The Bee- Elephant Enterprise (B.E.E) experience
Report From Exteter University Group
After months of preparation, numerous meetings and so much fundraising it was hard to keep track of all the ideas, it was finally time to take the leap and fly to Africa. Disbelief still held on strong as the plane took off; it was difficult to believe that our trip was finally upon us.
As equipped as we all felt for the month ahead, none of us really knew the ins and outs of the workings at the Elephants and Bees Research centre. As the first group of the Bee-Elephant Enterprise (B.E.E.) Project, based at the University of Exeter, Penryn campus, the five of us definitely felt like the pioneers of our project. Theory lessons back home on bee keeping and cultural awareness went hand in hand with our mental preparation. As the plane landed on Kenyan soil we realised that this was it; this was our month in Kenya. More specifically, this was our chance to show the team at the Elephant and Bees Research centre that all the planning that had been done to fit us into the camp was worth it.
After a few days staying in Nairobi, and meeting our brilliant Inspire leader Chris, the six of us travelled down to Tsavo East. Lucy greeted us upon arrival with tea and biscuits; a welcome sight after a six hour car journey. The camp was beautiful, the tents were more spacious than expected and the food was fantastic. We settled in quickly and soon felt completely comfortable with Lucy and the four other interns there.
The next day the work started. The main aim of our trip was to build the beehive fence that our group had funded, as well as that of another group (The Elephant Ignite Expedition group). Three and a half weeks and our challenge was set, along with mini projects that were allocated to each member of the team. Lauren was to work at the school, planning and teaching an hour lesson every Wednesday, as well as organising the paintings of the school murals. Victoria also was working at the school, this time on improving the look and function of the permaculture garden; a project designed to show farmers how to best utilise a small space of land, specifically those farmers whose space has been constrained by the beehive fences. Emma was to work on compiling the data collected from all the farms with beehive fences and create data sheets for the new beehive fences to be used in case of a future elephant raid. Laura and Tanya had some of the most important work; honey and wax processing.
Honey harvesting occurred at least three times during the week and on each occasion one or two of our team would go out to help. Gearing up in our bee suits was a fantastic experience, although being swarmed by bees never ceased to unnerve us. The amount of bars from the hives collected varied from farm to farm but with each there was a thorough process before the honey could be jarred and put for sale.
The entire team, although Laura and Tanya undoubtedly became the experts, learnt how to uncap and then spin the honey combs, the different filtering processes and then, after pouring the now sell-able honey into clean jars, the labelling process. We learnt about each farmer whose honey jars we labelled, buying plenty of them ourselves!
Our own beehive fences won’t produce honey until next year, when hopefully some of the hives will be colonised by bees. Wanjahi and his wife Doris welcomed us onto their farm and helped us every day we went to dig holes, put posts up, make shades for the beehives so they didn’t overheat, wire the hives and the shades up to the post and, ultimately, finish the beehive fence. The work was hard but with help from Wanjahi and his family, as well as some of his neighbours, it went quickly and enjoyably. We finished our fence in four days; an amazing moment none of us will forget.
The next few weeks went far too quickly, in what felt like no time at all we’d built our second beehive fence and felt like the community were genuinely so happy to have our help. The lessons at the school were going great as well; an entire class now not only know about food webs and energy chains in the ecosystem, they are also skilled Frisbee players. A new fence lined the perimeter of the permaculture garden, giving it a clear edge and helping keep kids from playing in it as well as the chickens from eating the seedlings. A compost bin will also help keep the soil fertile. All of the data sheets were brought up to date and now, with only two more days left at camp, our team of six is being giving all the work we can whilst we’re still here.
It’s been a challenging, fantastic and memorable experience. Lucy gave our team the opportunity to not only travel around Kenya, to not only work on a fantastic project, but to also pick up our miniature projects, giving us a real taste of what a two month long internship at the centre would be like.
By the end of this month we will have seen amazing things; incredible biodiversity, a lively community and the beautiful landscape from the top of Sagalla Hill. We tasted ugali and chapattis for the first time with the families of those working at the research centre. We’ve met amazing people and, hopefully, some friends for life. I don’t think there’s a single member of the team who wouldn’t jump at the chance of coming back. It’s needless to say that we’re going to miss the work and the people here – we wish the project the best of luck and hope that another group next year will get this opportunity too!