Often, the first step in effecting great change is believing that it’s possible. In April 2021 that thought led Children in the Wilderness Botswana, along with the US Embassy, to host their first ever camp dedicated to encouraging girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Children in the Wilderness already has an important presence in Botswana. They run Eco-Clubs in 16 different schools, educating around 900 children from rural communities across the country and primarily around the Okavango Delta.
In everything that they do, CITW aims to make a lasting, positive contribution to conservation and sustainability efforts. A key part of this comes from providing education and training that allows young people to understand their surroundings and their ability to affect them.
Programme Coordinator Moalosi Lebekwe points out that STEM-based skills are necessary in rural areas to address issues like environmental degradation, resolve human-wildlife conflicts and to safeguard local indigenous knowledge. With this camp and others like it CITW Botswana hopes to inspire girls from these communities and show them the difference they can make.
The Importance of STEM Careers
All around the world, women are underrepresented across STEM fields, and Botswana is no exception. This discrepancy begins very early, with lower attainment and uptake of STEM subjects beginning from middle and high school age. This leads to fewer girls achieving the necessary qualifications to enter into higher education in STEM subjects and ultimately fewer women in STEM careers.
STEM subjects have endless applications, and their use in conservation science makes them particularly relevant for young people growing up in areas like the Okavango Delta, where communities depend heavily on their environment.
With this in mind, encouraging girls to consider STEM careers and, crucially, to believe that they are a realistic and exciting possibility was the ultimate goal of CITW’s first STEM camp. Over the course of 5 days CITW Botswana hosted a cohort of 30 girls from Ngambao Community Junior Secondary School as they participated in activities and workshops.
Seeing Science in Action
One of the main focuses of the camp was to demonstrate the use of scientific methods in conservation. The camp-goers participated in various activities designed to contextualise and emphasise the importance of STEM subjects to a topic close to their hearts.
The attendees were involved in biodiversity walks and explored the wetlands, learning to identify the different species of animals and plants that reside in their home country. Other activities involved a focus on how technology can contribute to conservation and sustainability. The girls learned about flying drones, how camera traps work, and the uses of GPS, all facilitated by inspiring women and conservation professionals. CITW hopes that these experiences will help to spark a passion for STEM-based careers and underline the importance of conservation in Botswana and further afield.
Representation and Role Models
Being able to look up to women in the fields of STEM and particularly conservation is a powerful thing. In anything, a lack of relatable role models creates an entry barrier to many young people. With no success stories to learn from, it is often much more difficult to believe that your goals are realistic.
The hope, and it’s a hope very much backed by research, is that by getting to know these inspirational women and seeing what they have been able to achieve in action will prove to the participants that they too could make such a difference.
Lighting the Path
A key ingredient in shaping any aspiration comes in making it tangible. Without an idea of direction or next steps, a dream of a career in STEM can seem like only a dream. Recognising this, a final focus of the project was to provide actionable advice to participants and to light up the path to these goals. Facilitators provided the girls with resources about requirements and thresholds for entry into key STEM programmes at higher education institutions in Botswana and beyond, showing them what they can do now, to start to work towards that future.
A Success to Build On
The feedback that CITW received for this project was overwhelmingly positive and more camps are already in the works.
With rural areas often losing their young people to the cities and the belief that success is tied to urban life, Moalosi Lebekwe is hopeful that the girls will also take away and share another lesson: moving to the city is not essential for success, and that there are exciting and interesting careers to be found in rural areas too.
As with all of CITW’s initiatives, it is hoped that its effect will be felt far beyond the camp attendees. Lessons learned and excitement shared can be passed on to families, friends and communities: a catalyst for important, grassroots change.