28 Sep Raising an Explorer: Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC FAMILY:
How did you explore as a child?
GLADYS KALEMA-ZIKUSOKA: I grew up in an urban area, Kampala, so it was really about creating experiences for myself. We were living next door to the Cuban ambassador to Uganda, and he had a vervet monkey as a pet—in those days, it was acceptable. I was fascinated that the monkey’s fingers looked like mine. I was playing piano one day and wanted to see what he would do. I watched and waited until he sat down at the piano. And he played one note. I was so excited! I realized that was the beginning of my studying primates.
NGF: Why do you think it’s important for children to explore?
KALEMA-ZIKUSOKA: Exploring really opens up their minds. Children become more creative when they have a chance to explore and think in natural surroundings.
Kalema-Zikusoka’s tips on inspiring children to explore
Take the inside outside. To spark their interest, watch nature programs on National Geographic or BBC, and read magazines and books. Then when they see an animal in the garden, encourage them to ask questions. To answer those questions, zoos and wildlife education centers are really good. Take kids for a walk in the park, and just appreciate nature. Take them to the ocean if you can.
Make them storytellers. Encouraging kids to write their own stories about animals encourages exploration. Kids who like drama can even write plays and decide: Who’s going to act the snake? Who’s going to act the lion? I didn’t realize I liked wildlife so much until I wrote an essay about animals when I was around 12 years old.
Get involved. At my high school in Uganda, I revived the wildlife clubs. That was a turning point in my life. We did walking safaris in the national park, and I was shocked at how few animals there were because of poachers. My parents told me how it used to be, and I wanted to restore Uganda to its former glory.