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CONSERVING CRANES AND COMMUNITIES

Dr. Lara Jordan, EWT African Crane Conservation Programme Field Officer, laraj@ewt.org.za

“The wind does not break a tree that bends”.
– Sukuma Proverb

We have all adapted to the new normal of social distancing and wearing face masks. As we all think about the year 2020, it might look like a dark portrait, but the picture is made beautiful by different streaks of bright colours. These bright streaks represent the generous gestures that brought hope to the lives of community members across Uganda, Kenya, and South Africa.

We are all dealing with the collective loss of the world we knew. Grieving the loss of jobs, livelihoods, physical connection with friends, loss of our daily routines etc. This has given people the world over opportunities to show our care for each other, and a little help has indeed gone a long way, not only through humanitarian efforts but also in building trust and hope across communities that we work with.

When COVID-19 struck in Africa, there were speculations that the warm, tropical weather of Africa would shield the developing countries from the virus, but to-date, the cases reported are still rising. Yet even after warnings that the African continent’s healthcare systems would not be able to bear the weight of the virus, Africa has resisted and continues to weather the storm of the pandemic. This has in no small part been a result of heroes who chose to go out of their way to help where they could.

Many families in East Africa, in the communities with which we engage, live in rural areas, and the work they are able to find is often only on a casual basis and pays enough money to feed their families for the day. When the pandemic struck, most of these families did not have a “work from home” policy, as their livelihoods depended on getting out and hustling to get their daily bread. Today, we choose to celebrate heroes that might be unnoticed but have played important roles in the lives of communities during this pandemic.

The Leiden Conservation Foundation provided generous support to families across East Africa, and as a result, many were cushioned over this difficult period.

In Kenya, 238 households with an average size of 7 people were beneficiaries of masks, bar soap and handwashes (1,666 individuals). In Uganda, 34 Crane Custodians benefitted from food relief packages, including 100 kg of maize flour, 30 kg of beans, and 10 kg of salt per person. In Rwanda, face masks, soap for handwashing, cooking salt and hoes for cultivating, were distributed to 284 households, 100 fodder farmers, and 184 beekeepers (beneficiaries of conservation agreements).

In South Africa, HCI Foundation and The Lewis Foundation enabled the delivery of food parcel across four rural communities of the Eastern Escarpment, this generous donation helped beat hunger for the marginalised in the communities. An additional 299 food parcels were delivered across three communities that were so rural that it took four days to deliver the parcels, and more recently, a further 73 food parcels, weighing over 40 kg, were delivered to two rural communities. The average household size within the communities was six members, adding up to a total of 1,398 individuals that received food .

Supporting communities in this way has been vital during this period, not only for the benefits to communities but also the benefits to wildlife. Community engagement and reporting has increased during this period, despite the difficulties of lockdown, and through this support, it has become apparent that communities have embraced crane conservation, which we hope will help to steadily increase crane numbers within these vital areas. And that is how we change the world – “One random act of kindness at a time” (Nelson Mandela)