Empowering wildlife conservation through literacy education in Malawi

Nanthomba Full Primary School sits precariously close to Liwonde National Park, home to large numbers of potentially dangerous elephants, hippos and crocodiles, in the southern African country of Malawi.

Since piped water is scarce, until recently villagers – mostly women and children – fetched water from the Shire River, on Liwonde’s western border, bringing them dangerously close to these animals. 

Two years ago, IFAW helped build a fish farm and piped water up from the river for their vegetable gardens. Many Nanthomba scholars are children of the villagers who tend the gardens and utilize the water made available at the fish farm, making the farm and its benefits integral to their livelihoods and quality of life.

Recognizing there is a lack of education about the animals that live in the park, and their behaviors, led IFAW to develop curriculum-appropriate lesson plans and textbooks.

The intention is that they will be used in an after-school program to teach English skills through conservation education to the scholars of Nanthomba. The new materials have been developed in conjunction with nonprofit HELP Malawi, which has a long running relationship with Nanthomba and the government.

IFAW’s Samantha Musser with the HELP Malawi volunteer coordinator, volunteers, and teacher trainees

In June 2015 IFAW began the pilot program to roll out “Wild About English: Conservation through Language Learning” to Nanthomba students aged 10 to 14 years. In Malawi, scholars first start learning in the local Chichewa language, but later the language of learning changes to English. Ultimately they have to pass their exams in English if they are to graduate to secondary school.

During the initial pilot phase, 65 Grade 4, 55 Grade 5 and 33 Grade 6 pupils will take part in the program.

It is encouraging to see a high proportion of the younger pupils being female. As food growers, water- and fuel-gatherers and family caretakers, women of all ages play a critical role in managing natural resources. Supporting girls’ education can help ensure that women have the knowledge and skills to make a positive impact on conservation decision-making in their families and communities.

Two learners in Nanthomba were very interested in how an iPad works.

If they attend the after-school program, the children receive a nourishing lunchtime meal. This and receiving a textbook has increased the attendance of the after-school program.

Volunteer teachers from HELP worked with their Nanthomba colleagues to have the children fill out an initial survey to find out what they know, think and feel about the wild animals of Liwonde National Park and their relationships with the people who share this environment.

Once the program is finished, the students will take the survey once more so we can assess the impact on their knowledge and attitudes towards wildlife.

Thanks to this innovative approach towards teaching we hope the IFAW program will create a more harmonious relationship between animals and people, and a bright future for the youngsters of Nanthomba.


To learn more please visit our education page.



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