EduVentures: Opening eyes to nature’s worth

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By Sven-Eric Kanzler, Environmental journalist

“Hunting spider.” After a thorough look at the animal under the microscope, Aina Mwalya types the description into the computer list. Next to her, Johannes Mayumbelo excitedly compares her entry with his own list.

Eduventure collecting

Both lists are long and contain many names of insects and arachnids which were collected in the research area close to the new Langer Heinrich uranium mine in the Namib-Naukluft Park. The question that Aina and Johannes want to answer is: what is the environmental impact of the mine?

Even though they are only 14 and 17 years old and still at school, Aina and Johannes deal with this question like seasoned scientists. They are two of the more than 175 learners who have thus far taken part in an EduVentures project. While newspapers regularly write about EduVentures’ expe-ditions, what actually is EduVentures?

It is an initiative of the National Museum of Namibia, to

• gather biological and archaeological material during expeditions for the National Museum and the National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI);

• enthuse young people about nature’s diversity;

• work towards sustainable use of resources;

• introduce them to scientific work;

• assist them to develop their full capacity; and

• enable young people from different regions and cultural backgrounds to interact and work together.

The essence of the initiative is contained in the name, which translates to learning paired with activities that include a touch of adventure. EduVentures has arranged twelve expeditions and numerous excursions during the five years of its existence. Participants are selected from various schools and have to meet strict requirements. Teachers and scientists accompany the learners and show them how scientists work in the field.

Science eduventures lab kids

National collections

The expeditions head for areas of biological interest which are difficult to access and as yet appear as white spots on the maps of biologists – like the Baynes Mountains in Kaokoveld, the Restricted Area east of Lüderitz and places at the Fish River Canyon. EduVentures fills these gaps by systematically collecting (or, in the case of some animals, catching) plants, insects and arachnids, and at times also small reptiles and mammals.

The material is gathered for the scientific collections of the National Museum and the NBRI – veritable treasure troves of the nation’s natural heritage. When scientists world-wide conduct research on specific animals or plants in Namibia, specimens from these collections are made available for their research.

EduVentures has made exciting discoveries on several occasions. In September 2005 learners found a possible new species of the ‘Gladiator’ at the Fish River Canyon. The first live specimen of this predatory insect was discovered at the Brandberg in 2001. This caused worldwide headlines because the insect did not match any of the orders known thus far and a new order had to be created – for the first time in 87 years. Until then it was unknown that Gladiators also occurred at the Fish River Canyon. In March 2006 the expedition of Science EduVentures (the programme for advanced students) to Langer Heinrich caused another sensation: The students had found an unknown scorpion species – even though scorpions are one of the best studied groups of organisms in Namibia.

Just think of the excitement and enthusiasm among the learners when they discover something hitherto unknown! It is an experience they will cherish for the rest of their lives. At the same time the learners’ awareness of their environment becomes keener. They marvel at how diverse nature is even in desert areas, at cleverly adapted plants and animals, some of which occur in Namibia only.  Is there any better way to enlighten somebody on the value of nature?

Training

Once an interest in nature has been stirred, questions about the ‘how’ and ‘why’ follow automatically. The next step after collecting data is research.  This was the aim of the expedition to Bloedkopje close to the controversial uranium mine at Langer Heinrich in the Namib-Naukluft Park in March 2006. The research question was: what is the mine’s impact on the environment?

During February 2006 the 18 participants prepared for the project – they were introduced to scientific work, the uranium mine and the natural assets of the area. The learners purposefully gathered data on-site and evaluated the material in the EduVentures laboratory in the National Museum. The results were presented in lectures and newspaper reports.

Adventure and interaction

For many learners the EduVentures expedition is their first camping trip into the wilds – and their first experience of sleeping under the stars. Carrying your own supply of water, provisions and equipment is tough and shows you what your body is capable of. You also learn to help one another.

Participants come from different regions and cultural backgrounds. The groups represented schools from Windhoek and Katutura, from Karasburg and from a mobile school from the Kaokoveld. Expeditions offer a chance to get to know each other. Friendships are forged quickly and also across linguistic boundaries.

Young people from Windhoek, for example, who took part in the Kaokoveld expedition, were fascinated by how knowledgeable the Himba youth are about plants and animals in their area. The regular participation of deaf learners from the Namibian Institute for Special Education (NISE) is a great success as well. Five of them developed signs for 24 insects and arachnids ‘without sign words’ and were awarded a prize at the International Science Fair in Windhoek for their work.

Fundamental goals

All in all, EduVentures contributes to Namibia’s fundamental goals: preserving the national heritage, nature conservation (embodied in the constitution), promoting Namibia’s own scientists (Vision 2030), interaction between population groups and ‘nation building’. It is therefore all the more surprising that the initiative has struggled financially ever since its inception.

It was started in 2003 by Tharina Bird (arachnologist at the National Museum) and the late Nicholas Krone, then a teacher at Immanuel Shifidi Secondary School. The main sponsor was the National Museum (infrastructure, staff) while expeditions were financed with the support of the Global Environment Facility, the Rössing Foundation, the Namibia Nature Foundation and several private individuals. But the sponsorship programmes are now coming to an end.

EduVentures was registered as a foundation in early 2007. Step by step the foundation is taking over the many tasks which Tharina Bird, her colleague Benson Muramba at the National Museum and many helpers have dealt with in their spare time. A new co-ordinator is now in charge, and office premises will be needed in the long term. However, before further expeditions can take place, sufficient funding has to be secured.

It can only be hoped that EduVentures as a foundation is able to rope in powerful new partners who are eager to invest in Namibia’s natural heritage and the future generation. And who, as their incentive, can really appreciate the enthusiasm of the learners.

This article appeared in the 2008/9 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.

 

Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia is a high-quality glossy Namibia travel and lifestyle magazine tasked with promoting Namibia to the world. With riveting stories, first-hand encounters and magnificent photographs showcasing tourism, travel, nature, adventure and conservation, TNN is the ultimate and most comprehensive guide to exploring Namibia. Travel News Namibia is published in five different editions per year. These include four English- language editions and one German. Travel News Namibia is for sale in Namibia and South Africa.

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