Empowering Change: Vimbainashe Chitauro on Conservation Education and Community Engagement

Hello Conservationist! My name is Opeyemi Blessing OYAWALE, a writer and advocate for SDG 4 and SDG 15. I'm excited to be part of the WildHub Conservation Catalyst programme, which focuses on content creation through interviews with conservation experts to share their lessons learned.
Empowering Change: Vimbainashe Chitauro on Conservation Education and Community Engagement
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Here is my first article on an interview with Vimbainashe Chitauro from Zimbabwe, a dedicated Conservation Education Specialist with a wealth of experience in wildlife conservation. Vimbainashe Chitauro shared her journey, challenges, and perspectives on effective conservation strategies and community engagement.

Q: Can you tell us about your journey and how you got started in conservation education?

I began my journey in conservation as a graduate intern for the African Wildlife Conservation Fund in Zimbabwe. This experience piqued my interest in conservation education. I then joined Wildlife Conservation Action, where I worked as a conservation education programme manager. During my time there, I created the "Guardians of the Wild" programme, which is still active today. We initiated conservation clubs in schools across Harare, developing curricula to educate urban children about wildlife conservation.

Q: What were some of the key conservation education initiatives you developed at Wildlife Conservation Action, and how have they impacted local communities?

My primary goal was to educate urban children, who often have a limited understanding of wildlife conservation beyond what they see on TV. We aimed to provide them with practical knowledge, like not killing a python if they encountered one. This kind of education is crucial, as urban children often lack firsthand experience with wildlife. At Zambezi Valley Conservation Network, I worked on conservation education and community engagement projects in rural areas, where children also need guidance on living harmoniously with wildlife.

Q: What challenges did you face as a field officer at Zambezi Valley Conservation, and how did you overcome them?

One of the biggest challenges was gender bias. In rural communities, women are often not taken seriously. I had to work extra hard to earn their respect and cooperation. Being young and a woman, I had to constantly prove my competence. However, by demonstrating respect for their culture and values and ensuring the community was involved in every step of project implementation, I was able to build trust and overcome these challenges.

Q: How do you build trust and cooperation with local communities that may be hesitant to work with conservationists?

Respect is paramount. Many communities feel that conservationists value animal lives more than human lives. It's crucial to respect their values and cultures and ensure that our interventions genuinely aim to improve their livelihoods. Fulfillment of promises is also key; communities often feel let down by projects that start with great enthusiasm but are not seen through to completion. Including the community in every decision and regularly engaging with them helps build lasting trust.

Q: How do you balance conservation efforts with the livelihood concerns of local communities?

It's essential to tailor interventions to the specific needs of each community. Education plays a crucial role here. People need to understand why conservation is important and how it benefits them in the long run. My motto is "There is no conservation without education." By educating communities, we ensure they understand and support our initiatives, which leads to more sustainable outcomes.

Q: What strategies have you found effective in sharing conservation messages with communities?

Constant engagement is vital. Regular meetings with community members at every stage of project implementation ensure that they are kept informed and can provide feedback. This continuous dialogue helps address any issues promptly and fosters a sense of ownership among the community members.

Q: How did you overcome the challenges of age and gender bias in conservation, and what advice would you give to young women entering this field?

Standing your ground and showing respect are critical. Demonstrate your competence through your work, and let your results speak for themselves. I was fortunate to work in female-led organisations, which minimised internal challenges related to gender bias. For young women entering the field, my advice is to remain passionate and persistent. Don't let biases deter you. If you're good at what you do, people will eventually recognise and respect your contributions.

Vimbainashe Chitauro facilitated Teacher Training for the Matusadona Young Conservation Leaders as a consultant for the Zambezi Valley Conservation Network.

Q: Can you share a memorable experience from your conservation work that has shaped your perspective?

One of my fondest memories is from Muzarabani, where we asked children to recite poems about trees. Hearing them personify trees and speak passionately about their importance was incredibly rewarding. These interactions with children, planting trees, and educating them about wildlife conservation have been some of the most fulfilling aspects of my career. Seeing the respect and trust I earned from older community members was also very gratifying.

Q: What role does passion play in sustaining a career in wildlife conservation?

Passion is everything in this field. Conservation work involves a lot of travel, fieldwork, and often challenging conditions. Without passion, it's easy to get discouraged. Passion drives you to volunteer, gain experience, and persevere through difficult times. It's not about the money; it's about the love for nature and the desire to make a difference. Passion keeps you motivated even when the work is tough and the rewards are not immediately apparent.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring conservationists, especially in regions with limited opportunities?

Volunteer as much as you can to gain experience and build your CV. Seize every opportunity that comes your way. Passion will keep you going, even when opportunities are scarce. Network with professionals in the field and stay informed about developments in conservation. Remember, it's not about the money, but the impact you can make. Stay passionate and persistent, and eventually, your dedication will pay off.

Q: Any final thoughts or advice for those interested in wildlife conservation?

Conservation is challenging but incredibly rewarding. It's about making a difference for future generations. Stay passionate, respect the communities you work with, and always be ready to learn. Conservation is not just a job; it's a lifelong commitment to preserving our planet's natural heritage.

A huge THANK YOU to @Vimbainashe Eunick for sharing her journey and lessons learned with us!

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I had an amazing time connecting with @Vimbainashe Eunick. She fueled my passion for wildlife conservation. 

Go to the profile of Vimbainashe Eunick
14 days ago

It was such a pleasure talking to you as well @Opeyemi Blessing Oyawale. Keep that passion and you'll  go far.

Thank you so much!!!

Go to the profile of Thirza Loffeld
12 days ago

Loved reading these lessons learned! Thanks so much for sharing Nicky @Vimbainashe Eunick and for facilitating the conversation and the amazing write-up Blessing @Opeyemi Blessing Oyawale

Thank you, Thirza!

Go to the profile of Vimbainashe Eunick
11 days ago

Thanks, Thirza!

Go to the profile of Zoe Melvin
11 days ago

Such an inspirational read! Thank you for sharing @Vimbainashe Eunick and @Opeyemi Blessing Oyawale!

Go to the profile of Vimbainashe Eunick
11 days ago

Thanks, Zoe

Thank you, Zoe!

Go to the profile of Matt Barker
11 days ago

Great interview @Opeyemi Blessing Oyawale and @Vimbainashe Eunick. Thanks for sharing!!

Go to the profile of Vimbainashe Eunick
11 days ago

Thanks, Matt

Thank you for reading through, Matt.

Go to the profile of Olaoluwa
11 days ago

💪🏾🔥🙌🏾

Thank you, Olaoluwa.

Go to the profile of Liane Fulford
11 days ago

This is an inspirational interview! I really enjoyed reading it. Loved your advice especially regarding respecting local communities, having passion, and being persistent (especially in the face of age and gender biases!).

Well done @Opeyemi Blessing Oyawale and @Vimbainashe Eunick for working on this. Keep up the good work.

Go to the profile of Vimbainashe Eunick
10 days ago

Thanks Liane

Yeah! I felt the same even during the interview. It was such an inspirational moment! I'm glad you learnt from it.

Go to the profile of Ali Skeats
10 days ago

What a brilliant interview! I really enjoyed reading about the conservation and human elements you discussed :) 

Go to the profile of Vimbainashe Eunick
10 days ago

Thank you Ali

Thank you, Ali. I'm glad you enjoyed it!