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Students address gorilla conservation through debate

Since one of our main goals at the Fossey Fund is to help students learn about conservation, we have many programs that aim to provide fun and engaging environmental education. In 2018, we started a conservation debate contest for secondary school students in Rwanda, to help them find new and creative ways to think about and get interested in the gorillas and the forest in nearby Volcanoes National Park.

After a two-year pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were able to resume the conservation debate this year, and bring the pre-debate training sessions to our new Ellen DeGeneres Campus. Here the students learned debate and public speaking skills, as well as more about wildlife conservation in Rwanda.

This year, the students had five different topics to debate during the early rounds of the process, which took place in different schools. Then the two winning schools met at our campus for the final round, where Fossey Fund scientists and researchers served as judges.

Students and teachers discussing strategy during the debate.

Gorillas, conservation and tourism

Some of the topics chosen for the early rounds of this year’s debate process included whether Rwandans are aware of the importance of Volcanoes National Park, whether the Rwandan government should prioritize conservation more than tourism, and whether residents who live very close to the park should be relocated.

The topic for the final round of the debate was whether the Rwandan government and its partners should increase the incentives given to the citizens around Volcanoes National Park. Teams from the Ecole Secondaire de Musanze and the Ecole Secondaire Saint Vincent Muhoza wrestled with this final topic and Ecole Secondaire de Musanze was the winner, arguing in favor of the proposition.

“Whether you won or lost, we all learned a lot throughout the competition,” said Cyifuzo Benitha, a debater with the winning Ecole Secondaire de Musanze team. “The time and work we put in during the debates helped us understand gorilla conservation even more.”

Students presnting to Fossey Fund Staff.

“This competition was important in so many ways. Competing against other peers challenged us to work much harder on the topics of the debate and inspired us to do our best,” said Manu Albert, conservation debate participant. “I was also happy to learn various skills from my fellow students that will be useful to me in future.”

Winners of the 2022 Conservation Debate with Fossey Fund's Rwanda Director.