How Schools Can Help Gorilla Conservation

High school students can help people who live near gorilla reserves in Africa. Here's one outstanding example: Thanks to students at The Westminster Schools in Atlanta, Georgia, first graders who live in Bisate, Rwanda no longer study in crumbling classrooms under leaky roofs. Six new classrooms were built last year at the Group Scolaire de Bisate school, attended by children of Karisoke™ Research Center staff, through the efforts of a Westminster student and his schoolmates who support the East African Children's Education Fund (EACEF).

Inspired by trip to Karisoke™

Old Bisate School buildingHigh school student Swinton Griffith visited the Bisate school during a trip to Karisoke with his parents. He saw that the six-room first-year primary school building was made of mud and wood and had no cement floors. It had also deteriorated to the point that part of the building collapsed after a heavy rain (on a weekend, so fortunately no one was hurt). On returning to Atlanta, Griffith persuaded EACEF to take on Bisate as its third school renovation project in East Africa.

East African Children's Education Fund

EACEF is a student-run nonprofit organization. Since its founding in 2007 by Andrew Sugrue, a Westminster student who had studied in Africa, it has funded projects in Kenya and Uganda.  Its mission is to improve educational environments in East Africa by constructing school buildings and implementing learning programs.

A class in the new buildingFor several years, the Fossey Fund, with the help of its partners, has provided the Bisate school with textbooks and educational supplies, sports equipment, toilets and tanks for clean water. The partnership with EACEF is making even more dramatic improvements possible. In addition to the new building, complete with 200 desks and a play area, EACEF is raising funds for rehabilitation of seven other classrooms and construction of a library that will be used by the community as well as the school to promote basic literacy.

More than 1,870 children attend the primary school, and 212 are enrolled in a secondary school section that opened in 2008 - one of the few in Rwanda. In addition to educating Karisoke staff children, the school is an important conduit for the center's conservation messages, according to Joseph Karama, Karisoke's conservation education program manager. "Whenever there is a community event such as presentation of new textbooks, we remind the people to show their gratitude by actively supporting the conservation of the gorillas and their habitat."

The six new classrooms were completed in record time and desks delivered soon afterward. The school, Karisoke™, and the community celebrated the new building's official opening in July 2010.


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