Tag Archives: children

Yefei Volunteers With Conservation Heritage – Turambe

Hey there!

My name is Yefei Jin and I’m a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota Twin Cities in Minneapolis-St. Paul, USA. Earlier this May, I received the fortunate opportunity to get involved with Conservation Heritage-Turambe (CHT). Though a network of local nonprofit organizations based in Musanze, Rwanda, I got connected to Valerie, the Program Director of CHT.

Yefei volunteers with CHT in Rwanda 2014

Not losing much time, I quickly participated in CHT’s weekend visits to primary schools near Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, about an hour drive from Musanze. CHT recognizes the role of Rwanda’s youth in becoming the social change agents of tomorrow. The teachers here including Valerie, Innocent, Olivier, Eusebe, and Eric dedicate their time to educate the children about conservation and health values. In this photo, Valerie is describing one of those values “Staying Healthy”. Today’s lesson was on keeping a clean home to prevent the spread of disease. I had the opportunity to partially teach the class on this topic through songs and ice breakers. The staff here was definitely eager to see new ways of teaching!

Yefei volunteers with CHT in Rwanda 2014

The pedagogy behind CHT’s work with the children utilizes the fine arts as tools to teach, understand, and live out CHT’s 7 values: respect, honestly, trust, creativity, kindness, healthy living, and celebrate. The instruction is delivered in English with Kinyarwanda translation. Here is a photo of a guest presenter suffering from podoconiosis which caused the swelling of her feet. By sharing with the class her experience, she hopes that keeping a clean home will prevent such diseases from happening to others.

Yefei volunteers with CHT in Rwanda 2014

This is a picture of me teaching some wacky handshakes to the students. I’m hugely thankful for the CHT staff to allow me to fully participate in their school visits. They are curious to learn additional strategies on student engagement and fun activities which can be incorporated in future lessons. I bring knowledge on theatre education and as I continue to brainstorm with the staff, we hope to provide the children with a unique and unforgettable experience!

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!

Fantastic Updates From Rwanda

From Valerie

Art of Conservation started the one-health awareness programs at the Ibirunga Tennis & Running Club. The Rwandan team: Valerie, Eric, Innocent, Olivier, and Eusebe continue carrying on AoC’s work!! If you recall, the Ibirunga Tennis & Running Club is one of the great local community initiatives that we have been supporting for eight years. Children are provided the opportunity to exercise, practice teamwork, and gain a sense of accomplishment. In addition to that the club also brings local people together leading to a stronger sense of community and pride while playing sports in the name of conservation.

My colleagues and I say, “Let us carry on this great initiative!” The children are eager to know more about what surrounds them in order to protect them!

Recently, our discussion began with review questions from previous lessons. I ask, “Somebody please tell me the name of Rwanda’s three national parks.” The children raise their hands saying, “Me! Please, me! Please!” This is different from what happens during our lessons with children in schools. They say, “Teacher, teacher!” It draws my attention and makes me happy when I see happy children wanting to respond to questions and eager to learn!

CHT at Ibirunga Tennis & Running Club. ©Conservation Heritage - TurambeChildren are excited to respond to the review question before I introduce the new topic of the day.

We distribute a map to each child. I ask them to point to the areas depicting mountain gorilla habitat.

Studying gorilla habitat. ©Conservation Heritage - TurambeEach child points and shows me the two places where mountain gorillas live: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the Virunga Massif.

I keep on monitoring the children to make sure they all understand that our gorillas live in only two places. I know some children are young and they may have been distracted by a passing car on the road since the tennis courts are located next to a main road!

CHT at Ibirunga Tennis & Running Club. ©Conservation Heritage - TurambeI help our students study the map.

I guide the kids thoroughly on what the Virunga Massif means with the help of another close-up illustration. They now know that mountain gorillas are not only in Rwanda but in other neighboring countries namely, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. They also learn the name of the park in each country. It is such a discovery for these children to know what the Virunga Massif is made up with.

One-health awareness in Rwanda. ©Conservation Heritage - TurambeOur youth sports kids ask questions as we study the Virunga Massif.

