Community engagement starts positive changes
Separating the populated surrounds of Maun from the Okavango Delta, you’ll find the protective veterinary measure known locally as the ‘Buffalo Fence’. It is along an extremely remote section of this fence line, outside the reserve, that the isolated communities of Tsutsubega and Gogomoga are to be found.
What is your way of life? What are your challenges? What are your concerns?
These were the questions that began the engagement led by Africa Foundation, &Beyond’s community development partner, and these two communities.
The answers received were sobering:
- Their livelihood is totally dependent on the cultivation of land, and the keeping of livestock
- Their position close to the fence line has resulted in regular human-wildlife conflict, with elephants disrupting their attempts at farming, and predators decimating their livestock
- Harvesting grass and reeds for thatched buildings was another source of income. However, since the erection of the fence, they no longer had access to this resource
- A mobile clinic, providing rudimentary health care, visits the communities just once a month in the Delta’s low-water season, but when the Delta is in flood, these villages are not serviced for months at a time
- Over these high-water months, they are in fact completely cut off from all government services, including schools. As a result, school children often have to spend these months in Maun, away from their families
- They have no access to a stable water supply. When the Delta’s channels dry up, their water resources are restricted to muddy pools of dirty water that they are forced to share with wildlife
As a result of these circumstances, the communities’ association with wildlife was extremely negative. They had a limited understanding of conservation, or the potential benefits of ecotourism.
And how have things progressed?
Basic needs identified
The methodology of Africa Foundation is to work WITH rather than FOR communities. In line with this approach, a number of collaborative and consultative meetings were held with the community. During these sessions, the community identified their priority issues as follows:
- Access to portable water
- Employment opportunities for the youth
- Income generating opportunities
- Access road improvements
- Good bridges
- Education facilities for their children
- Transport to access facilities in the town of Maun
- Access to the Delta to harvest grass, reeds and fish
- Better relations with conservation authorities to secure their livestock and crops
Africa Foundation has now set up a support programme in response to these needs which has been broken up into short, medium and long term initiatives.
Meeting with Maun Administration Authority Council
Both Tsutsubega and Gogomoga are currently not gazetted, and as such receive minimum support from the government. It was therefore crucial that Africa Foundation met with the council as a priority to discuss the long-term plan for these communities.
Borehole water options
The issue of water has been an urgent intervention. Existing boreholes, owned by the government, have been identified in these regions, and active discussions are underway in this regard to provide two boreholes per community.
Additional income resource generated
Villagers now also have controlled access to our private concession area to harvest grass and reed materials as an added income resource. As of May, basketware made by the elders of these communities, will be sold in our safari shops, also generating extra income.
Conservation benefits explained
In early March, hosted by community elders in a traditional public meeting forum, our senior Botswana guides met with about 65 children and their parents to explain the fundamental importance of conservation, and how it could benefit their community.
In these public conservation lessons, many aspects were discussed:
- How human-wildlife conflict issues can be resolved
- How important wildlife and tourism is to the Botswana economy
- How conservation holds the key to future tourism
- How vital the Okavango Delta region is to Botswana tourism
- How conservation and tourism can directly benefit the community
A range of skills-development and educational programmes are also underway. A special call out in this regard must go to two students, one from each of these communities, who are the first students to have been selected for Africa Foundation’s CLEF bursary programme in Botswana.
- Omaatla Twaelo, from the Tsutsubega community, who will be doing a Diploma in Early Childhood Development at Gaborone University College
- Chetiso Tumelo, from the Gogomoga community, who will be doing a Certificate in Human Resources Management at Ba Isago University, Gaborone
In the months following the start of this community engagement in August 2018, the isolated communities of Tsutsubega and Gogomoga have been ‘seen’ and ‘heard’. The positive changes taking place hold all the promise of a brighter future.
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Images courtesy of © Wayne Raymond