What was a stuffed saiga antelope doing in Kenya? The little toy saiga traveled the whole way from Uzbekistan with mother-daughter team Elena Bykova and Olga Espiova of Saiga Conservation Alliance to serve as an ambassador from a faraway land. They were all Kenya to visit Grevy’s Zebra Trust, Ewaso Lions, and Save the Elephants as part of the WCN cross-partner visit program. The trip benefitted all organizations involved as the conservationists were able to exchange ideas about conservation and community involvement, share best-practice techniques, and create new ideas.
Commonalities can often be found among WCN’s partners, even when they are located continents away from each other. SCA and GZT in particular found many similar themes: both the saiga and the Grevy’s zebra face similar threats from hunting, and have faced a common downward trajectory from population numbers in the 1980s. Throughout Olga and Elena’s visit, they talked with all three Kenyan organizations about how to work with women and children to achieve conservation goals.
Elena and Olga shared their experiences of success with local women in Uzbekistan. They have strongly supported embroidery production, allowing women to start their own business. In turn, GZT shared their newest project, producing reusable sanitary pads, and discussed projects that had worked well for them. GZT was also particularly impressed with how the SCA worked with local children to provide a multi-media educational experience. Following SCA’s example, Grevy’s Zebra Trust plans to create a network of schools and teachers that will distribute material about the zebras and about the work the Trust does. A cartoon created by SCA to show to schoolchildren inspired GZT to move forward on painting educational murals at schools to show a healthy eco-system and inspire a passion for conservation through art.
SCA was also able to talk about their embroidery program with Ewaso Lions’ Mama Simba group for women. The two groups discussed the importance of education for women and the role that people in their community can play. Like the embroidery sold by women with SCA’s help, the Mama Simba women make their own beadwork animals to generate extra income and provide some extra incentive to the growing tourism business.
With the guidance of Ewaso Lions, Olga and Elena learnt more about conservation programs directed for children, either via camps or scholarship education. There they were able to learn important structural techniques for setting up their own camp, which they managed to set up and conduct within an impressive one-week timeframe after returning to Uzbekistan.
Finally, SCA worked with the Save the Elephants education team and were able to be included in a lesson about living with elephants based on a manual for children written by STE. They also discussed various other child-oriented programs by STE, including art competitions and providing general support for schools. SCA was able to show a saiga cartoon they had created to a group of sixth grade students. Following the trip, SCA may adapt some of STE’s educational manual to their own program to implement in local schools.
This cross partner visit was successful for all groups involved. Everyone was able to walk away with concrete results and a greater understanding of how they could benefit the women and children of the communities where they worked to reach their conservation goals.
-Written by Elizabeth Rogers