Category Archives: Visitors

Olivier’s Sports for Gorillas News from Rwanda

Art of Conservation spent many years of rehabilitating, managing, and providing security for children to engage in healthy activities and learning at the Ibirunga Tennis & Running Club in the Northern Province of Rwanda. Today, Olivier Habimana – president of the club – updates us with news we can all cheer about.

From Olivier-
Recently, the Ibirunga Tennis & Running Club was honored to receive an important supporter named Amelia Banner and her friends: Tonya Huston, Dennis Evans, Scott Zesch, and Kay Evans. They brought a lot of donations including tennis shoes, rackets and string, high altitude balls, women’s tops and more. It was really exciting to receive her at our club!

Amelia supports Ibirunga Tennis & Running Club ©Conservation Heritage-Turambe 2014Amelia at the Ibirunga Tennis & Running Club

Tonya, our friend, partner in human health education, and director of the Imidido Project introduced Amelia to us.

Amelia at Ibirunga Tennis & Running Club  with Tonya Huston©Conservation Heritage-Turambe2014From left: Amelia (reading a thank you note card from Ibirunga Tennis & Running Club) and Scott behind her, Tonya (in a white T-shirt with Imidido Project logo) and Kay Evans behind her, Dennis Evans with a camera, and our good friend Kavos.

Amelia is a tennis player from Mason, Texas in the United States of America. She loves the game a lot. She immediately picked her racket and played doubles with children and coach Rashid Nsanzimana. It was so amazing!

Amelia plays a doubles match with Coach Rashid©CHT 2014Amelia plays a doubles match with Coach Rashid, Evariste, and Jean Bosco.

Amelia & Olivier©CHT2014After the match, I got to spend some time with her talking and laughing.

Clement Twizerimana, Musanze District’s officer in charge of Youth, Sports and Culture, arrived to thank Amelia and her colleagues for supporting the Ibirunga Tennis & Running Club and the Musanze District in general. He welcomed the guests to come again and again.

Giving donations©CHT2014While Amelia was pulling out her donation items many tennis players and fans including district officials watched her with happiness!

Then, Amelia presented her donations to the Ibirunga tennis players who were there and her speech was received with a lot of excitement and applause.

Happy club thanks to Amelia©CHT2014Coach Rashid and his team of children happily waving their shoes and rackets. So amazing!

Thank you Amelia. You are warmly welcome back at the Ibirunga Tennis & Running Club! Warm gratitude to friends who contributed to making this happen including Tonya Huston.

Please keep up-to-date on more Art of Conservation & Conservation Heritage – Turambe news with our e-newsletter. Simply send us your name and contact information to [email protected] Thank you!

Week One Visit to Art of Conservation

From Allison Hanes

Two full days of travel and three plane rides later I arrive late Tuesday June 4th in Kigali, Rwanda with Art of Conservation (AoC) board member Cheryl Stockton and photographer friend/colleague Andrew Walmsley. The first thing I notice off the plane is that distinct musky yet floral smell of Africa! It’s nice to be back to East Africa after two years. We travel by car up and around in mountains about an hour to Musanze welcomed by new friends, including four friendly dogs at The Garden House, a friend’s bed and breakfast nearby Art of Conservation. On our beds are beautiful paper maché gorilla masks made by the Rwandan AoC team and our full exciting itinerary for the month ahead.

The following morning after a proper African breakfast, Julie starts out our trip and adventure in Rwanda by picking us up and taking us to the Art of Conservation compound just a few streets away. Again we receive a warm welcome by Julie’s dogs, new friends, neighbors and staff. The tour is impressive, including a beautiful flower and vegetable garden with giant corn stalks, composting site, rain water collection tank, array of recycled bird feeders and birdhouses, art studio and several common areas filled with beautiful artwork.

Art of Conservation garden. June 2013Art of Conservation garden.

Bird house painting at Art of Conservation June 2013Bird houses in the works being painted and varnished by AoC staff and friends.

We make introductions. I share Ghirardelli chocolates from San Francisco and Cheryl “I Love NY” shirts for the staff. We instantly adore our smiling kind new friends.

Cheryl with team and new I Love You t-shirts. Art of Conservation June 2013Olivier, Cheryl, Eusebe, Valerie, Eric and Innocent full of smiles.

Allison and team with chocolate. Art of Conservation 2013Eric, Valerie and myself enjoying San Francisco Ghiradelli chocolates.

