Our Staff


Our Staff

Julie Ghrist, Art of Conservation 2011.

Julie Ghrist, Founder & Executive Director (2006 to present)

Faraway places with exquisite landscapes, endangered animals, and transitioning cultures compelled Julie to leave her artist’s life in the USA in 2005 and move to Africa.  There she gained valuable experience during conservation volunteer positions.  Quickly she became more determined than ever to remain in Africa and join the conservation efforts.  Eventually, Julie found herself immersed in Central Africa’s programs to protect the critically endangered mountain gorilla.
Julie’s pursuit for knowledge, creative thinking, and her tremendous love for animals contributed to the founding of her nonprofit, Art of Conservation (AoC).  This organization helps gorillas by creating healthy and sustainable ecosystems, communities, and most especially, healthy and forward-thinking children.
Julie believes that multiple small acts done with compassion can add to increased understanding and real change.  This philosophy is embedded in the AoC culture and has been adopted by Julie’s staff, board and volunteers – both in Rwanda as well as in the US.   Julie and her remarkable team work tirelessly to nurture empathy toward all living things in school children as well as in the adults around them.  By promoting individual happiness and satisfaction, AoC inspirers others to be mindfully aware of their connection to the natural world.

We must ask ourselves better questions and discover how things in our corner on Earth are connected to more distant places on the globe, and  arrive at more thoughtful solutions. – Julie Ghrist

Valerie Akuredusenge, Art of Conservation 2011

Valerie Akuredusenge, Executive Assistant, Teacher & Translator (2006 to present)

Valerie grew up in the Gakenke District in the Northern Province of Rwanda. During her studies at the Institut d’Enseignement Superieur de Ruhengeri, she interned with the Rwandan Parliament, translating and interpreting speeches and government documents. Since 2006, Valerie has been working closely with Julie, the AoC director, assisting with administrative tasks, as well as teaching and translating lessons in the classroom.

Eric Mutabazi, Art of Conservation 2011

Eric Mutabazi, Studio Artist & Teacher (2006 to present)

Eric grew up in Musanze District, Northern Province, Rwanda. He attended secondary school at the School of Art Nyundo in Gisenyi, Rwanda and has worked mostly as a graphic artist producing logos and signage for a variety of clients, including the International Gorilla Conservation Programme, Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, The Gorilla Organization, and other NGOs, businesses, and eco-tour operators. He is presently AoC’s head art instructor, leading students in lessons about drawing, painting, color theory, and other art topics. He is aslo preparing to exhibit his work in Kigali, the capital, and plans to form a group with other artists and create an art gallery in Musanze, while continuing his work with AoC.

Innocent Uwizeye, Art of Conservation 2011

Innocent Uwizeye, Teacher, Translator & Alternative Fuel Technology Consultant (2009 to present)

Originally from Rutsiro District in Rwanda’s Western Province, Innocent attended the Institut d’Enseignement Supérieur de Ruhengeri (INES-Ruhengeri)along with Valerie, who also studied Translation and Interpreting. During his studies, he completed a two-month internship in the Translation Unit of the Prime Minister’s Office. He was also elected as a member of the Executive Committee of INES Students’ Union in charge of Protocol and Security. Additionally, he served as a Chief Editor for the INES Top Bulletin, INES students’ magazine. After receiving his degree (with Upper Second Class Honors), Innocent worked as an English teacher at Collège Saint Wenceslas in Rubavu District. He started working with AoC in May 2009 as a Teacher and Translator and then received training in production and use of briquettes. This training led to his new role as AoC’s Alternative Fuel Technology Consultant.

Olivier Habimana, Art of Conservation 2011

Olivier Habimana, Staff Manager, Teacher & Translator (2010 to present)

Staff Manager, Teacher and Translator (2010 to present) Olivier was born in Nyabihu District in the Western Province of Rwanda. He completed his university studies at the National University of Rwanda where he served as the student representative for the National University’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities. After graduating in 2008, he worked with the Ministry of Education as a secondary school teacher and assisted in a nationwide effort to train primary and secondary school teachers in English language studies. He joined the AoC team in early 2010 and is now serving as AoC’s Staff Manager, Teacher, and Translator. Olivier also continues to train teachers with the Ministry of Education in Musanze in addition to his work with AoC. After one year of experience working with AoC, Olivier has learned a lot about conservation and health education. He has also strengthened his teaching, management and IT skills with the organization.

