Teach Your Children Well
By Peter Blinston
Gundwane village is located in the Matabeleland North district of Zimbabwe and sits on the border of Hwange National Park. The Gundwane Primary School that Tendai Belinda Ncube attends is one of the 20 primary schools that are the focus of the Iganyana Children’s Bush Camp.
Iganyana Children’s Bush Camp is a flagship programme for the Painted Dog Conservation Organisation (PDC). The 20 targeted primary schools enjoy a free of charge, four-day residential programme, which aims to not merely teach new concepts about the environment, but to promote an emotional attachment to it that will lead to a lifelong attitude of caring for it.
Tendai is an orphan. She has no brothers or sisters, so she lives alone with and cares for her grandmother now as her grandfather died last year. Life is tough for such a child in rural Africa but Tendai is an eternally bright young child with a devastatingly big smile never far from her warm face. She seems to be untroubled by what many of us would consider to be harsh burdens in life.
She heard about the Iganyana Children’s Bush Camp from her older school friends who attended the “Bush Camp” and regaled her with wonderful tales of three hot meals a day, electric lights, water that runs from a tap and stairs that take you as high as the tree tops.
She started to count the days until her time would come for attending the Bush Camp. Despite the task of looking after her grandmother, she kept up her attendance at school so that nothing could possibly prevent her from being able to attend the Bush Camp when the time came.
The day finally arrived and Tendai could hardly contain herself. The PDC Bush Camp vehicle arrived as promised to collect her and her 33 class mates plus their teacher. She took a moment to pinch her self and reflect on when someone had kept a promise before. She couldn’t remember if it had ever happened. With her big smile in place she climbed into the vehicle, which was painted in the black, white and brown colours of a painted dog.
During the relatively short drive to the Bush Camp she saw three giraffe at the side of the road and squealed with delight, along with the rest of her friends. Her best friend, Nomusa, was the only one who really knew they were actually giraffe as her uncle Shadrack, worked as a guide at a near by safari lodge. For the rest of the class it was the first time to see such an animal.
Her four days at Iganyana Children’s Bush Camp flew by in a flurry of activities, games and endless laughter. It was everything she had hoped it would be. Unlike her older friends though it was not the three hot meals, electric lights, water that runs from a tap and stairs that take you as high as the tree tops that she remembered most. Tendai had been given the role of the painted dog Eyespot in the play that selected children performed for the rest of the class. The play, called “Teach Your Children Well” tells a story drawing parallels between the lives of painted dog pups whose father is killed in a snare and that of orphan children. She could relate to it well.
The game she enjoyed most was called the connectivity game, which illustrated and made all the participants state what they could do, to protect painted dogs. Eyespots father had died in a snare and Tendai promised that she would stop poaching in her village.
She was sad to leave the Bush Camp, yet excited to be going home to her grandmother, so she could tell her long, exciting stories about the past four days. Her grandmother prepared a meal of sadza and green vegetables, while Tendai provided a day-by-day, minute-by-minute recollection of all she had done and experienced.
In the morning Tendai walked to the house of her best friend Nomusa and together they set of into the near by forests. As they walked they talked excitedly about all they had experienced at the Bush Camp and looked at the trees in a new way, as they now understood that a tree was not just firewood. Their exited chatter was cut short when they heard an unfamiliar sound. They stood, as if frozen to the spot and listened to the sound of a young male kudu struggling for its life in a snare. Walking forward cautiously until they could actually see it.
Tendai cried out in horror and started to run for home. Not in fear but in a desperate attempt to get help. Nomusa was not so sure. She was afraid that the poacher who had set the snares would be angry that they were meddling and anyway the people in the village always needed meat.
Tendai shouted at her friend, asking her if she had learnt anything from the Bush Camp? Did she not understand that a painted dog could as easily be caught and killed in such a snare and no one eats painted dogs? Did she not understand that painted dogs need kudus to eat so they can feed their pups and anyway there was plenty of meat in the butchery? It was hard for Nomusa to argue back and she ran even quicker than Tendai. Her uncle Shadrack was at his home and they rushed into his yard shouting excitedly at the same time. Shadrack asked them to calm down for he himself was a calm gentle person. They told him of what they had seen and urged him to help. At first he was reluctant to interfere. Like Nomusa, he was afraid of what the poacher would say but Tendai was very persuasive. Shadrack had very little choice and with the two girls at his heels and his axe in his hand he strode out quickly to the village heads kraal. The village head was also a kind old man who had toiled long and hard in his fields. It had been many weeks since he had tasted meat. Tendai was relentless. The village head called his two sons and together all six of them strode out, with Tendai leading the way, her stick thin legs coated in dust, her bare feet dancing nimbly across the sandy soil.
They soon arrived at the scene and approached the kudu slowly. It stood exhausted from its struggles but seemed unharmed. Shadrack and the sons of the village head grabbed the kudu by its small horns while the village head himself cut the wire snare to set the kudu free. The kudu ran a short distance and then stopped to look around before finally running away to disappear in the forests. Tendai wore her biggest smile. With the adults helps she searched the forest and found 15 snares. The village head and Shadrack talked quietly as they crouched low to the ground studying a set of footprints.
They recognised the footprints and with Tendai pleading with them to act they did just that, arresting the poacher in the evening and turning him at the police station.
Tendai had kept her promise to the painted dogs to stop poaching in her village.