Student stories

Environmental studies co-op student works to put out Tanzania’s burning charcoal industry

Alex Papp

The Kesho Trust

When biology and environmental studies student Alex Papp first saw the posting for a co-operative education (co-op) position with The Kesho Trust, a charitable conservation and development company in Tanzania, he saw it not only as a chance to travel and experience another culture, but also as an opportunity to get out and make a difference. “I told myself,” says Alex, “‘I am going to do everything I can to get that job.’”

Alex worked in the Saadani area in Tanzania as a development intern at the Kihembe Environmental Learning Centre, which is led both by The Kesho Trust and Saving Africa’s Nature, another non-profit conservation company in Tanzania. The Kihembe Centre is under development and will be an educational resource for people to learn about Tanzania’s environment and its environmental issues.

Most of Alex’s time at Kihembe was spent working to address one of the main threats to Tanzania’s environment—the charcoal industry. Charcoal is made by cutting and burning down trees and is a major fuel source for many Tanzanians.

However, while charcoal production is incredibly damaging to the environment, it is also the primary source of income for many people, so it is important to research and provide viable alternatives rather than simply trying to curb the industry. Alex interviewed local government officials and community members about the viability of alternative, sustainable practices, and explored options with the Saadani people. Possible alternatives included community-based environmental tourism as well as termite, bee and mushroom farming.

The Kesho Trust plans to establish a mushroom farm at Kihembe as an example to locals, as well as set up a tree nursery as an educational resource and a source of saplings for restoring deforested areas.

Looking back at his term with The Kesho Trust, Alex is hopeful that his work will have a lasting impact. “Even over our short time at Kihembe, we noticed changes,” says Alex. “We saw villages start to protect their natural attractions. We saw people get excited about projects like mushroom farming and honey farming. We saw momentum growing.”

Alex’s next goal: to obtain a BSc in nursing. While his career plan has deviated somewhat, his goals of making a difference and helping the environment have not. “I learned that you don’t need a career in an area to make an impact,” he says. “You don’t need to book a plane ticket to make a meaningful difference.”

Intercultural competencies curriculum

Alex took part in intercultural competency training prior to working abroad. You can read more about how this curriculum helps students embrace culture and diversity at uvic.ca/news/topics/2017+international-diversity-curriculum+ring

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