Is education the key to community conservation?
Today, January 26th, we celebrate World Environmental Education Day.
Ask any one of our Village Health and Conservation Team (VHCTs) volunteers and they will tell you that education is a crucial tactic in improving communities’ attitudes towards the environment. Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) engages VHCTs in south western and eastern Uganda in behavior change communication education with the aim of improving their communities and their own understanding on how public health and environmental conservation are interlinked. We do this through capacity building trainings of VHCTs to prepare them for peer-to-peer household visits and village health talks. Each month our VHCTs collect data on health and conservation indicators at the household level.
We first began our VHCT model in and around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in 2007. Bwindi is home to more than half the world’s remaining mountain gorilla population and is an important biodiversity and conservation site. When the national park was created in 1992, communities were restricted from hunting in the forest and resources such as fuelwood and plants for natural medicines were suddenly off limits. This led local communities to resent the park and the mountain gorillas.
Changing attitudes is a difficult task. CTPH programs ambitiously sought to change community attitudes by introducing public health and conservation programs in a joint manner. By improving people’s health and providing them with alternative livelihoods, we began to see an improvement of people’s overall attitudes towards conservation in Bwindi. Environmental education must be participatory, involving local stakeholders to invest in the conservation and preservation of their environments. CTPH programs have successfully improved environmental stewardship in communities around Bwindi by letting community members lead. Now nearly a decade after our VHCT program began, we have found that through education our community members think more positively about the national park and are invested in the conservation and protection of the mountain gorilla. The VHCT model of Community-led conservation is currently being scaled up to new communities in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.