As conservationists, scientists, trackers, educators, communicators and other staff here at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, we are all “teachers” in various ways, because building the next generation of conservationists is one of our organization’s main goals.
We even consider the gorillas to be teachers, since we learn something from them every day we are with them in the forests. There are so many ways to teach and learn and we try to incorporate a diversity of activities to expand our education efforts.
However, on World Teacher Day, we also want to celebrate the teachers among our staff as well as all those who work directly in classrooms or who teach in other settings around the world, because they are critical to the well being of all of us as well as our environment. And, as stated by Malala Yousafzai, “Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.”
Teaching conservation takes many forms
At the Fossey Fund, we approach conservation education in many ways, such as through primary conservation courses, conservation summer camps, conservation debates, and school nature and environmental clubs. We also teach through many other methods, such as leadership workshops for women, local leaders’ meetings, adult literacy classes, and providing research, coursework and internship opportunities for local university students and the public.
Teaching the teachers
For the past 14 years, Fossey Fund staff in Rwanda have gone into local classrooms to lead conservation courses for students. But since 2015, we have expanded this program by integrating school teachers and headmasters in all conservation education activities to reach even more children. We are currently working with 29 local primary and secondary schools and reaching more than 140 teachers and 29 headmasters (one headmaster in each school) every year with our conservation education programs. That means we now reach more than 8,000 primary and secondary students each year.
In Rwanda, our education activities are led by our conservation education officer Maurice Ngiramahoro. “It is impressive to have an increasing number of teachers participating in the Fossey Fund’s conservation education activities each year,” he says.
“Our aim is to make these conservation education programs self-sustaining. Teachers become increasingly empowered as we provide them with accurate and up-to-date information on Volcanoes National Park, the gorillas and other biodiversity, and the threats to the forest. With their newly acquired knowledge, they can lead the delivery of conservation educations programs themselves, and help us reach more and more students.”
And the local teachers agree. “I have been participating in this teacher training for two years, and my knowledge about conservation has been increasing impressively,” says teacher Jean Claude Ntireganya, from the Kabwende primary school in Rwanda. “I now know very well how to convey conservation messages when I am teaching students every day.”
Teaching the community
Another way we engage in teaching is by working with local community leaders each year from areas around Volcanoes National Park. This year we had 33 leaders, including local officials, executives, school headmasters and a local hospital director. In addition to visiting the gorillas – many for the first time – they also had a tour of our new campus and participated in learning activities at our conservation gallery there. These leaders then take their new knowledge back to their colleagues and communities.
“We are becoming good ambassadors for the gorillas by teaching other community members how it is the responsibility of all of us to help protect gorillas and their natural forest home,” says Kambogo Ildephonse, a local mayor who participated in our latest program.