In this series of Darwin blogs, we have been celebrating International Youth Day and the inspiring work of Darwin projects with local youth groups, schools and colleges around the world. In the previous two entries in this series we looked at how Darwin projects seek to educate, from elephant board games in Burma (Myanmar) to a Marine Awareness Week in St Helena, and to engage, through the innovative use of video-based engagement in Guyana and the Cayman Islands.
In the final entry to this series, we look at how Darwin projects collaborate with local youth. First, we visit a project in Mali that is training young “eco-guardians” to protect the rapidly declining elephant population, before setting off to Timor-Leste to see how Blue Ventures are collaborating with and training local young people as certified scuba divers and seagrass monitors.
The Mali Elephant Project (MEP) has been empowering local populations to work together to develop a model of conservation that benefits both people and elephants, that delivers very tangible local benefits, and which puts natural resources under the control of local communities. They gain, for example, from having pasture at the end of the dry season because they have protected it from bush fire. They can sell this and grazing access rights to others, and their livestock are healthier and worth more, and the proceeds are shared between the management committee of elders, the women and the eco-guardians, making it self-sustaining. Protecting the forest prevents its loss to agriculture, and safeguards the wood and many useful fruits, seeds, resins, forage and medicines that can be marketed by the women. It also secures vital ecosystem services linked to the healthy forests, such as water retention and erosion control.
The 670 youth recruited by the project as eco-guardians are fundamental to all these achievements. Not only do they conduct patrols to ensure community rules of resource protection are respected, but they conduct resource protection activities such as building fire-breaks and fences, and providing manual labour for the women who establish revenue generation activities. They provide information on elephant locations and movements and, crucially, on poaching.
Across the world societies are witnessing problems of unemployed youth, environmental degradation and violence. This experience demonstrates the power of a systemic approach to tackling such challenges.
Blue Ventures is working to engage young people in marine conservation on Ataúro – an island where communities depend on the sea for their livelihoods. Blue Ventures staff lead school classes on Timor-Leste’s marine ecosystems, reaching over 100 students who are keen to learn about how conserving their natural resources will affect life on the island.
Young people also make up the majority of the community-based monitoring programmes on the island; 85% of the seagrass and fisheries monitoring groups are under the age of 25. The seagrass group have mapped significant portions of Ataúro’s seagrass meadows, and are now shifting their focus towards long-term monitoring efforts. The all-female fisheries group are using smartphone technology to collect much-needed fisheries data and are helping change the role of women in Timorese society by getting involved in community decision-making and resource management.
Timorese youth are also flourishing within the Blue Ventures team. Jemima Gomes, aged 23, has recently completed her PADI Divemaster qualifications, making her the first Timorese woman to achieve this professional-level scuba diving certification. It’s largely thanks to her leadership and example that many more young people in her community are now beginning to participate in marine conservation and pursue their ambitions. Jemima believes that this participation is a great opportunity for her friends:
For more information on the Mali Elephant Project, project 23-022, please click here, and for more information on Blue Ventures’ work in Timor-Leste, on project 24-012, please click here or read the full articles in our August 2018 Newsletter.