7,000 Kenyan students of all ages. These centers foster a love for animals, nature, and conservancy work while keeping educational and economic outcomes at the forefront. The LEP is guided by the philosophy that environmental education increases the economic outcomes of a community while fostering a sense of loyalty between its people and animals. To achieve the best possible outcomes, the LEP supports schools by developing curriculum and infrastructure, empowering students and teachers, and providing school supplies.
Outside of the classroom, the LEP furthers its holistic mission by hosting athletic competitions. Students participate in football and tag rugby as families gather for support. When they aren’t busy cheering, almost 300 adults participate in the Adult Literacy Program. In this program, parents and grandparents learn how to read and write to eventually improve their living standards. In keeping with Lewa’s comprehensive approach to community education and support, the Adult Literacy Program doesn’t stop at reading and writing: participants also learn basic finance, home economics, current sociopolitical issues, and the importance of conservation.
In addition to its work in the schools, Lewa has also established a Conservation Education Centre (CEC) on its grounds to solidify its status as a leader in conservation and the community. Each year, thousands of students visit the center for a hands-on experience with environmental challenges and interactive exhibits. Leading this learning hub, the CEC is led by a Coordinator who assists schools in bringing environmental activities and curriculum to their classrooms. For the past four years, the CEC has helped establish wildlife clubs in ten schools, empowering students, parents, and community members to recognize their responsibility to the community and the vulnerable animals who live there.
Because the northern Kenyan economy is strongly supported by tourism, embracing conservation is a community effort. By fostering education and empowerment from an early age, this community has truly come together to strengthen the work of the conservancy and the livelihoods of the families around it. Lewa is helping create jobs while encouraging new projects, fostering inclusive decision-making, and ultimately cultivating leadership in the community. We, too, can support these animals and this community through visits to the conservancy or the purchase of our Lewa prints, as the proceeds go back into the conservancy’s educational initiatives.
All images captured at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy or its supported centers.