We unpack and layout our photography gear organizing lenses and learning all about our new toys, which some of us particularly myself, are yet to play with. Nikon, Canon, Apple and GoPro equipment overflow the table and we immediately start flicking through manuals and dialing in settings ready for our early morning trek to the mountain gorillas.

Enough equipment? Art of Conservation 2013Do you think we have enough equipment?

Thursday morning we are up before sunrise ready to hike up Volcanoes National Park. Cheryl, Julie and myself trek to the furthest gorilla family, Susa, which has three silverbacks. My previous experience of tracking gorillas for three months in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda proved useful in preparing me for the day ahead but I still found the trek not to be all that easy. The high-altitude was very noticeable especially since we had limited time to acclimatize. However, we made it to the group without any trouble and I managed to handle Andrew’s special 300mm f2.8 lens for the hour-long session. You can tell by my shots and GoPro filming comments that the equipment was heavy! I was still able to get some great shots and had a wonderful time. It was one of the best gorilla treks I have experienced, particularly because I could share the experience with new friends and colleagues.

Trekking gorillas. Art of Conservation 2013In the forest with Julie.

Furry mountain gorillas. AoC 2013Rwandan gorillas are much furrier than the Ugandan population because of the higher elevation and cooler climate.

We had a grand time and our guide “D” joined us in our celebration dinner at Muhabura Restaurant. Julie always likes to celebrate after a good day of gorilla trekking and we are full of laughs. Each day I feel luckier to work with such inspiring, talented, hard working and fun colleagues.

Friday we get right into meetings and prepare for week two classes. I’ve noticed pretty much everyday at AoC we find ourselves singing, dancing and acting! I’m learning so many new things here in Rwanda. We also paint birdhouses with Eric and Eusebe and end the evening with a party in AoC’s garden and bungalow. Julie’s friend Alberto cooks us up a feast and Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) friends and colleagues join us to make another great close to the night.

Group meeting in bingalow. Art of Conservation 2013Let the work begin.

Saturday we all meet at the tennis courts. One of AoC’s most significant programs is the Ibirunga Tennis and Running Club. Olivier was recently nominated president and Valerie treasurer. AoC murals, plants and flowers decorate the grounds. The nets look like they have had their run and I am happy to know that by the end of the month through a USTA grant the club will have two brand new nets!

Tennis with Art of Conservation 2013Julie runs tennis drills and exercise with the children. I pick up a racquet after several years.

Cheryl guiding yoga at the courts.  Art of Conservation 2013Cheryl cools us down leading us in a yoga session and then I get to play a good high-energy game of tennis with Johnny, one of the best tennis players in the community.

Ibirunga Tennis & Running ClubThese kids fill you with joy and energy!

After a great workout I quickly take a shower and we head off to find our Batwa friend or as Rwandans now call her – “marginalized indigenous woman.” However, the dramatic driving adventure in search of Marie Rose is unsuccessful and instead we follow Art of Conservation’s dear friend and partner Cecil to her village for dancing. We bring sacks for rice, beans and a jerry can of banana beer. Cecil is a very special woman that Art of Conservation has been working with for years and is famous throughout Rwanda. To learn more about her Saving the Forests Briquette Initiative read here.

Sunday we are still full of energy editing photos, working and preparing for the remaining few weeks. Monday is our first day of classes at one of our two local schools and the fun has just begun!

Graduating from AoC’s 2012 Education Programs

From Olivier

We celebrate during our annual End-of-the-Year Parents as Partners Open House at Nyange school. Innocent calls a child by his/her name and that student responds by saying, “Good morning, My name is …… I am an Art of Conservation graduate!” Graduates then receive their decorated envelopes that contain the works that he/she did throughout the year. It is extremely pleasant.

Valerie gives the graduates their envelopes.

Students are thrilled to look again at their work and proudly show them to their parents or guardians. Our guests take this opportunity to see how children gradually developed from the beginning and how amazing they are now with their inspirational works containing good messages for the entire world. Children are calling the community to contribute in protecting Volcanoes National Park where mountain gorilla and a diversity of other animals live.

Guests include Nyange schools headmaster, a Rwanda Environment Management Authority representative, Musanze District’s Joint Action Development Forum’s president, Nyange school’s deputy principal, and more.

