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Disadvantaged Children in Kenya Introduced to National Heritage

For 15-year-old John Omary holding a crocodile was something he never imagined he would do

The African Fund for Endangered Wildlife in Kenya hosts a program that enables children from underprivileged backgrounds to visit conservation sites around the capital. During a one-day tour, the children learn about wildlife species and the importance of protecting the environment.

A real, live encounter with a real, live crocodile.

For 15-year-old John Omary, holding a crocodile was something he never imagined he would do.

John's fellow students from Getathuru Rehabilitation Center have similar, up-close-and-personal encounters with the four-legged kind during a very unique day.

Getathuru Rehabilitation Center is one many institutions that participate in one-day ecology tours hosted by the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife in Nairobi. The AFEW is also known as the Giraffe Center.

The idea is to expose underprivileged children living in slums, orphanages or rehabilitation centers to Kenya's animals.

Emmanuel Ngumbi is head of the Giraffe Center's education department.

"They also get to see the interconnection between the animals, the plants and the soil," says Ngumbi. "So whenever they go back, they take an active role, even trying to conserve their own local environment within their slum dwellings by keeping them clean and also trying to tell a story to their colleagues about what they saw – the animals – and why they need to take care of them and not to pollute the environment."

For many children born and raised in low-income areas, environmental conservation is an alien concept.

They have no exposure to what Ngumbi calls their "national heritage." Visits to such places as Nairobi National Park, Mamba Village and other protected areas where wild animals roam are simply out of reach for families that earn less than one dollar a day.

Ngumbi says that, by interacting with animals, children develop a love for the environment and an appreciation of their national heritage.

Fifteen-year-old Eustace Gitonga agrees.

People should treat wild animals well, he says. Those who kill wild animals must be taken to the police.

Eustace says that when he returns to the rehabilitation center, he plans to collect litter.

Through the lectures, the children are exposed to other concepts such as reforestation.

"By telling them that we are not having water because people are cutting down the trees and we need to bring back the green cover of our country, they took an initiative to go and plant more trees within their slum dwellings and even their schools," Ngumbi adds.

And it is not just the children who take the environmental messages to heart. Phillip Okoth is a social worker with Getathuru Rehabilitation Center.

"I really enjoyed the place. I would like to come again maybe with the rest (of the children) who did not have this chance to come so that they also can learn. I will try to make sure that I plant some trees, take care of animals, and learn more about the forests," says Okoth.