Wings of Hope brings the message of sustainability to Kenya – Florida Gulf Coast University’s Wings of Hope made Zoom meetings a common occurrence during the COVID-19 pandemic. They then used them to their full potential to spread the message to all parts of the globe.
This program, which typically transports fourth- and fifth-graders from their homes to the university to teach sustainability, went virtual with all other education. The program was created by Wings of Hope instructors using videos, interactive exercises, and slides to educate children about endangered Florida panthers and other wildlife.
The non-profit Wings of Hope’s Panther Posse has had a profound impact on the lives of 150,000 students in Southwest Florida, from elementary school through college. The bus trips to the university are now back in operation for Southwest Florida students. However, the online version of the program, Planet Posse, has been revived in an international program that reaches students in Kenya, some 8,000 miles away.
Last August, Wings of Hope’s Panther Posse members – students, volunteers, instructors, and a few supporters – were connected with the Karundas Primary school science club and Marimanti Secondary girls school, which are located on opposite slopes of Mount Kenya.
Rosa Ndono (head teacher at Karundas School) and several students gathered around the computer to look intently into the camera. Ann Godsea is the Wings of Hope education coordinator and sits in Reed Hall’s Panther Posse room with a fake stuffed panther, large Azul cardboard cutout and photos of panthers. She is ready to engage with the Kenyan children.
Everyone cheers as the internet connection goes down. Godsea says, “I have goosebumps!” to the group in Kenya. It’s wonderful to see you!
She introduces herself, and explains why Wings of Hope is working with its Panther Posse program to save endangered species.
She says, “Here in Florida it’s the Panther.” The panther is an umbrella species. Protecting its habitat will help protect the habitats of many other species, such as snakes, otters and owls.
The next two hours will be spent by Ricky Pires, Godsea, the program’s founder and director, and three FGCU student assistants leading the Kenyan youth on an experience that must have seemed as exotic to them as a safari through their home country.
They sit rapt during a video of “Ms. Ricky participates in the capture by Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission officers of a panther. Godsea, Pires and others show panther photos and discuss their diets and habits. They also explain that there are only 150 of them left in the wild. As the program progresses, the children complete their information worksheets.
After some time passes, a person in a panther costume appears on camera. He begins to dance front paws up to “Fly Like An Eagle” and the FGCU posse urges the Kenyan students to get up to join him. After a few seconds, the students get up and bend at the elbows to mimic the panther. Then they start rocking back and forth from their seats.
Godsea gives the students an assignment to complete at the end of the session: “Educate another person about what I have learned today.” This is how endangered species can be saved. The same can be done for other species.
Ndono, speaking on behalf of her students, said it was “a very nice presentation.” We love seeing the panther.
Now, it’s October. The Wings of Hope team held another session for secondary students from Marimanti Girls School, which is on the opposite side of Mount Kenya to Karundas Primary School. They were particularly interested in the panther which is rare in their area.
High school girls went on a nature walk through Mount Kenya National Forest, where they saw rhinos, elephants and giraffes. The two Kenyan schools and FGCU will meet again to discuss what the girls have learned and share their experiences with the younger generation.
Annah Wambua is principal at Marimanti Girls School. She says, “We all learn from each other.”
The Florida-Kenya connection was made possible by connections built by Peter Ndiang’ui, coordinator of the Child and Youth Studies Program. This internship network was the catalyst for Wings of Hope’s collaboration. Ndiang’ui is also the director of operations at Global Diaspora One Voice Consortium. This consortium brings together Africans from all over the globe and sponsors the Panther Posse partnership.
Ndiangui organized for Pires, along with some of the program’s interns, to speak at an international education conference last year. They spoke about Wings of Hope as well as met representatives from schools in Kenya and Ghana. The U.S. group provided internet connections and cameras for their African friends following that meeting.
From there, things began to fall into place and the Zoom-based Planet Posse gatherings became a reality.
Rosa Ndono, the head teacher, included two comments from students in a follow up email.
“Veronica said, “Watching the panther(kittens), is so exciting.”
“Jackson said, ‘Tell Anna and the students that we love telling others about the panther.
Ndono concluded, “From the Karundas Family, we say Thank You.”
Wings of Hope relies on donations to keep its mission of supporting research, awareness and kindness regarding wildlife. You can make a donation on the Wings of Hope site.