Wildlife Works might be best known for their conservation projects, but this company deep in Tsavo's red bush offers so much more than that.
Wildlife Works is the world's leading REDD+ project and development company. For the uninitiated, what REDD+ means is Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation. Put simply, it sets a ﬁnancial value on the carbon stored in living forests and offers incentives to developing countries to reduce emissions from their forests. The statistics speak for themselves. Wildlife Works' project in the Kasigau Corridor – 500,000 acres of highly threatened forest bordering Tsavo – will result in avoiding over 1.5 million tonnes of CO2-e emissions per year for the next 30 years.
Wonderful though this is, there's more to Wildlife Works than REDD+. Education, for example. In an area suffering from marginalisation, poverty and illiteracy, education is vital. It gives vulnerable children a ﬁghting chance to make something of their lives
In November, Busho Secondary School, in the remote village of Busho, celebrated the construction of the ﬁrst of two classrooms. These classrooms – and many others in the area – enable schools to move their classes from under trees or inside falling-down buildings, while donated desks, chairs and other classroom supplies give the children the necessary comfort to focus on what they're being taught.
The speeches at the event were given by local politicians and representatives from the Kenya National Union of Teachers. While they appreciated the donations from Wildlife Works, these speeches also showed awareness of the fact that it takes more than building classrooms to educate a population: many of them urged parents to bring their children to school.
But how can you take a child to school when you can't afford the
Wildlife Works tackles this problem with a system of bursaries through a scholarship programme for some of the brighter children in the area, many of whom are orphans, from single-parent families or living with disabilities. Since 2013, Wildlife Works has given over 26,000,000 shillings to more than 3,200 students in secondary schools, colleges, polytechnics and universities. In 2018 alone, they gave nearly 10 million shillings. The testimonials from bursary students are heart-warming. Joseph's favourite subject is maths and he wants to be an accountant. Martha wants to be a teacher and has promised to work hard to achieve her dreams. Zanira has completed her secondary education and is now working for Wildlife Works. 'I am living proof that the REDD+ project can positively impact lives,' she said in a recent speech.
Yet even this is not enough. Education is much broader than school- learning. Although in 2018, Wildlife Works distributed about 14,700 tree seedlings to schools, government groups, religious groups and environmental groups, planting trees is not enough to protect forests. If the local community doesn't understand the beneﬁts of the forest – and gets tangible short-term beneﬁts from logging, eating wildlife and burning charcoal – you're ﬁghting a losing battle. Using community meetings, climate change discussions and awareness campaigns, Wildlife Works is educating the whole community on the importance of conserving wildlife and the environment – and on the hugely detrimental effects of bush meat poaching and charcoal burning. Trying to persuade people to change their way of life and to preserve the forest that has been providing them with food and income has to be one of the toughest challenges the conservation world faces. Working with local communities to support the projects they need is vital. To this end, Wildlife Works has distributed funds to the projects local communities have requested, including access to water, education, health, environment and alleviating the conﬂict that occurs when people and animals live in close vicinity and use the same resources.
But none of these projects would work unless the local people had enough income to support themselves. Only then would they have the ability to move away from the income the forest provides. So Wildlife Works turned its focus to job creation with the same commitment it had approached its other projects. They employ teachers, rangers, farmers, tree- planters and green charcoal makers, as well as employing people in their ofﬁces, eco-factories and eco-tourism initiatives. Indeed, its myriad of projects has made it the third
largest employer in the region.
Which brings us in a full circle back to the REDD+ programme. It's this innovative and pioneering scheme that provides funding, incentives and motivation for all the rest of these projects – and has shone a ray of hope on this stunning tract of Kenya.