To aim is not enough, you must hit! Use your mind; use your eyes and your body. Get all the education you can, but then, by nature, do something. Don’t just stand there, make something happen around you. The best of all things is to learn. Money can be lost or stolen, health and strength may fail, but what you have learned and practiced is yours forever. AoC students do it because they learned. They are acting out what they learned. They are now teachers, delivering our messages to a big crowd of people: their fathers, mothers, cousins, neighbors and local leaders. All these people get to know some of the threats to mountain gorillas and how they are treated. No more poachers in the mountain gorilla habitat! AoC students vow to expose even those who will be in the underground because they now know the importance of a healthy ecosystem.

Children perform as Gorilla Doctors – one child is a mountain gorilla doctor teaching children how to treat the critically endangered animal. So amazing! May be he will become a veterinarian.

This year’s Parents as Partners Open House is really a good opportunity for our students to celebrate and start their roles as conservation ambassadors. In acting out the AoC Staying Healthy messages, students talk about how one can get sick by letting germs enter their bodies through eyes, mouth, ears and nose. Our children, however, are committed to staying healthy and to not spreading germs at all! They will cover their mouths when they cough and sneeze, they will wash their hands, and they will try to eat a healthy diet.

A drama depicting how to stay healthy.

How can you know that something is missing if you’ve never met it or seen it? Please come and celebrate our next year’s Parents as Partners Open House at the foot of Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.

Great Ape Expert, Ian Redmond, Adds Great Fun & Inspiration

My team and I had the pleasure and honor of getting a few moments with Ian Redmond, the renowned Great Ape expert. Ian was in town with the crew of Visionquest, an Australian-based, independent production company filming in 3D the plight of the great apes. Having just crossed the DRC border into Rwanda, they were surfacing from Kahuzi-Biega National Park, home to Grauer’s gorillas. While in DRC they also spent time with bonobos in their wild habitat and sanctuaries… something I hope to do one of these years. The orangutans of South East Asia will also feature largely in the film with the distressing sight of the extreme loss of their habitat largely due to the planting of palm plantations. I think the film comes out in 2013. I’ll let you know.

Had Ian originally planned on getting a bit of exercise in addition to his forest foraging? Probably not, but while the film crew was busy speaking with colleagues at the Karisoke Research Center, Eric and I quietly captured Ian and brought him to the tennis courts where we had been giving a lesson on rainforest animals to the children.

Donning newly created rainforest animal visors, children happily welcome Ian.

A tennis racket was offered to Ian which he then proceeded to hold onto for an hour or more. The children took turns playing with this most special great ape.

Assumpta and Ian preparing to serve to their opponents by emulating gorilla behavior.

With our upcoming Children’s Tennis Tournament, an event featured in Rwanda’s annual gorilla naming ceremony called Kwita Izina, the children now have a new technique of psyching out their opponents. Ian’s demonstration of panting, chest slapping, celebrating with a big ‘ole slap on the ground, and finally striking a pose with such attitude gives kids the confidence that they will have the upper edge in any competition by doing this type of display!

Practicing gorilla behavior with an expert.

We made our way from the courts to the AoC House with Coach Tony and the excited sports kids in tow. Ian cued up some of his recent gorilla footage (click here for Silverback Siblings Strutting Their Stuff) for the children to see the real actors, the gorillas, doing their stuff. The team and I also got the opportunity to show him around and share with him some of the things that we do.

The AoC team, Coach Tony, sports kids, Umulinzi dog, and Ian.

If all days were this much fun and joy so easily shared, life would be great! Thanks, Ian, for your time with us and all that you do for the great apes and their habitat.

Honored by Visitors With A Pledge of Marketing Support

Honorable Minister François Kanimba’s delegation visits Cecile’s Save The Forests Briquette Initiative.

Innocent here with ongoing good news about our alternative fuel technology initiative. Cecile and the Save The Forests Briquette Initiative keep making headlines – this time with the recent visit from a delegation from the Rwandan Ministry of Trade and Industry led by Honorable Minister François Kanimba. Wow! Cecile couldn’t believe her eyes and ears! What a big honor!

VIP's to Save The Forests Briquette Initiative.  AoC 2011Cecile briefing Minister Kanimba’s delegation including the Ministry of Trade and Industry’s Permanent Secretary, the Mayor of Musanze District, and many other VIPs on the background and start up of Save The Forests Briquette Initiative.

