Solly Themba, community facilitator, facilitated a rare and invasive species workshop at the Mhala Science Centre. Attending the workshop were about 15 school principles from the Thulamahashe and Cottondale area, as well as two circuit managers from Thulamahashe and Cottondale. Thomas Ramabulani, section ranger at Nwanetsi, accompanied the team who briefed the group on why the Park focused on the rare and invasive species in its outreach programme.
The group set out to find a way to integrate the programme into their schools' learning programmes and to clarify the role of schools in environmental conservation. A similar programme, financed by the Development Bank of Southern Africa, was started by the Park in 2004 and involved 12 schools. "The success of this programme has led us to extend it to other schools, hence us sitting here today," said Solly.
He said it was extremely important that schools were committed to conservation before they committed to the programme. "The schools should be situated close to the Park, as well." Israel Malele, circuit manager of Cottondale said this can be a very empowering exercise for educators and learners as long as it promotes education. "It is also very important that the proper coordination and communication be done through the circuit manager and not directly with the principals or schools."
He said it is great now that "Skukuza is coming to us" which means that the schools no longer have to take their pupils all the way to the Johannesburg Zoo to teach them about wildlife, as they used to do in the past. Nelson Mbowane, circuit manager for Thulamahashe, agreed that this outreach programme will benefit all parties.
Solly would like to see eco clubs established at the participating schools. "It is through these schools that the conservation initiatives will be community driven and so create awareness, opportunity for fundraising, hands-on involvement and even encourage young people to become junior honorary rangers."