For the last nine weeks, I have been working with the Segoditshane Scouts Troop. The troop is comprised of about 25 core scout members aged 9- to 14-years-old (plus another 55 or so kids that come for the occasional meeting) and is lead by myself and three other troop leaders (another Peace Corps Volunteer and two teachers from Segoditshane Primary School). We have been engaging the kids in a variety of activities, including: environmental awareness and conservation, outdoor education, critical thinking games, and marching (which is a huge hit in Botswana). The kids have grown up and grown together a lot during the term, which has truly been fun to watch.
For the close of the school term, the other scout troop leaders and I decided to reward the scouts for all their hard work and dedication by taking them on an excursion. We wanted to do something that would be both fun and educational. After a lot of deliberation, we decided to take the kids to the Gaborone Game Reserve so they could see and learn about animals and the environment. This ended up being the right choice if, for no other reason, than most of these kids had never seen any sort of wildlife in their country!
The Gaborone Game Reserve is a game park and conservation center inside the capital city of Gaborone. Its main function is to educate people about the environment and some of the animals commonly found around Botswana. This was the perfect fit for our scouts, who had focused a lot this term on learning about nature and becoming more aware of their surroundings.
We set to meet at 7:00AM to head to the game reserve, knowing that animals are most active in the early morning hours. The excited scouts arrived on time (a rarity in Botswana) and were bouncing off the walls with anticipation, despite the fact that it was POURING RAIN. (Of course it was - it rains a handful of times per year and it had to be on our excursion day. But, fear not, nothing was going to rain on our parade! hehe) On top of the rain, the bus was over an hour-and-a-half late and then, once it did arrive, they sent a coach bus for 25 children to go on a game drive (TIA — this is Africa!). We kept reminding ourselves that scouts are prepared for anything so this was just another thing we would deal with on our way to big fun!
By the time we finally arrived at the game park it had stopped raining. (Hooray!) We started the day by getting told information about the game park, the different animals and foliage we would see, and about the importance of conservation especially in Botswana. The kids were antsy - their eyes darting around hoping to spot their first kudu or zebra - but they listened attentively and participated as much as they could muster in the conversation. This was followed by about an hour and a half game drive which had the kids literally jumping out of their seats! They were running back and forth on the bus, squealing, and pointing out animals that they saw along the way! I have to admit, it was exciting even for me after having been on a number of game drives since coming to Botswana, but the true joy in the whole experience was watching the kids see their first animals ever! Their eyes would become the size of soccer balls and they would smack my leg as they pointed out ostriches and springbok and all sorts of other animals. It was a heartwarming experience and one that made this extra special for me.
After about an hour or so of driving around the park, we stopped to complete a community service project. In exchange for the cost of park fees, we had agreed to help clean up the area around the education center. (In Botswana they make a great effort to clear grass and brush around buildings because of snakes and other creepy critters that could hide out there otherwise!) This was also really important because scouts give back and we wanted to promote that with our troop and hopefully instill in them a sense of civic responsibility. And, let me tell you, I was so proud of those kids! They set to work, sweat dripping down their faces, and didn't stop until every last bit of that area was immaculate! Even the smallest one of the bunch was doing her part by picking up small rocks and using them to create boundaries for the flower beds. It was teamwork at its finest. They worked so hard that they finished the project in half the time and did even more than was expected of them!
With our project complete we headed to the picnic area to set up our lunch and were greeted by a band of monkeys. It turned out that the monkeys were as interested in our lunch as we were! One of them even stole an apple right out of the hand of one of the scouts when he wasn’t looking! At first the scout was completely freaked out (who wouldn't be?!) but he later said that it was his favorite experience of the day!