We believe that conservation succeeds best when it is a community effort. Yet many local people who live where we work are impoverished and face critical needs, such as clean water and basic health care. Our community programs address these issues and also bring education programs to thousands of children and adults. Conservation works best when people are thriving too.
Conservation Programs in Local Schools
The Fossey Fund’s environmental education activities are diverse and designed to reach students of different age groups, helping to build awareness and assist local educational institutions.
Every year, we work with local primary schools and reach more than 6,000 elementary school children with supplies and learning materials, courses, and teacher training. Conservation education classes for primary school children are offered in towns near the park, and best-performing students are taken to the park for nature walks and to view golden monkeys. We also lead teacher-training programs that help equip school teachers to provide conservation education even more widely.
Citizen Science is a program we provide for secondary schools in Rwanda. It includes environmental clubs, class work and lectures on the scientific process, creating school gardens, and actual field research design and data collection, as well as data entry and preliminary analysis. Each year, students work on different conservation research topics, such as migratory birds, butterflies, and climate change.
Teacher training is also underway with secondary school teachers, including workshops on conservation, gorillas, and biodiversity; use of teaching aids; and development of syllabi.
Conservation Education in Local Communities
Another important aspect of the Fossey Fund’s work to save gorillas involves working with local communities near gorilla habitat. In Rwanda, this is important because human population density is very high and very close to the protected areas where the gorillas live. In Congo, people still are dependent on the forest for food and other basic needs. By working together, communities can become more aware and able to participate in critical conservation efforts.
We do this in many ways, including working with key community leaders and even suspected poachers, and by bringing general educational opportunities to local people. Here are some of the highlights:
- The Fossey Fund organizes trips for local community leaders to see the gorillas in Volcanoes National Park, as well as training and workshops about gorillas and conservation. The local leaders then share this information in their communities.
- The Fossey Fund, along with funding from Partners in Conservation at the Columbus Zoo, completed the building of a Learning Center at the Bisate Primary School in Rwanda, including computers, books and classes for students and the community of 20,000 people who live near the national park.
- We show conservation-related movies in local villages, attracting about 4,000 people each year, most of whom have never seen the gorillas in the park. Fossey Fund staff and local leaders then hold discussions with communities about the importance of wildlife and how to help protect the environment.
Meeting Basic Needs in Local Communities
The communities located near gorilla habitat often are impoverished and face many challenges in their daily lives, such as limited food resources and lack of access to health care and clean water. When people have to focus on basic survival, this puts additional pressure on the environment, such as using the forests for hunting, firewood, water, or crop land. The Fossey Fund has programs targeted at meeting basic needs in these communities, which not only helps people but also supports effective conservation efforts.
To help address food scarcity and malnutrition, we operate a program aimed at increasing food alternatives through growing new crops with high nutritional value and raising food animals. At the same time, this program can reduce human pressures on the animals and plants of the forests, which are quickly being depleted.
Our community health programs seek to create a healthy environment for both people and gorillas by partnering with local communities to develop access to health care and clean water and by providing education about disease prevention and the significance of endangered species. Our work in these areas has included intestinal parasite testing treatment for thousands of people, hygiene education, clean water access, and education programs.
For many years, the Fossey Fund and its donors also have supported a local school and health clinic in the village of Bisate. This included building a new classroom block; installing electricity, latrines and water access; and building two new buildings at the health clinic, including a maternity ward in memory of long-time volunteer physician Dr. Mary Horder. The ward is the first of its kind in the village and allows for both prenatal and postnatal health services in an area separated from sick patients.