On March 14, Kenya was asked to stand up and acknowledge that the youth attitudes towards conservation and wildlife need to be addressed, but on their own terms. Mara Elephant Project’s core funder, the ESCAPE Foundation commissioned Well Told Story to gather data on youth attitudes toward wildlife and conservation in Kenya. The population of Kenya is growing at a rapid rate, and soon 80% of all Kenyans will be considered “youth,” meaning below 35 years old. Yet, no research had been conducted on how the youth interact with Kenya’s wildlife and natural resources, and their plans for conservation. This is where private donor Courtney Fehsenfeld came in to fund the research and challenged Well Told Story and the ESCAPE Foundation to use it to determine how to engage Kenyan youth in conservation and support the development of the next generation of conservation leaders.
The groundbreaking research found that young Kenyans feel detached from wildlife and conservation. They found four segments of young people in Kenya: conditional conservationists who have many opportunities to engage in conservation but whose positive engagement wanes when incentives decline; self-starting conservationists who genuinely care about wildlife but don’t always have the necessary knowledge or financial support; non-conservationists for whom wildlife is part of a fairy tale and not part of their reality; and philanthropic conservationists for whom every engagement earns them social capital.
These findings have immense implications that can guide the authorities and conservation organizations as they work to conserve natural resources including wildlife for the economic and social benefit of future generations. In order to better illustrate the research findings, the ESCAPE Foundation commissioned the film, MABINGWA/The Champions, that follows the lives of four young people (Omar, Evans, Saitoti and John) from four corners of Kenya, exploring their relationship to nature and what barriers they face to appreciate and benefit from natural resources and to engage in conservation.
The film is produced by three-time Emmy Award winning filmmaker Matt Mays and was launched in partnership with African Wildlife Foundation, African Conservation Centre, and the Conservation Alliance of Kenya with the goal to lay the foundation for a new approach to greater engagement by Kenyans to their natural resources.
“Conservation is about what’s next. Start at this time! How can I change what’s right in front of me?” Evans, a mabingwa featured in the film from Kakamega Forest
ESCAPE Foundation’s intention for both the film and research is to make it accessible to every Kenyan to use as a tool to highlight the #mabingwa way, that is people making a difference in conservation. The launch event held at Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Headquarters in Nairobi encouraged interaction by all conservation organizations in Kenya to join the youth to make #mabingwa a movement.
It was standing room only at the launch of MABINGWA and the audience was extremely engaged.
“Let’s engage and work together to conserve the environment. We are ready to support one another!” KWS Assistant Director Mary Kirabui (pictured right)
The research was presented by Well Told Story’s Knowledge & Learning Consultant Everlyn Kemunto and she noted that most of the youth had a front row seat to this monumental moment.
“This is a very exciting moment to have young people in the front row and the rest in the back. I’m so proud of today. I hope the guys in the back are listening to the guys in the front.” Well Told Story’s Everlyn Kemunto
The film was premiered for 180 people, mostly from Kenya, with only standing room available. A panel discussion led by the director of the East African Institute Alex Awiti followed the film and featured the four mabingwas along with Alfred Osiko from Safaricom, Joyce Mbataru from Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association and Peter Moll founder of Stand UP Shout OUT. The panel discussion was a great forum for discussing the film and encouraging action.
“Young people are hungry! If you don’t feed them positive opportunities, they will eat the negative.” Peter Moll, Stand UP Shout OUT (pictured above)
MEP staff and supporters could be seen at this event with MEP C.E.O. Marc Goss in attendance along with MEP Trustees Beatrice Karanja (pictured left) and Moses Kamau as well as trustee and executive producer of MABINGWA, Trey Fehsenfeld, who presented the call to action.
“I think it’s important that we take time to reflect on our attitudes about youth and today we’ve even heard a lot of fear around the future: the population growth; how these people will be educated; where they will live and where their food will grow. The next generation is already being considered the problem before they’re even born, and this mindset affects our behavior and the opportunities that we create for youth. It also affects the risks we’re willing to take to try new approaches to recognize this reality. There needs to be a shift in our perspective, to get excited together; believing in the youth; encouraging this passion and listening with compassion.” Executive Producer Trey Fehsenfeld (pictured above)
The research suggested that a key approach would be to support the conservation champions that exist and bring into the fold those who believe that conservation is only a hobby for foreigners or entertainment for the rich. This call to action landed on major Kenyan conservation organizations that attended like Kenya Wildlife Service, African Wildlife Foundation, Wildlife Direct, Teens For Wildlife, TUSK, LEWA Wildlife Conservancy and the International Union for Conservation of Nature as well as corporate partners such as Kenya Airways and Safaricom.
The morning premiere was followed by a session at Brookhouse School in Nairobi to premiere the film for over 350 students from schools and universities all over Nairboi. This panel was led by Wildlife Direct C.E.O. Dr. Paula Kahumbu and included the four mabingwas, Teens For Wildlife founder Tiasa Mutunkei, filmmaker Matt Mays, producer and animator Courtney Fehsenfeld and Peter Moll from Stand UP Shout OUT.
The panel at Brookhouse School.
“All of you are champions, that’s what today is about.” Wildlife Direct C.E.O. Paula Kahumbu
The kids were all incredibly engaged and had great insights into what conservation truly meant. When questions were asked, every hand went up in the room and you really got the sense that they are engaged and eager to do more for conservation in Kenya. When asked by Everlyn from Well Told Story to describe a “mabingwa”, one child proudly got up on stage and said, “a person who is a courageous person who fights for this land.”
The children from the MABINGWA launch proudly showing their wristbands.
“I believe you’re all champions! Let’s start today with you!” Saitoti, a mabingwa featured in the film
The four mabingwas, pictured left to right, Evans, Saitoti, John and Omar.
“We need to be the mabingwa! You will lead our country. You’re the future of our country!” Tiasa Mutunkei, founder of Teens for Wildlife
Well Told Story will launch a campaign to engage youth in Kenya in conservation based on the suggestions of the research. Shuujaz, a comic book featuring Kenyan characters that reaches over 6 million Kenyan youth will be used to illustrate the four champions. This campaign will cost $350,000 to make an impact and the Kenyan conservation organizations and corporates need to be the leaders investing to make the youth feel engaged in conservation. It’s with this in mind that MEP’s core funder, ESCAPE Foundation, is leading the charge and has pledged the first $70,000. This is their call to action for other organizations to join them and contribute to this campaign to engage youth and create the next generation of conservation leaders.
A group shot of the MABINGWA launch at Brookhouse School.
Additionally, MEP encourages everyone in Kenya and abroad to share this movie openly! Share the research, use the Well Told Story Presentation, host screenings, post on social media with the #mabingwa, and most importantly, use these tools to inspire the youth in Kenya to become engaged in conservation. Highlight great young champions within your communities and let’s all create a movement!