Written by: Stephanie Login-McGinn
I had the tremendous fortune of crossing paths with Lessons in Conservation (LiC) in 2023. What an outstanding experience it’s been!
I live full-time in Eswatini, and my husband and I are dedicated conservationists, based in Dombeya Game Reserve here.
I recently applied for grant funding from the UNDP’s Small Grants Programme to develop conservation education lessons for the schools here.
I realized that meaningful conservation outcomes are not possible unless people 1st care about nature, and this was the intention behind the grant: enable children in Eswatini to feel passionate about nature and therefore inspired to protect it.
With the grant approved and funding in hand, I started the process of envisaging lessons that would be fun, hands-on, completely engaging, locally-relevant, and age-appropriate for primary school.
There are so many resources on the web, but it’s time-intensive digging through this material, adapting, and figuring detailed plans and logistics needed for flowing, beautiful lessons.
Enter Lessons in Conservation, Stage Right!
I came across Dean (LiC’s CEO) through mutual conservation contacts, and I knew this would be the perfect collaboration within 5 minutes.
LiC is doing exactly what I was trying to do: develop high-quality conservation lessons that are relevant and immediately fun for children (across Africa); they focus specifically on rural children, while in small Eswatini, my focus was all children.
After 3-4 meetings, some in person, some over the phone, we had a simple contract signed, and things were rolling.
Working with LiC was a stunning experience. Their professionalism was note-worthy: all meetings were on time; everyone was well-prepared; the team understood what I was looking for and responded; they maintained excellent communication.
I was incredibly impressed with their willingness- even eagerness- to adapt the lessons and revise content based on my suggestions.
This collaborative process is much harder (and slower) than working independently in a vacuum, and the LiC team demonstrated their commitment to quality and localized outputs, with this open-door approach.
As LiC is just getting off the ground in Eswatini, with a new entity and new staff volunteers, they sent some of their South African trainers, along with Dean, to pilot the lessons in Eswatini.
We worked with grades 4 and 6, and we had a fresh set of 10 lessons per grade, building on LiC’s prior lesson plans tested in SA.
Our biggest grant innovation was to draft very detailed teaching manuals for the lessons, to make them accessible to a wider audience of educators (think: How To Manuals).
The LiC teaching team arrived- a mix of experienced and young South African educators, conservationists, vet trainees, logistics-magicians and an agriculturalist- along with the new Eswatini team, which is expanding their knowledge and experience day by day.
LiC’s desk-top professionalism, including monitoring and reporting, was matched in the classroom.
They were expertly prepared for the lessons (content, de-briefing meetings, activity boxes, technology tested, collaborative-teaching plans in place), and their enthusiasm was contagious with the children.
The teaching team appeared in awe of nature, and the earth, the children’s sparked interest, and the lessons were fast-paced and high energy. The children were completely absorbed, and the lessons were an 11-10.
The last lesson was a field outing to a Game Reserve, and the attention to detail for the rotating small groups was beautiful.
One group of children tracked a faux-leopard, while another group identified carefully-placed cardboard birds in the aloes and tree branches near the river.
I am 100 percent confident that these participating children have a new-found (or expanded) love for nature, and they now readily imagine conservation role models who look and sound like themselves. This was a total win for the grant concept.
My only criticism falls outside the realm of LiC: the beauty of the lessons is founded on a sincere love and keenness for nature, ecology and conservation, with content delivered by very capable educators who know how to manage (and inspire, and herd) children.
My aspiration for wide applicability of the conservation lessons falls short, as the majority of mainstream teachers are not likely to be able to replicate this conservation-knowledge and nature-enthusiasm.
These are essential variables, as we are not trying to teach food chains or climate change, we are trying to use ecological content to inspire the next generation of conservationists, our future.
I cannot recommend LiC enough.
I look forward to our next collaboration, and I am already brainstorming the next steps.