Commonwealth Alumnus Ricky Kalaluka is a trained teacher, forester, and agroforester.  He is currently the Head of Programmes at the Centre for Environment Justice (CEJ) in Zambia. As part of his responsibilities, he is a Project Lead on the five-year project, Disability Inclusion Climate Action (DiCA), financed by the Dutch Government under the Power of Voices (PoV) framework. The project seeks to enhance the inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in policies and actions to tackle climate change.

On 5 March 2022, Ricky and the Head Keeper of Lilayi Elephant Nursey, Oliver Munyama, delivered a workshop through ACEF for female learners from the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) Special School which provides specialised education to children born with disabilities. The workshop was an opportunity for learners to meet with wildlife conservation professionals and discover opportunities for persons with disabilities to pursue a career in the environmental sector and in wildlife conservation.

According to estimates by the World Health Organization, approximately 2 million people in Zambia, equating to 15 percent of the population, have a disability. In 2005, the employment rate of persons with disabilities was 45.5 percent of the population, compared to an employment rate of 58 percent amongst persons without disabilities.

Young persons with disabilities can face a number of barriers to accessing quality education, including inaccessible environments, lack of appropriate learning materials, shortage of qualified teachers, and discrimination from peers while at school. For girls with disabilities, these barriers exacerbate existing challenges in accessing education, such as early teenage pregnancy, school fees, and family’s choosing to invest in the education of boys.

Persons with disabilities continue to face challenges when they complete their studies in obtaining further education and employment. This is partly because of a lack of access to information on inclusive careers. Children graduating from schools like UTH Special School, for example, face difficulties in obtaining employment, despite striving academically and achieving high grades. It is therefore critical that young persons with disabilities, and girls in particular, are introduced to the careers that are available across a range of sectors and mentored as they embark on them. Such mentoring and career introductions can support young people in making academic decisions to ensure they obtain the necessary qualifications and skills to pursue inclusive employment opportunities.

An introduction to wildlife conservation career opportunities

The key message of Ricky and Oliver’s ACEF workshop was that girls with disabilities can pursue careers in wildlife conservation as wildlife veterinarians, ecologists, botanists, and environmental educators.

27 learners from UTH Special School participated in the workshop, which involved a career talk and learners taking part in the daily work of the elephant keepers. The career talk was delivered by Ricky and Oliver. As part of the talk, they both shared what they have learnt in their personal career journeys and what helped them progress to their current positions. They also gave broader insights into the environmental protection sector, subjects learners could focus on for future careers in environmentalism, and emerging recruitment trends in the sector.

The learners also toured the Lilayi Elephant Nursery to experience the everyday work and activities of elephant keepers at the facility. Activities included participating in the vaccination of orphan elephants, preparing elephant feed, and feeding the elephants. Throughout the workshop, learners were supported by the team of expert wildlife veterinarians, ecologists, biologists, and environmental educators who manage the elephant orphanage. This provided an opportunity for learners to interact with workers across different roles and understand more about their work, how they do it, and why.

Ricky then led discussions on the link between the subjects the learners were taking at school and the work of the team to emphasise how learning subjects like biology can enable the learners to pursue a career as wildlife ecologists, for example.

Sparking an interest in the environmental sector

By focusing on understanding the work of the elephant keeper, learners received insight into careers in wildlife conservation, not only as a job to earn money but as an exciting opportunity to be close to nature and conserve endangered species. 95 percent of the learners testified that it was there first time to be close to an elephant in real life and that they understood that the care of a baby elephant requires qualifications in natural sciences.

The workshop aimed to excite and motivate the learners to consider careers in the environmental sector. During the workshop, one of the learners asked the speaker to be given an opportunity to volunteer for the Lilayi Elephant Nursery when she finishes her examinations. The question showed an immediate passion and interest in the work, as well as an understanding that this was an inclusive environment for a person with disabilities to work in.

‘The Elephant Nursery Project in Lilayi receives several groups of students who come and visit to learn about nature and the environment but this group of differently abled pupils we are receiving for the first time. It is very gratifying to see how brilliant these pupils are and as a centre we would like to see how our environmental education section can become inclusive by training our environmental educators in special education courses in future.’ – Oliver Munyama

The team leader for the pupils also shared the impact of the workshop and visit on behalf of the group:

‘I want to say thank you to the organisers of this workshop. It’s the first time that we have been given this opportunity to see the great elephant and the nice people working with the elephants. Us pupils with disabilities, we face a lot of challenges and we would like more of these activities so that we can learn skills that can assist us [in] get[ting] jobs after we finish school. Also, on my own I want to come back at this place and learn more so that I can contribute to the wellbeing of the elephant because I have seen how good the natural environment here is.’

Following the workshop, the learners have requested, through their Head Teacher, that Ricky assist them in setting up an Environmental Education Club at UTH Special School. Ricky is delighted to receive this request and is motivated to lobby for more resources so that he can start supporting the Environmental Club at the school while teaching the learners about the environment.

Through ACEF and the workshop he delivered, Ricky has made discoveries that go far beyond the scope of the activity, seeing first-hand the missing links impeding the career development of the learners. He plans to pursue further opportunities to help this school and others by giving more talks and workshops.