Olya Esipova is 19 years old and is a full time student at the Westminster International University In Tashkent, Uzbekistan where she is finishing a course in international foundation studies. She used her Young Conservation Leaders award to work on the SCA’s new Migratory Species Day.
Olya, can you tell us about your project?
I helped organize a Migratory Species Day festival in schools in Uzbekistan. It was a new initiative for the Saiga Conservation Alliance, but fortunately we already had a very similar experience with the Saiga Day festival. It made our work more efficient and professional.
First of all we developed a detailed plan of activities we wanted to run on Migratory Species day. It included a documentary followed by a discussion about migratory species where we drew special attention to the saiga. I was translating this documentary for school kids from English. Then we created handmade posters showing migration routes of some of the most well known migratory species. Children liked this activity a lot.
Finally we designed and painted masks representing a particular migratory species for a role-play. The children who participated in migratory species day then visited younger students to tell them what they learned about migratory species, depending on which mask they picked. Overall migratory species day was very successful.
We visited three schools in Nukus, Kirkyz and Jaslyk. In all of those schools kids were very attentive when learning about migration and really excited about role-plays. We also got a very positive feedback from their teachers. Now we are planning to hold this festival annually.
What was the highlight of the project for you?
The highlight of the project for me was a discussion we had with kids after and while watching the documentary. It was very important to make them understand and motivate their interest. I think we did a good job because we had to deal with great many questions from the kids attending.
What is the most important thing that you have learnt this year?
Young people do care about wildlife and saigas. Before I did not have much chance to see that but this year I spent quite a lot of time working closely with kids and teenagers. It feels great when you know that you are not doing your work for nothing and there are people sharing your interests and concerns.
Did you find out anything unexpected from your project?
Yes, I was surprised to see how quickly kids absorb information and how incredibly enthusiastic they can be!
Do you think the project has helped your personal development in any way?
Yes, the project played a significant role in my personal development. Mainly it helped me to learn more about teamwork and work with kids. I also improved my public speaking skills and became more successful in time management. Last but not least, seeing a positive outcome of my work and understanding that it does help saigas made me more confident about my own abilities.
If there were no obstacles (ie. Money, time, experience, location etc.) what would your dream conservation project be?
Lots of young people are interested in wildlife and conservation like me here in Uzbekistan. But unfortunately most of them do not have an opportunity to develop their interest and turn it into their profession because we do not have any educational courses related to conservation in my country. That is why I would really love to establish a school or a university where students could take a course of environmental studies.
What would you like to do next to help with saiga conservation?
I would like to raise donations for saiga conservation on kickstarter.com, a crowed-funding platform. To make this project possible, we need to create a video clip and write up our activities to make people interested in our work and explain why we need their support. We decided to highlight one of our core activities – embroidery project Kuralai. Kuralai is a group of local women living in Jaslyk in the saiga range. Embroidery production is an alternative source of income for them, and the income gives them an opportunity to provide for their families so that they do not have to purchase saiga meat, the cheapest type of meat in the market. It reduces demand and hence poaching. I currently assist with a production of the video about these women and their unique embroidery. Recently our team travelled to Jaslyk to film the key scenes for our future clip. The next step is to put all this together and start promoting the project using social networking sites.
What would you say to other budding young conservationists to get them to apply for this grant?
I would say that this grant is a unique opportunity for professional growth that enables you to realize your own ideas. This is a real chance to learn from more experienced professionals and make an actual contribution to conservation. I can tell from my personal experience that even though there will be challenges to face, it will only stimulate an interest and inspire you for bigger projects. There are not many opportunities like that so I would suggest everyone not to miss it.