Lesson Learned

Katherine May, Project Coordinator and Administration Manager, Living Earth Foundation

With support from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), Living Earth Foundation worked with communities in the vicinity of the Ankasa Conservation Area in Ghana in the Guinean Forests of West Africa Hotspot. Through youth education programs, the project aimed to develop a deep-seated respect for the ecological integrity of the rain forest and a positive attitude toward the protected status of the conservation area.

What was the most important lesson learned?

The implementation of any environmental education project requires a clear understanding of traditional authority systems and other stakeholders in order to gain the local legitimacy to implement the project.

Describe how you learned this and whether / how you have adapted your approach or specific project elements as a result.

The experiential learning approach to developing understanding of the importance of the Ankasa Resource Reserve by children living in the vicinity of the forest has proved to be extremely successful. This child-centered learning approach has enabled the children to act upon positive environmental decisions both in their schools and communities.

The reserve allows the children to take an active role in their learning experience during their visit to the exploration base in the forest, as well as to gain specific knowledge about the importance of the forest.

Over the duration of the program, more than 3,000 children from 110 schools living near the Ankasa Resource Reserve have participated in the four-day Experiential Learning Program at the Ankasa Exploration Base (AEB).

The large majority of these children made written pledges when leaving the exploration base to engage in a number of conservation activities in their communities and schools, acting upon what they learned during the program. These activities included planting trees in their school compounds and at home, changing the way they treated animals, and influencing their siblings and parents to stop hunting bush meat.

Follow-up staff visits by AEB and Ghana’s Wildlife Division to schools and communities indicated the tremendous impact of the project: 65 percent of the children who pledged to plant trees have done so. Others have requested seedlings so they can also plant trees. In 21 of the participating schools, environmental clubs have been established. More than 37 of the schools that participated in the program have set examination questions related to the environment and AEB.

Furthermore, the Experiential Learning Program at AEB is now widely recognized by teachers and parent/teacher associations of schools in the vicinity of the reserve as a highly beneficial and worthwhile program. A number of schools in the area have requested that more children attend the program. Indeed at the end of the project in April, there was a waiting list of schools wanting to participate in the program. Almost all of the 110 schools that participated wanted more classes to participate.

Local legitimacy for this project was key to its success. The local paramount chief endorsed the project and this increased its credibility within the communities. Similarly the Wildlife Division supported the work of Living Earth throughout this project as well as others across the western region of Ghana.

The format of the program was also very important. The teaching methods were modified and developed throughout the program to ensure that they were locally relevant and teaching in the local language was seen as extremely important.

The fact that the staff members who delivered the program were involved in the design of the program itself contributed to its success because they were clear about the program objectives and were able to bring local knowledge and expertise.

- June 1, 2007