- Mary Rogelstad
- May 19, 2022
- Tagged In:
Environmentally-active grandmothers in the Mweka village of Tanzania are very busy these days. They’re stepping up to lead a local chapter of a program called Roots and Shoots. It promotes environmental conservation and education and is the brainchild of the Jane Goodall Institute. The work is part of a crucial initiative for the region – one that’s teaching young people how to solve environmental challenges.
Tusekile Mwakalundwa, who serves as the Community Impact Manager for Rustic Pathways, says it’s unusual for older Tanzanian women to take on a role like this in the area. It’s also surprising that a local man donated land to the women for the project.
“Giving away land for women to do this is something historically men wouldn’t do,” Mwakalundwa said. “Elderly women are not expected to do these things. It’s good to see how actively engaged these women are in preserving the environment.”
Rustic Pathways students traveling with the African Animal Conservation program will work with local students and the grandmothers who are involved in this community program. They’ll cover a wide range of topics, such as deforestation and data collection for local species. The knowledge gained will be used during the trip and then hopefully taken home.
The Jane Goodall Institute
Students are introduced to the Jane Goodall Institute that runs Roots and Shoots about midway through their trip. It’s named after the famous primatologist.
Goodall is best known for her decades-long study of chimpanzees. One of the key goals of the institute is to save chimpanzees from extinction. However, Goodall and other institute leaders have a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of nature, so the institute has many other projects.
Roots and Shoots began in 1991 when high school students expressed concerns about the environmental challenges they saw in their communities. Thousands of young people now participate in the program across 60 countries.
The grandmothers in Mweka are among the mentors, educators and coordinators who work with the youth. Rustic teens work alongside Tanzanian students on conservation projects around Africa’s highest mountain – Mount Kilimanjaro.
Among the topics they explore is sustainable agriculture. They tour a coffee plantation to learn about responsible farming practices.
Coffee is Tanzania’s largest export crop and is an important source of income for tens of thousands of residents. Over the years, environmental problems and poor agricultural practices have decreased yields, prompting improvement efforts. Mwakalundwa says one of the hopes for this tour is that students will think about making responsible choices when they purchase coffee.
Before and after this tour, students spend time exploring animal life at sea and on land.
Heading to the Coast
Shortly after students arrive in Tanzania they travel to the coast for six nights. Mwakalundwa says they stay in a slower-paced and quiet community. There they work with the Mwambao Coastal Community Network.
Students learn about coral reefs and sail on the Indian Ocean in an Arabic-style boat. The fringing coral reefs off the southeastern coast of Africa are among the world’s largest. They are home to a sizable population of tropical fish, sea turtles and other marine life.
In general, the Indian Ocean has less marine life than other oceans because it has a lower level of plankton. That makes the sea life that does thrive near coral reefs even more important.
Rustic students work on coral reef recovery projects, such as the construction of artificial reefs. They also see how these reefs are deployed.
While working on these projects, students can keep on the lookout for marine life, such as acrobatic flying fish. These fish can be airborne for up to 45 seconds and get as high as 26 feet above the water.
The fish move very fast – leaping out of the water and then briefly gliding. There are about 40 species of flying fish that live in warm ocean waters, and they are among the fish students should see while in the region.
After relaxing at the seaside, the students head inland for their work with Roots and Shoots followed by a trip to see the animals many people associate with southern Africa.
Going On an African Safari
Towards the end of the trip, students have a once-in-a-lifetime wildlife experience. They’ll head to a safari destination to search for elephants, zebras, gazelles and other African mammals. July to September is the dry season in Tanzania, and that is when many migratory animals are in the region.
Students will see many animals in action. One of the more common activities is watching gazelles on the move. Gazelles can run up to 60 miles per hour to dodge predators so that can be a sight to see. Zebras are a little slower, running up to 40 miles per hour, but it can also be impressive to see a herd of 100 zebras running across the land.
Aside from sights, there are also sounds that’ll help students determine what animals are nearby. Mammals like wildebeest can be a bit noisy.
Students will learn about animal behavior from local guides. They’ll have the opportunity to see how everything is interconnected – how what they learned earlier in the program about conservation affects animals large and small.
After the safari, the students wrap up the program with a Swahili meal and souvenir shopping. Heading to the airport, they say kwa heri or goodbye to the amazing program
leaders and new friends they made along the way. Then during their long plane ride home, students can keep the words of Dr. Jane Goodall in mind:
“Animals help me survive my days of travel. As I go place to place around the world, I take note and remember well those animals I’ve gotten to meet along the way.”
-Dr. Jane Goodall