The next session is the art activity. During this session, children have fun. Their drawings are very good. The first excise they draw a proportional silverback mountain gorilla and the second exercise they draw their own mountain gorilla.

Eric working with kids. ©Conservation Heritage - TurambeWith Eric’s instruction, children have fun drawing a proportionally correct silverback mountain gorilla using a pencil and they paint their artwork with watercolors.

Coach Rachid joins. ©Conservation Heritage - TurambeHappily, Coach Rachid joins the children during the workshop. “Do gorillas live in one family?” he asks. This might be our next workshop topic. Let us think about it.

Gorilla drawings. ©Conservation Heritage - Turambe

Stay tuned for more blogs coming!


-Art of Conservation completed seven years of successful conservation programming in Rwanda with the exciting announcement that its local staff has launched their own nonprofit, Conservation Heritage – Turambe (CHT). Turambe means “let us be sustainable” in Kinyarwanda. 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!-

A Conservation with Jeremy at Mongabay

From Julie

Recently I had the fortunate opportunity to have a conversation with Jeremy Hance at Mongabay. Jeremy serves as senior writer and editor. He is the author of Life is Good: Conservation in an Age of Mass Extinction.

Please click here to read our story Art, education, and health: holistic conservation group embarks on new chapter

Thank you Mongabay for allowing AoC to be part of your excellent rainforest and nature conservation news!

©mongabay.comPhoto courtesy of Mongabay

Kwaimatta Village in South America


While in most parts of the world everyone seems to be exploiting natural resources, cutting down rain forests, destroying fragile ecosystems, Guyana is doing something different. Under its Low Carbon Development Strategy, Guyana receives USD 50 million per year from international partners to protect its forests. Of course one needs to read in more detail to discern the pros and cons to this, but let’s be thankful for this long-term development plan and hope it works and others follow. Guyanas rain forests benefit us all no matter where we live.

The Karanambu team took Allison, Lucy, and I to communities in the Northern Rupununi to conduct our one health conservation activities. This entailed boating to get to the schools.

Geography at Kwaimatta Village. ©Art of Conservation 2013I started off with a geography activity. This young girl marched right up to the world map and placed the South America card in the absolutley correct place.

Our first village – Kwaimatta (Massara)- is the closest and perhaps most secluded of all three we visited. In general, this area is a critical watershed between the Amazon and Essequibo rivers. The open savanna and riverine plain is stunning.

Decorating animals masks at Kwaimatta Primary School, Guyana. ©Art of Conservation 2013We talked about the local animals and discussed what makes them so special and then out came the markers, crayons, and paper masks.

A number of the children attending Kwaimatta Primary School have parents that are employed by the Karanambu Trust and Lodge.

Decorating animals masks at Kwaimatta Primary School, Guyana. ©Art of Conservation 2013Children decorating their animal masks.

As you may remember from a previous post, Des Moines artist Amy Harris helped AoC with the otter, monkey, jaguar, macaw, and arapaima masks. Thanks again Amy! Do you love the masterpieces?

Decorating animals masks at Kwaimatta Primary School, Guyana. ©Art of Conservation 2013Blue jaguars in Guyana? Right on!

Here I am in a new part of the world – experiencing new cultures and trying out AoC’s curricula. It is safe to say that no matter where you are children want to learn and discover.

Decorating animals masks at Kwaimatta Primary School, Guyana. ©Art of Conservation 2013Salvador tries to scare the kids with his Red Howler Monkey mask. I think they are on to Salvador! Not scared at all.

We had a few extra moments to end our time at Kwaimatta so I did a quick oral health lesson with toothbrushes and paste for everyone.

Oral health at Kwaimatta Primary School, Guyana. ©Art of Conservation 2013Allison and Salvador distribute toothbrushes and paste.

Diane McTurk with students at Kwaimatta Primary School, Guyana. ©Art of Conservation 2013Diane McTurk with her Kwaimatta Village children.

It was a pleasure to end our class with outdoor craziness including singing and showing appreciation to the villages’ beloved Aunti Di.

Please join us at Pratt NYC on November 22nd. Get your tickets here!

For The Birds

From Julie Ghrist

We have spent many evenings and weekends recently painting birdhouses which were built at the AoC office. Because of limited classroom time our students didn’t get the opportunity to decorate the houses themselves, maybe next time.

