Conservation knows no boundaries! The Saint Louis Zoo has extensively supported conservation of the endangered Grevy’s zebra in northern Kenya over the past few years. As with most conservation centers in the Zoo's WildCare Institute, the need to involve the local communities became quickly apparent.
The idea of creating both a local conservation club and a parallel club with youngsters in Kenya was hatched by Louise Bradshaw, the Zoo's director of education, and Kevin Manwaring, a sixth grade science teacher at North Kirkwood Middle School. Manwaring encouraged his students to share their thoughts about conservation and culture in Kirkwood with Kenyan students. After discussing Kenya and conservation issues in general, they read Dr. Seuss’s book The Lorax and talked about the plight of the Grevy’s zebra.
Manwaring also asked the students to bring to school drawings or pictures of two items that they didn’t want to lose. “I wanted to give my students the experience to reach out to a classroom in Kenya, teach them about themselves and learn about what is important to kids in Kenya,” he explains.
Even though the school year was almost over, the students excitedly shared pictures of family, pets and friends. They wrote eloquently about their love of music, fashion, sports and video games. They passionately described the importance of oceans, mountains and wildlife. Several students created a DVD, showcasing a day in the lives of middle school students, complete with a tour of school, a visit to local hangouts and a stop at the grocery store.
Bradshaw and Manwaring traveled to Kenya in July 2005, for a needs assessment workshop with the Zoo's partners - Lewa Conservancy and the Northern Rangelands Trust - along with teachers, community members, other team members from Princeton University, San Diego Zoo and Moi University-Kenya. Local CBS affiliate KMOV Channel 4 graciously agreed to sponsor Manwaring’s participation, to support the parallel development of conservation clubs in St. Louis area schools. One school, Girgir Primary located in the remote town of Archer’s Post in the Kalama community, was chosen as the ideal place for the Kirkwood-Kenyan exchange to begin.
Manwaring conducted the same activities with the Kenyan students that he had with his Kirkwood students and observed, “Easily 99% of them shared something to do with nature and conservation. They wrote about water, trees and animals. They understood the connectedness between nature and life.” In contrast, he says, “My kids in Kirkwood understand about nature, but they don’t think about it on a daily basis. These kids have to think about it if they want to survive. They need trees for water and air.
“At Girgir, the kids think about nature first and themselves second, partly because they don’t have a lot of possessions.” Manwaring observed this difference when the Kenyan students watched the Kirkwood DVD. The Kenyan students were awestruck. They didn’t know what to make of many of the things they saw. They loved to watch the choir class practicing and see the various fruits and vegetables at the grocery store. They could connect with choir practice (Girgir is proud of their award-winning singing group), and they loved recognizing familiar foods such as corn and melons.
Many wondered about the pictures of dogs, for Kirkwood students had included photos of their family pets. They wondered what kinds they were and where you could get one. Manwaring found the concept of keeping a dog as a pet for companionship was foreign to the Kenyan students. “When I talked to them about pets and showed a picture of a dog lying on a couch, I told them that pets are friends and companions. They were surprised. Why don’t the dogs do anything, they asked? Don’t the dogs help with the other animals? Everything in their lives has a specific purpose. Caring for a dog that doesn’t have a job seems very strange to them.”
At the start of the 2005/6 school year, Manwaring’s students couldn’t wait to find out what the Kenyan kids were like, or what they thought about the DVD. Manwaring is amazed. “This very short program was at end of the school year, they remembered it over summer and now they are in a different grade level and they are coming back. They are very interested, this is so powerful for them!”
Now the Kirkwood Conservation Club is underway, with a strong focus on learning more about the Kenyan people and helping Grevy’s zebras.