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Community and Conservation: Lewa’s Innovative Model
How do you save a species? You save a community. That’s the understanding that drives Lewa Wildlife Conservancy—our award-winning conservation partner. While other conservancies focus on only the protection of wildlife, Lewa takes a 360º approach, using sustainable development, responsible tourism and community support to bolster the organization’s mission to protect northern Kenya’s vulnerable wildlife. Here are just some of the ways that Lewa is building a revolutionary new conservation model that’s being emulated across the world.
The Lewa Standard
At the heart of everything that Lewa does is the Lewa standard—a set of pillars that guides the choices of the conservancy. The Lewa standard supports the organization’s mission to conserve biodiversity, minimize environmental impact, maintain the beauty of the land, and uplift local communities. The standard mandates that while the organization should focus on fundraising efforts, monetary success should never interfere with the core conservation objectives.
When Chad and I visited Lewa in 2016, we were lucky enough to visit some of the community schools that the conservancy funds. The Lewa Youth Program seeks to educate and engage young people from neighboring communities with the understanding that conservation depends on the compassion and knowledge of future generations. In addition to education, Lewa supports youth sports programs to engage members of differing communities and promote understanding between groups. By funding the education of local young people, Lewa improves the livelihood of the entire local community—promoting unity, peace and enterprise among children.
Lewa’s community support extends far beyond just its schools. The conservancy also owns four clinics—the closest medical centers within 25 kilometers. For a community that once had very limited access to healthcare, these clinics provide indispensable support including diagnosis and treatment in reproductive and mental health, education for HIV/AIDS education, family planning, and hygiene.
Community Agriculture Support
Historically, clashes between local people and wildlife results from competition for resources and conflict over crop destruction. By supporting local farmers with programs like spring conservation and water distribution, Lewa improves the living standards of over 15,000 people while minimizing the opportunity for human-wildlife conflict. The organization also supports farmers by training them in techniques that preserve the richness of the soil, encouraging them to cultivate a diversity of crops that gives them a competitive edge at the local markets.
Community Business Development
Research in developing nations has proven that if you give a woman a loan to start a business, you uplift an entire community. Lewa’s Women’s Microcredit Program does just that, supporting over 1800 rural women with access to low-interest loans to start small businesses that improve the livelihood of their families and communities.
Led by the understanding that sustainable and responsible tourism is one of the best ways to raise awareness for the plight of threatened species, Lewa offers tourists the opportunity to see incredible wildlife in the flesh. When you visit Lewa as a tourist, you’re contributing directly towards the continued success of its wildlife conservation and community outreach programs. Tourism is responsible for a whopping third of Lewa’s annual revenue—providing critical support for its conservation efforts.
Want to learn more about Lewa’s synergistic conservation model and get involved? You can visit their website here. Twenty percent of all sales from our Lewa collection go directly to the conservancy and its vital programs.