“We will protect them ourselves”: Yangambi’s young conservation champions

Fostering the DRC's next generation of environmental advocates
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School students learn through games to protect the environment in Yangambi, DRC. Photo by Axel Fassio/CIFOR-ICRAF

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Thirteen-year-old Olive Basekawike-Nyota, a student from Weko Village in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)’s Yangambi Engagement Landscape (YEL), has big plans for action on forests.

“The forest itself, and its trees and animals, help to give us good air to breathe and good water to drink,” she said. “That’s why one of the first things I will do when I become president will be to take away all those who are harming our forests and make sure that my government and I put forest protection and conservation at the top of everything we do.”

Basekawike-Nyota is a keen member of her local ‘Zamba Club’ (Zamba being the Lingala word for forest). These are voluntary, neighbourhood-based environmental groups, where children aged 10-15 meet on weekends to learn about wildlife and forest management, through a range of games and other fun activities. Each group contains up to 15 children and is coordinated by a schoolteacher that has been trained in environmental education.

The initiative forms part of the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF)’s long-term activities in the Yangambi Engagement Landscape. 

Biodiversity preservation and wildlife conservation have been issues of concern for over a decade now in the landscape. Wildlife populations and their habitats are under threat from human activities like excessive hunting and poaching, since the region’s forest resources remain the primary source of livelihood for local and Indigenous populations. 

In this context, the activities in the YEL – largely funded by the European Union – seek to encourage the sustainable use and conservation of wildlife and other ecosystem resources that can help communities contribute to better local economies, community health, and well-being. 

The Zamba Clubs’ targeted approach of teaching children how to become agents of change in their environment, guided by a pedagogic manual put together by CIFOR-ICRAF specialists, is proving to be an effective component of this quest.

Jacques Baitokoya, aged 15, is another member of the Zamba Club in Weko. So far, he says, the most important thing he has learned at his Zamba sessions is that all elements of the ecosystem – no matter how small – are important and must be protected. 

“If all that is taught in our Zamba sessions is put into practice, the forest will flourish with animals and trees of all kinds, and all of our currently protected species will come back and thrive,” he said. “And with the knowledge we already have of environmental protection, there will be no need for officially protected species, because we will protect them ourselves.”


About the Yangambi Engagement Landscape: Since 2007, CIFOR has been working in the Yangambi engagement landscape to advance forestry research, local development, and conservation. Our goal is to support entrepreneurship, innovation, research, and natural resource management to transform the Yangambi engagement landscape into a place where forests contribute to the sustainable well-being of local communities.

The above article is produced within the framework of the Training, Research and Environment in the Tshopo II (FORETS II) project implemented by CIFOR-ICRAF and funded by the European Union in the YEL, that targets specific objectives relating to the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity, while contributing to the sustainable development of local populations through awareness-raising, extension and mentoring activities, but also the strengthening of national human resources for better forest protection, notably through formal university training of the LMD type.

For more information, visit www.cifor-icraf.org/yangambi-engagement-landscape/ and www.yangambi.org/en/

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