Eusebe Mwizerwa, Art of Conservation 2011

Eusebe Mwizerwa, Studio Artist & Teacher (2010 to present)

Eusebe was born in the Musanze District in the Northern Province of Rwanda. In 2005, after completing his secondary studies in Art at ETO Kicukiro, he pursued his career in design at the “Imprimerie Nouvelle du Rwanda”, a printing company, located in Kigali, the capital. Starting in 2006, he worked with several different organizations as a graphic artist, including the United Nations Populations Fund and the Ministry of Youth and Culture. In 2010, he joined AoC as an Art Instructor and Studio Artist. Eusebe works with Eric on creating paper maché animal masks and teaching art.

Mugabe Abbas, Art of Conservation 2011

Abbas Mugabe, House Manager (2009 to present)

Mugabe grew up in Kampala, Uganda. He attended primary and secondary school in Uganda. In 2006, he completed his secondary studies in Human Sciences at the Mitiana Secondary School. He started working with AoC in September 2009 as a House Manager. Mugabe has gained valuable experience working with AoC, including managing the house staff at the headquarters office. Mugabe enjoys cooking, cleaning, and caring for the AoC Director’s beloved dogs.

Phocas Ntuyahaga, Art of Conservation 2011

Phocas Ntuyahaga, Gardener (2006 to present)

Phocas was born in 1976 in Cyuve, Musanze District, Nothern Province, Rwanda. In 1995, he worked as a gardener with the International Committee of the Red Cross and with Doctors Without Borders. In 1997, prior to working with AoC, he assisted with building houses in Musanze. At AoC, Phocas works as a gardener and takes care of the AoC Director’s dogs. Since he joined the organization, he has gained a stronger appreciation for conservation and is playing a vital role in the organization by planting trees, shrubs, and flowers, which helps prevent soil erosion, creates a natural habitat for animals, and beautifies the schools where AoC works.

"Muzehe" Donat Byibeshyo, Art of Conservation 2011

‘Muzehe’ Donat Byibesho, Guard (2006 to present)

Muzehe was born in 1945 in Musanze, the Northern Province of Rwanda. He started working as a conductor when he was 25 years old. Then, he worked for mines in Rwanda to Uganda in 1970. Three years later, Muzehe sorted hides of cows for a farmer in Rwanda and Uganda. After 1973, he served as a conductor between Rwanda and Burundi because the Uganda border was closed. Then, he worked as a guard in Kigali, Rwanda. From 2003, he was a guard in Musanze for a previous owner at what is now the AoC office. In 2005, he continued working as a guard at the same property for AoC. He benefited from this job because he was able to build a home with his monthly salary from AoC. His life was improved and he learned a great deal about conservation through art. He gained an appreciation of wildlife, especially after Julie, the AoC director, provided him with the opportunity to visit the mountain gorillas at the Volcanoes National Park.

Shaban Mwambutsa, Art of Conservation 2011

Shaban Mwambutsa, Guard (2011 to present)

Board of Directors
Julie Ghrist, President
Carlene Hinds, Treasurer
Mary Ghrist James, Interim Secretary
Cheryl Stockton
Lori Howe
Christina Ellis
Richard Lozier, Counsel to the Corporation

Advisory Council

Alyson H. Ball, BoardsThatExcel.com

Bunny Bruning, United States Professional Tennis Association – Missouri Valley

Mary Burns, Archaeological Consultant

Gerard “Ged” Caddick, Terra Incognita Ecotours

Mike Cranfield, DVM, Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, Inc.

Susan Garrison, Greenwood Elementary School

Oswald Habiyaremye

Magdalena Lukasik-Braum, DVM, University of Pretoria

Gabriel Ntirenganya

Jan Ramer, DVM, Indianapolis Zoo

Carole Reichardt, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation

Martha M. Robbins, Ph.D., Max Planck Institute

Chad Robertson, Independent Artist

Donat Sebashyitsi, Rushubi School

Joyce Stanley, Legacy Foundation

John Terpkosh, United States Tennis Association – Missouri Valley


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