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The Chimala primary school at the foot of the southern highlands.
The Chimala Primary School at the foot of the southern highlands © Beate Apfelbeck

Written by: Beate Apfelbeck

Chimala is a small town in the south west of Tanzania, where my husband and I spend the first six months of every year doing field work on a small songbird called the stonechat. On one of our trips a friend of ours, who teaches at a local primary school, invited us to the school for a cultural exchange and we have been visiting Chimala Primary School ever since.

The logo of our wildlife conservation club: a lion drawn by one of the students of the club.
The logo of our Wildlife Conservation Club: a lion drawn by one of the students of the club © Beate Apfelbeck

In 2013 we decided the time is ripe and we founded the Chimala Wildlife Conservation Club. It was an immediate success. Since then, whenever we are in Chimala, we meet our 25 students every Saturday for regular classes about wildlife, ecosystems and nature conservation. The students follow our classes with great enthusiasm and usually we can choose from 25 fingers shooting into the air to answer our questions.

The students of the wildlife conservation club and their teachers in front of the Chimala primary school.
The students of the wildlife conservation club and their teachers in front of the Chimala Primary School © Beate Apfelbeck

Most of the students have been members of the wildlife club from the start. It is great to see them growing up. Take, for example, Vanessa. She was only in grade two when she joined the club. A small and shy little girl who never missed a class. She was recently elected student leader of the club!

Vanessa the current student leader of the Wildlife Club.
Vanessa the current student leader of the Wildlife Club © Beate Apfelbeck

Apart from lessons, we also partake in other activities. We take the students out for bird-watching, we plant trees and we set up a garden for the school. Last year, we also went to the zoo in Mbeya. Of course, this is nothing compared to a national park but it was a great opportunity for the kids to see some of the animals we talk so often during classes. Many Tanzanians have never actually seen the “Big Five”!

Enthusiastic bird watchers: learning how to use a binocular. Elisha helps Jacqueline to focus on a bird.
Enthusiastic bird watchers: learning how to use binoculars © Beate Apfelbeck
Wildlife Club tree planting.
Wildlife Club tree planting © Beate Apfelbeck
An elephant made from clay.
An elephant made from clay © Beate Apfelbeck

One of the things that the students get especially excited about is when we watch wildlife documentaries on our three laptops. The school teaches about modern communication technologies, but only in theory. Most of the students had never handled a computer before. They take turns to operate the laptops. It is amazing how fast they learn!

Visit from Solo who is public relations officer at Kitulo national park. Without electricity we could not run the projector for Solo´s presentation and the students had to crowd around the laptop.
Visit from Solo who is public relations officer at Kitulo National Park. Without electricity we could not run the projector for Solo’s presentation and the students had to crowd around the laptop © Beate Apfelbeck

The more time we spend in Chimala, the more we become aware of how the environment is being destroyed there. Large trees are disappearing from the forests. Water-intensive rice-farming and large cattle herds affect the Great Ruaha river ecosystem.

Many people in Chimala are subsistence farmers and barely make enough money to feed their families. In their struggle for a better life they, quite understandably, often forget about the value and importance of nature. Although most children visit primary school, the educational level at the Chimala Primary School is not very high and the school lacks electricity, school materials and teachers. During the harvest, many children miss school because they have to help in the fields.

Charcoal production site on one of the hills behind Chimala.
Charcoal production site on one of the hills behind Chimala © Beate Apfelbeck

To give this opportunity to more students of the school and improve our Wildlife Club, we are saving up for a solar power generator to run the school’s laptops and computers. This is only the first step along a long road. If you would like to help click here.

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Beate Apfelbeck

I first travelled to Tanzania in 2010 and was overwhelmed by the diversity of life, both nature and people, I encountered there. It is my second home now and I regularly travel to East Africa (Tanzania and Kenya) for several months a year. When I am not studying birds, I enjoy village life in south-west Tanzania, or go and explore the mountains and national parks in the region. As a biologist I study how environmental variation influences the behaviour and physiology of birds. I am also a passionate photographer and love to share my experiences of the African way of life and my adventures in the field.