Education is the most powerful tool to help eradicate global poverty, but every day, young people are deprived of the right to learn when the cost of school fees stands between them and a brighter future.
In 2021, IAPF launched a school scholarship program in partnership with Binga RDC that offers merit and need-based scholarships, to qualifying students, as well assisting with educational resources.
The program also helps encourage the next generation of environmental stewards by providing the material for teachers to include conservation education into the classroom curriculum.
It is our hope that these scholarships will spark a movement among young people to encourage an appreciation for the natural world and foster a sense of purpose and gratitude for the resources they already possess.
Despite Covid-19-related difficulties, the scholarship program has grown to 125 primary and secondary-aged school students (a total of 87 girls and 38 boys). By the end of 2022, the number of students participating in this program is expected to have more than doubled.
Bianca is one of the 125 recipients benefiting from the scholarship program in the Binga District.
It has been a difficult journey for Bianca, having lost her father at the age of three, the financial responsibilities to care for the family fell upon her mother.
With no formal education and limited employment opportunities, Bianca’s mother struggled to keep up with the costs of looking after her family and paying Bianca’s school fees.
Economic hardships have resulted in an increase in vulnerable employment and underemployment, perpetuating poverty. The poverty rate in rural areas is much higher than the national average.
In an effort to keep her daughter in school, Bianca's mother turned to the people in her community for help where she then discovered the scholarship program.
“I did not want Bianca to have to compromise her school because she is an intelligent girl with a bright future.”
Since receiving her scholarship, Bianca has continued to excel in school and is at the top of her grade.
“When I got my scholarship, I was very happy because it solved many problems for me and relieved the financial burden from my family,” said Bianca.
“I no longer have to worry about going to school and being sent back home for not paying fees, I am very thankful for this opportunity and hope it continues so other students in my position can also receive help.”
While the scholarship program is slowly making strides to ensure children who are on the brink of dropping out of school are given opportunities, many low-income areas continue to have a low net enrolment rate in pre-primary education.
Rural children's access to education is also hindered by the long distances they must walk to and from school.
Due to early marriages, teenage pregnancies, and other cultural traditions, girls continue to have a higher dropout rate.
Speaking on the importance of the scholarship program, Bianca’s headmaster expressed his gratitude about how this initiative is changing the lives of many young scholars.
“The scholarship program has been the beacon of hope that families who were struggling to keep up with fees needed.”
“Bianca is now a form three student who is committed to her schoolwork, prior to receiving the scholarship, she was being affected by non-payment of fees and continuously being sent home.”
“It makes me happy to see that she no longer has to live that reality and is now a role model to the Sinakatenge community here in the Binga District.”
In addition to the scholarship program, this initiative will also facilitate the introduction of wildlife conservation clubs throughout the schools in the area, along with environmental education presentations and activities.
While the IAPF’s key role is to protect the wildlife and natural habitats in the areas in which we operate, we are also involved in uplifting our local communities through infrastructure development, health care, water sanitation and education.
The scholarship and community liaison manager Mags Varley says education is the key to changing the narrative for many of the young people in the Binga District area.
“Lack of education and this endless cycle of poverty contributes to the abuse of our natural environment. Through ignorance and desperation, our wild areas on land and water are being decimated,” Mrs Varley says.
“My vision is that through these scholarships, environmental education and activities, we can start a movement where young people, through learning and understanding, will develop a passion and love for the wild and appreciate the value of what they have or could have around them.”
We are also introducing a Conservation Clubs' program within the primary and secondary schools in our project areas. This initiative will be in partnership with Wildlife Conservation Action who have designed the lesson plans and activities that school children will be able to make the most of.
We are also planning on introducing Happy Readers books to grade one and grade two primary school children.
Developed in Zimbabwe, these books are a series of learn-to-read books based on African wild animals, with a variety of themes, including gender identity, child protection, anti-poaching, conservation farming methods, and sustainable livelihoods.
We believe that this program will help the young generation become more proficient in English, while also giving them the opportunity to learn about conservation efforts.
It is also our goal that at least 75% of the students will be reading at their projected grade level or higher by the conclusion of the first year of the program.
Outside the classroom, we have been doing clean-ups involving school kids. We purchased a portable rechargeable projector and started implementing "movie" afternoons at the schools.
The Community Development team and Akashinga Rangers present a themed presentation before the movie - focusing on themes such as fires and woodcutting, deforestation, climate change, nature, animal conservation, and more.
We will continue to assist the youth in developing an awareness and comprehension of wildlife conservation, as well as a positive attitude toward wildlife that will encourage them to take action and learn more about conservation.
We are confident that the scholarship program will go a long way for those who need it most and ensuring as many kids as possible stay in school, along with nurturing a passion for conservation.