It turned out that the Rwandan Ministry of Trade and Industry in collaboration with other institutions including the National Institute of Statistics and the Private Sector Federation recently conducted a survey countrywide on the statistics of small and medium enterprises across all districts of Rwanda. Musanze District, where AoC and Save The Forests Briquette Initiative operate, was ranked second after Kigali City. (Kigali in the capital city of Rwanda.) This survey was part of the program referred as “Hanga Umurimo”, loosely in English, “Create a job”. Given that Musanze District is located in a remote area as compared with Kigali, this countywide ministerial tour of small and medium enterprises started out with Musanze District, and that’s how Cecile and Save The Forests Briquette Initiative was visited the first!

VIP's to Save The Forests Briquette Initiative.  AoC 2011Cecile offering a demonstration at the briquette press to the Honorable Minister’s delegation and journalists.

Cecile and her visitors’ dialogue was quite amazing. As she usually does for all visitors, Cecile explained she was immediately interested in the briquette initiative when Art of Conservation first approached her with the idea and opportunity to train in this new technology. She shares that her main reason of interest was to save Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park rainforest, home to the critically endangered mountain gorilla, and to make some money for her family to live on.

She was definitely ready to leave her former occupation of selling charcoal far behind! Cecile and I both remember those days how Julie always stopped the truck when passing Cecile on the Kinigi Road with the heavy sack of dirty charcoal on her head and would ask Cecile, “What else can we do? We need to find an alternative and get you out of this charcoal trade.”

VIP's to Save The Forests Briquette Initiative.  AoC 2011Cecile giving an interview to journalists as she demonstrates to the ministerial delegation how briquettes are very efficient especially when used with the proper stove… this stove, by the way, is given to a new customer for FREE with their first purchase of a sack of briquettes!

Cecile also shared with the inquisitive crowd the challenges of marketing, being her biggest challenge. Minister Kanimba pledged support on that issue through Musanze District leaders. We hope this will enable her to keep up her great work of saving the forests, protecting habitat to the critically endangered mountain gorilla, make MORE money, keep being a role model not only at sector, district, or provincial level, but also at national and international level. Congratulations Cecile!

Central African Republic MP’s Visit Save The Forests Briquette Initiative

Hi. Innocent here again with more exciting news on Cecile and her Save The Forests Briquette Initiative. First of all we needed to address a few repair and construction projects for this community conservation initiative. The top priorities were the following: greenhouse (briquette drying house) repair, cow and calf shed construction and animal husbandry lessons, and construction of a press shed. As you remember, I already briefed you about the second priority, proper housing and care for Cecile’s domesticated animals, in my previous blog.

Press shelter construction and greenhouse repairs at Save The Forests Briquette Initiative.  AoC 2011.The press shed under construction led by carpenter Aburahamu. The briquette drying house is at the right.

Of course Cecile has to take care of all these things for the Save The Forests Briquette Initiative because not only is this small business helping to protect the environment and generate income, but it also attracts many visitors including top government officials.

Musanze Mayor and guests visit Cecile's Save The Forests Briquette Initiative.   AoC 2011The Mayor of Musanze District, Winifride Mpembyemungu, gives a try at the briquette press with Cecile’s instruction.

As Rwandan women are getting more and more famous for their active participation in the country’s development, particularly after the 1994 Genocide, other women from foreign counties, especially African ones, are eager to come to Rwanda to learn from these such women and their work so they can apply the learned lessons to their respective countries. It is in this regard that Cecile and Save The Forests Briquette Initiative was part of the women’s initiatives which were selected to be visited by Members of Parliament Rachel NINGAWONG MALLO and Alima DIARA from the Central African Republic Parliament and Marie Thérèse MUREKATETE and Athanasie GAHONDOGO from the Rwandan Parliament. This delegation was headed by Winifride Mpembyemungu, the Mayor of Musanze District.

Honorable Rachel Ningawongmallo & Alima Diarra from the Central African Republic visit Save The Forests Briquette Initiative.  AoC 2011.Mayor Winifride (left), MPs Athanasie (middle) and Rachel (right) all surprised by Cecile’s briquette mixture!

Inside Cecile's briquette drying house at Save The Forests Briquette Initiative.  AoC 2011.MPs Marie Thérèse and Athanasie inside the briquette green house!

Cecile and her family were extremely excited about this visit and they wish more guests would come as they are always ready for them. More soon.

