Encouraging Connection between Kileva Students and Nature
International intern, Rachel Abbott
“Our task must be to widen our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures.” –Albert Einstein (painted on the wall of Kileva school)
The Elephants and Bees (E&B) team is busy this month, partnering with our neighboring primary school, Kileva Eastfield, to enhance their permaculture, environmental and wildlife education efforts, and to encourage a sense of connection between the children and the nature that surrounds them.
After only three weeks spent here in Mwakoma village, it is abundantly clear just how connected all things are. We at the E&B Research Center are connected to the local farmers who maintain beehive fences, part of ongoing research that has demonstrated the efficacy of beehive fences to deter crop-raiding elephants. The farmers, in turn, are intimately connected to the environment, including the very big question on everyone’s minds: when will it rain?? The weather and the environment determine the best times to plant new crops each season, and the success of the crops has a real impact on the farmers’ and their families’ livelihoods. What the farmers decide to plant, and how much, determines what goes into the mouths of their children, how well they can grow and mature, and how able they are to be present and learn at school. It’s beautiful to be in a community so bound to the natural world, its fate so closely linked to forces outside any one person’s control. As the environment undergoes drastic changes, such as rain shortages, heat waves, and drought, so too do the farmers experience an ebb and flow in their crop production. The result can be hunger, food insecurity, and stress for the farmers and their families. However, as I’ve witnessed, the farmers are resilient, optimistic and incredibly hard working. What makes their life’s work so beautiful is that they don’t fight the environment, they feel their sense of connection to the world around them, and they appreciate the unique roles nature, animals, and humans all play in sustaining and nurturing our shared planet.
What else gets in the way of successful farming, besides the environment? This is where human-wildlife conflict, or more specifically, human-elephant conflict, come to the fore. Elephants, who are experiencing the effects of drought and a changing environment themselves, wander outside the bounds of Tsavo East and West in search of food and water. This can often lead to humans and elephants attempting to occupy the same spaces, and vie for the same resources, namely farmers’ precious crops and water. To make matters more difficult, elephants tend to do their wandering during the dark hours of night, and when they enter small farms and villages, their presence is overwhelming. Though we know them as wise, loving creatures, weighing up to 7 tons, their sheer presence can be quite terrifying. The E&B team, and Save the Elephants more broadly, is committed to promoting harmonious living between humans and elephants. The entire community, including the Kileva school, has a role to play if this goal is to be achieved.
The E&B team is testing four key crops in the Kileva school garden this season, in accordance with three primary aims: (1) to test crops that are palatable to bees; (2) to test crops that are non-palatable to elephants; and (3) to test crops that have high yields and contribute nutritionally to the school lunches, which currently consist primarily of maize and beans. The health of the students is of the utmost importance to everyone, because these children who go to school on the same plot of land where we live and work, represent the future of this community, and represent the best chance these elephants have of a secure future here in Tsavo.
In addition to the garden, the E&B team teaches environmental education lessons every Wednesday to the class 8 students. Lesson topics include human-elephant relations, big cats and predators of Africa, oceans, climate change and geography, and more. We also started to hold community movie nights, featuring movies with breathtaking scenes of all types of environments on Friday evenings at Kileva. The students are the most important players when it comes to their health, safety, and the sustainability of the environment around them. We are planning to hold a first aid workshop after the school holidays next month, and to donate two fully stocked first aid kits to the school so they are empowered to manage minor ailments on site. Other plans for the future include creating a school library of books tailored to the younger children and holding story times with class 2 and 3 students, featuring stories of humans living harmoniously with the environment, to enhance English-language learning and foster a love of nature in the youngest of students. We are committed to supporting Kileva’s Farm Club students, and helping them learn about the benefits of composting and maintaining their newly planted garden.
The primary aim for all of these projects is to encourage the students, and the staff, to appreciate their connection to all living things, and to prioritize the health and safety of the next generation, of children and of elephants, who we hope can peacefully coexist here in beautiful southern Kenya for generations to come.