Clement Manjaalera joined Lilongwe Wildlife Trust as a volunteer tour guide in 2008. Now our Head of Education, he was invited to contribute his story to Tusk’s annual publication as a ‘Conservation Hero’.

I started caring for the environment when I was very young, as I spent most of my time in the bush after classes. I even used to do my homework there rather than going to the library!

I joined Lilongwe Wildlife Trust as a volunteer tour guide and was trained in environmental education. Since then I have gone on to lead the Trust’s education programme, working with school groups and communities, sharing my conservation knowledge and inspiring them to be part of the solution.

When I started working in conservation there were many organisations working on environmental issues. They had great knowledge about the issues but didn’t always understand how to engage with children and inspire them to change their mindsets. We now know that one way to inspire children is to give them role models and mentors. My team always talk about our own journeys in conservation.

Our biggest success has been turning a small pilot project in Lilongwe into a robust environmental education programme across significant parts of Malawi, particularly in schools and communities surrounding protected areas. Over the last 10 years we have engaged more than 175,000 learners and over 570 schools across the country.

One of the biggest challenges we face is that environmental education in schools is often not valued as highly as other educational subjects. Environmental education is implemented as an extra-curricular activity, implying that environmental issues are not as important as other subjects. In one school we were working with we realised that the teachers were even using tree planting as a way of punishing children who had misbehaved.

It’s a really special experience to learn about what our students have gone on to do after taking part in our programmes – whether it’s starting to recycle at home, speaking to their parents about not hurting wild animals or introducing some kind of green project at school. Environmental problems can feel big and overwhelming, but with resilience and creativity, the next generation really can make a difference. I show them how they can leave a legacy behind them which makes a difference for their children.

We have had different donors over the years but Tusk stands out as a long-standing and transformational donor. A lot of conservation funding goes towards fighting wildlife crime and saving animals, which is of course important, but without changing mindsets we won’t achieve anything in the long term. Education is our most powerful weapon.