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Rwandan students debate: Women should take a lead in conservation!

Our Ellen DeGeneres Campus was the host for this year’s conservation debate among students from schools near Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. This popular competition included five different topics but the final one had the students arguing whether women or men should be more engaged in conservation. And the winning side was: Women!

These student conservation debates began in 2018, as part of our work to support secondary school conservation education and to help foster interest in saving gorillas and their important forest ecosystems. Debates were already a popular activity in Rwandan schools and our conservation debate has now grown to include 14 schools in the area.

conservation debate 2023 participants

Why women in conservation?

This year, the winners – from the Sonrise School – argued successfully that women should be more engaged in conservation than men because they are often the primary caregivers in Rwandan families and are responsible for ensuring the wellbeing of their families. Therefore, if women are more engaged in conservation, they can better transmit conservation messages to their families and communities. 

“If my mother teaches me to conserve when I am still 2 years old, then I will be growing up with conservation in my blood,” said student Leslie Fausta.

The winning team also noted that women have been underrepresented in conservation and that their greater inclusion could bring new perspectives and approaches to the field.

”Rwanda is doing a great job in conservation – we are protecting gorillas, planting trees and taking care of the environment around us, but we do all these with relatively few females involved. What if we involve more females?” asked Fausta.

conservation debate winning team with award

Learning through debate

“We were delighted with the level of engagement and enthusiasm we have seen from the students participating in this year’s debate,” says Fossey Fund Conservation Education Officer Maurice Ngiramahoro.

“It is amazing to see young people taking such an interest in conservation and the protection of the environment. We believe that education is a powerful tool in the conservation of mountain gorillas and their habitat.”

Even though there were prizes for the top teams, taking part in these debates is not just about winning, it’s about learning, said debater Enock Niyokuri. “We learned more about the importance of conservation as we had to do research on the various topics. Through this competition, we grow and become more interested in conservation.”