As the Rugezi Marsh Conservation Project enters its final year, everything is falling into place in the area of environmental education and awareness. Last year, community outreach activities were streamlined with a view to ensuring that the impacts of the environmental education and awareness will be measured on the basis of the key principles of environmental education – improving community knowledge of species and habitats, effecting a change in environmental attitudes, changing behaviours for effective conservation and enabling practical action to address to species and habitats. The Kitabi College of Conservation and Environmental Management (KCCEM), our local partner responsible for the environmental education and awareness component of the project, made some dramatic breakthroughs. KCCEM’s Project Focal Person, Nathan Kabanguka, held participatory community meetings and workshops to; improve community environmental knowledge focusing on cranes and wetlands, highlight social and ecological benefits of addressing threats to the wetland, and facilitate attitudinal change so that events detrimental to the wetland and species are recorded, reported and acted upon.
The outreach proved to be an eye-opener as new facts, myths, perceptions and real-life experiences about the Grey Crowned Crane and Rugezi Marsh, most of which had not been documented previously, were unravelled. One of the aims of the exercise was to gain an insight into what the communities knew about the ecological requirements of cranes so that misconceptions and gaps in knowledge about the species could be identified and addressed as the project progresses. Having completed the first phase of the outreach in December, an exercise is currently underway to correct the misconceptions and fill the knowledge gaps by providing factual information about key requirements for cranes, reasons why they need wetlands, drivers of the species’ decline at Rugezi Marsh and the simple actions the community should take to address the threats.The outreach has been an opportunity for the Rugezi community to reflect and air their views on the changes that have taken place in their area and their day-to-day lives linked to current and previous projects. We believe these reflections of practical experiences are crucial in our environmental education and awareness programme. The idea of streamlining the environmental education and awareness to create a framework for systematic monitoring and evaluation of environmental education and awareness is now a topical issue for the International Crane Foundation /Endangered Wildlife Trust Partnership. Apart from acknowledging the outputs of activities undertaken in 2013 in terms meeting goals of the current project, the project implementers now have a basis upon which to plan for follow-up projects.
The Rugezi Marsh Conservation Project is sponsored by the John D. and Catherine MacArthur Foundation. We sincerely acknowledge the Kitabi College of Conservation and Environmental Management and the Albertine Rift Conservation Society for the hard work and dedication that has contributed to phenomenal successes since the project started.