More on Dr. Magdalena and her Dog

Dr. Magdalena Braum from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project visits our classes this week (please click here for Monday’s coverage of her visit) with her dog Arwen and her daughter Kasia. Dr. Magdalena encourages the children to look at animals – both domestic and wild – in a new way… with respect, not cruelty.

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]A video. In classrooms and schoolyards, kids see dogs in a new light!
Thank you, Magdalena, we truly appreciate the time you spend with us.

This Week: Dr. Magdalena and Her Dog

I don’t have a favorite animal, but let’s just say I love dogs immensely. I believe it is also safe to say that most people, where I am living and working in Rwanda, do not feel comfortable with dogs. Our students simply have not had much exposure to them. If and when they do, it is usually a feral dog which represents something scary and something not taken care of. A normal reaction when seeing a dog is to throw stones at it. Well, this week we are pleased to have Dr. Magdalena of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project helping us dispel preconcieved – and yes, some very real and most very sad – ideas about one of the nicest species on earth. The DOG!

Dr. Magdalena and Arwen at Rushubi Primary School with Art of Conservation, March 2011.Dr. Magdalena and her dog Arwen with our students at Rushubi Primary School.

Children watch Arwen’s loving and sweet behavior. Dr. Magdalena shares with the kids why Arwen acts the way she does as I’m sure they’ve never seen a dog quite like this one! It’s time to go outside to observe more of the beauty when people treat other living things with respect and care.

Dr. Magdalena and Arwen at Rushubi Primary School, Kinigi Rwanda. AoC 2011Children sit on the grass nearby and watch Dr. Magdalena and Arwen work together. Up, up, and over Arwen goes over a discarded school bench.

Arwen frolics about happily after her jumping. Dr. Magdalena tells the kids that we learn better when we are happy and rewarded for our good work. It’s the same with dogs.

After performing so well, Arwen is very happy and children begin to feel more comfortable. AoC 2011.Arwen receives lots of love from students who are perhaps unaccustomed to the joys of such camaraderie with another animal.

Much more coming up with Dr. Magdalena and Arwen!

Thank You Houston Zoo Docents & Friends!

Thank you, wonderful Houston Zoo docents, a Bronx Zoo volunteer, and friends, for the amazing bag of supplies you brought during your recent trip to Rwanda and for purchasing AoC t-shirts! My staff and I have been going through the donated art and school materials you collected and we know it will all be put to great use. Once again, thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

Thank you Houston Zoo docents!  From Art of Conservation 2010At Hotel Muhabura in Musanze Town with a group of visiting Houston Zoo docents, a Bronx Zoo volunteer, and friends along with Dr. Jan Ramer, MGVP’s Regional Vet Manager and Molly Feltner, MGVP’s communication consultant.

Mountain Gorilla Night Nests in Iowa?

Yes, that’s right, gorilla night nests in Iowa. Believe it or not, children in the USA are learning from their teacher, Susie Garrison, that most evenings mountain gorillas make their beds on the forest floor with bamboo and other plant material found in their natural habitat – Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda. Due to the absence of bamboo and big green banana leaves in Des Moines, Iowa, rolled up newspaper serves just fine for this exercise. Susie gained new gorilla facts when she visited the Art of Conservation and trekked into the forest. After her African safari, she took gorilla conservation education to her summer school program and from the looks of it, her students had a good time.

Making gorilla night nest in Des Moines, Iowa. Photo by Susan Garrison. 2010Photo by Susan Garrison. Crumpled newspaper replaces bamboo for Des Moines schoolchildren making a mountain gorilla night nest.

Building mountain gorilla night nests with visitor Susie Garrison from Iowa.  Art of Conservation 2010.Our Rwandan classroom during Susie’s visit.

Most of our students believed the mountain gorillas slept in trees every night. The activity of making their own nest hopefully reinforced the fact that most evenings gorillas make a bed on the forest floor.

Colored tissue paper mountain gorillas in USA.  Photo by Susan Garrison. 2010. Art of ConservationPhoto by Susan Garrison. Students work with colored tissue paper while creating a bipedal mountain gorilla.

An art activity followed our nest building, and so to did the kids in the United States. Applying colored tissue paper with glue on paper, kids create their own wild animal art.

Susie takes gorilla conservation education to the USA.  Art of Conservation 2010.  Rwanda.Rwandan kids thoroughly enjoyed having Susie with them in class.

Gorilla conservation is crossing oceans thanks to Susie!