Better education was one of the things that local villagers most wanted to see as a benefit from living alongside carnivores and other wildlife. To help improve education, the Ruaha Carnivore Project has the Kids 4 Cats school twinning programme and the porridge project initiative, but those are mainly focused on primary schools. One of the main constraints to local children being able to get good jobs is a lack of education beyond primary school: primary school is free so most children attend, but families have to pay for secondary school, so the attendance dramatically drops. This is particularly true for pastoralist families, who often see more value having their older children help them look after livestock rather than going to school. Furthermore, many families don’t invest in sending their daughters to secondary school, as they feel it is a wasted investment if the girl then goes on to marry and have children.
However, there is compelling evidence to show that enabling students – particularly girls – to complete secondary school has extremely beneficial impacts on both their outlook, and the outlook for their families and wider communities. Therefore, the Ruaha Carnivore Project established the Simba Scholarships programme in 2013, to provide an opportunity for promising students to gain full scholarships all the way through secondary school.
We set an entrance examination, and all eligible students are able to come and take it. We have restricted eligibility to those students whose households have livestock, partly because we are a carnivore project and want to prioritise benefits towards those who suffer most costs from carnivores, and partly because traditional pastoralists have been some of the most marginalised groups in this area. Cost restrictions mean that at present we can usually award six scholarships per year, and we pick the top three boys and girls, as long as they make the pass mark. This was the only programme where we went against the community slightly – originally, many villagers wanted us to only award them to boys as they felt girls were a poor investment. However, we have tried to be as equal as possible, and in fact this year five of the best students were girls!
So far we have awarded over 30 scholarships, and this programme has the potential to really transform students’ lives, as well as uplifting their wider communities. Each four-year scholarship, including books, tuition and hostel fees, costs US$2500, which is amazing value for money given the life-long positive impacts it can have. Our first Scholars are graduating this year and we are now keen to develop a ‘conservation college scholarship’ to enable them to go onto even higher education. If anyone is interested in sponsoring a Simba Scholarship or helping is develop the college scholarships, then please get in touch through firstname.lastname@example.org