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Updates from the Last Chance to Paint team

Precious Africa - Day 9 - Walk to School



Today is a day we have been looking forward to. Today we will be doing the school run. In this area (and most rural areas) people do not own cars - everybody walks everywhere, especially children going to and from school. We really wanted to experience how it is for one of these children.

It was an early start - children need to be at school by 8, most get there by seven. We were invited to the house of a family with a 13 year old boy, Vincent, who walks the 2-3km, 45 minute walk to Kathithine Primary School, which is situated right in the edge of the park. He walks there and back every day. Some children walk as far as 8km each way.


We chatted to his mum to explain what our plans were and what the Last Chance to Paint project is all about. She welcomed us and was very happy for us to walk to school with Vincent. The family live in a little small holding amongst the small farms that are close to the fence to the Meru National Park. We were accompanied by a couple of his teachers and the Born Free team that work in this area.


Vincent set off at such a pace we could hardly catch up! The children are so used to walking everywhere that they are incredibly fit. Vincent’s mum told us that when there is little or no food, the children go to school without breakfast. When possible, the school feeds them. On the way to meet Vincent we had seen several children carrying sticks. Charles from Born Free explained that the children are being asked to each take some wood so that the school can light a fire to cook on. Born Free are trying to make things more sustainable by planting trees at the school which will mean eventually they will find it easier to find wood at the school when the trees are cut back. There are almost 500 children at the school.

The route Vincent took us on was a very pretty route - much greener than other areas we have seen. Nearby there was a sign of water thanks to a nearby water project. The vegetation was luscious and there were lots of plants that like moisture. By looking after the water and managing it, the local farms are looking quite abundant and moist, unlike some of the ones we saw yesterday where the crops are dry and almost ruined..

At a certain point in the walk we were walking right down the stretch of land next to the fence, bordering the Meru National park. We were told by the teachers that elephants sometimes come into the school grounds, especially when it is quiet at the weekend and break the desks. Once, the teacher said, the children arrived at school to find a rhino in the playground! Like the other school we visited in Amboseli, if the children were to encounter a wild animal, it would make them late for school, or they sometimes wouldn’t make it at all.

Again, like the problem the farmers have, there is a problem with baboons at the school. They get into the classrooms and steal things from the children! There is no glass in the windows, so the baboons get in very easily. Baboons are really quite dangerous and so the children have to be very careful.


I spoke to one of the people who work with Born Free who used to go to a school nearby. Her school was on the other side of the park and they had the same problems as they do here at this school. She said she lived about 6 km away from the school and would encounter all sorts of wildlife including crocodiles. She said that although in the mornings it was cool, in the afternoons on the way home, it got very very hot.


When we reached the school we were welcomed by the deputy headteacher. He was very pleased to see us and was very happy to help us with our project. Eventually we managed to find a space for everyone to work in because there wasn’t a classroom big enough. It was decided that the children would work on desks outside under some trees in the playground. We explain what we wanted them to do while inside a classroom. There were four people sitting at each desk which was big enough really for two. The classroom was very full - each class can have up to 50 children in it.


We had a great time working with the children. They all worked very hard and were concentrating for a long time. We asked them to paint an animal that they liked or that had impacted their lives. Despite the negative impact many animals, like the elephant, they still chose to draw them. There were many elephants painted.

There were some amazing paintings and the children enjoyed working on them, concentrating really hard. We took some lovely photos of the children proudly holding their pictures and then some group photos. There was great enthusiasm! We were all very pleased with the results. Even the deputy head teacher sat and painted firthe whole morning! He asked if he could have the picture john has done as a demonstration to put in his office! At the end we gave the paint boxes, brushes, pencils and paper to the art teacher. He was so grateful. The school have nothing at all and the childrens’ families can’t afford to buy art things for them. This means they NEVER get to do art! It was really lovely to be able to give these children the opportunity to paint.


After spending time with the community outside the park fence, it was time to go and have a look around inside the park and to see what we could see.


Another program that Born Free are involved in is the monitoring of some of the animals. There is a group who work with lions and another that monitor the elephants. We were lucky enough to be taken out with “The Pride of Meru “ - a group of Born free employees who follow the progress of the lions, by tracking them and keeping logs on which lions are where. Some of the lions have trackers, which helps to locate them. The team explained that there are 4 prides in the park, of different sizes. They log in their data and make note of all herbivores they find - these are meals for the lions and the team have to keep checking that the lions are safe and haven’t been harmed by snares (there is a huge number of snares laid every month in the park and the Born Free Team spend a lot of time collecting these up. When they first began the project they were finding up to 100 a day, now that is in about a month. If a lion has been harmed in any way then they can call the vet and make sure they are looked after.


We were so lucky because we had only just set out when they spotted a lion under a tree having a rest. They drove us as close as they could (they have permission to leave the track and go off-road because if the job they are doing. We drove so close we were literally watching it watching us. The monitoring helps them know which lion is which and which pride they are from. If they don’t see a particular lion for a while they know they may have wandered off. We were told that this was one of a pair of sisters who were born 3 years ago. They are part of a pride of 8. It was so exciting!


Meru park is different to Amboseli. It is more bushy, so there are plenty of hiding places for the animals. The biggest difference is that the earth is a really dark red. Because animals like elephants and buffalo cover themselves in mud, they seem much darker in colour than the animals in Amboseli.

We saw some amazing sights this evening, including giraffes wandering across the road, gangs of buffalo right by the track, staring at us and many hippos wallowing in a big pool.


It was the perfect end to an amazing adventure- I have memories I will never forget and have learnt so much about the human wildlife conflict that Born Free work so hard to balance.


I hope you enjoy our last film and we look forward to taking you on our next adventure with us. Thank you for following us and we both hope that you may have learnt something from this interesting journey we have had.



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