Preparing a nice bird house. Art of Conservation 2013A student prepares a birdhouse by putting grasses inside.

This is truly an experiment! Birdhouses are nowhere to be seen in these parts of Northern Rwanda. My team and I think it’s a worthwhile experience nevertheless.

Hanging bird houses. Art of Conservation 2013Students look for perfect branches to hang their houses.

After lively discussions, we made our way outside to the school woodlots we’ve established over the years.

In the trees. Art of Conservation 2013With a GoPro on his head, a student reaches for more birdhouses from below.

A ladder was propped up against trees as well as a little climbing – whatever the mode of ascension – the school playgrounds and woodlots started looking so beautiful with the new houses.

Hanging bird houses. Art of Conservation 2013Little Lititia, in the foreground, is not an AoC student but seems to be with us always!

Singing for Gorillas – 2013 Children’s Performance Preparations at Art of Conservation

From Julie Ghrist

Art of Conservation is preparing for our 2013 children’s performances with music written and recorded by musicians Kaiser Cartel. Please watch our video below, thanks!

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Preparations for 2013 children’s performances at Art of Conservation

Adrien Niyonshuti – A Role Model

From Julie Ghrist

I spoke with Pierre Carrey from Union Cycliste International recently. He has written an article on the new “Adrien Niyonshuti Cycling Academy” in Rwanda and asked to include a photo we took when Team Rwanda’s Jock Boyer and Kimberly Coats kindly arranged Adrien to chat with our sports kids. The photo below captures our kids happiness when receiving Adrien’s autograph on the really cool stickers Kimberly gave to them. Please enjoy Pierre’s article below and congratulations to all for the work being done.

Rwanda launches its academy for young cyclists
By Pierre Carrey
Rwanda launches its academy for young cyclists

The Rwandan Cycling Federation will inaugurate the “Adrien Niyonshuti Cycling Academy” on May 26th. Named after the country’s best rider of the moment, the academy will prepare up and coming riders, both men and women.

The academy will enable riders aged from 16 to 18 (Junior category) to reconcile sport and studies, thanks to a training centre that is open in the evenings, the weekends and the school holidays. In the first year, 15 boys and 8 girls will train at the centre in Rwamagana, east of Kigali.

The trainees will study at one of the city’s excellent institutions and, at the same time, will benefit from a comprehensive cycling apprenticeship at the academy: training, nutrition, tactics (from watching videos), mechanics… At the end of their training they will be able to focus on a professional career in cycling and sport, or join Rwanda’s national team.

“In order to obtain future champions, it is necessary to provide riders with quality support from a young age,” explains Aimable Bayingana, President of the Rwanda Cycling Federation. “The academy will nurture these young talents in a region of the country that encourages cycling, but it will of course train athletes from all over Rwanda.”

UCI President Pat McQuaid adds, “The International Cycling Union supports this excellent initiative which is directed at the grassroots. We hope that the most talented of the trainees at the Adrien Niyonshuti Cycling Academy will be able to come to the World Cycling Centre in Switzerland or its satellite in South Africa to perfect their training. Rwanda is an example to be followed in cycling because it is building its future in the wider sense and places a great deal of importance in cycling both from a social and sporting point of view”.

More than 200 bikes distributed in Rwanda

The man behind the academy, Adrien Niyonshuti, aged 27, has put a great deal into the project. Rwanda’s flag-bearer at the London Olympic Games, the professional with UCI Professional Continental (second division) Team MTN-Qhubeka presented by Samsung is the country’s best-known sportsman. He is a symbolic representative of the generation that endured the genocide in 1994, but he managed to come out of this trauma to achieve a certain level of sporting success.

The athlete, out of road competition since February due to thrombosis, has devoted the last few weeks to his academy projects. “Before retiring, I want to make use of my notoriety to develop this academy,” he said. “The people of Rwanda need to understand that cycling can sometimes be a means of buying a house and a car. Today I lead a good life thanks to this sport and I would like to see other youngsters able to follow suit.”

The Adrien Niyonshuti Cycling Academy, which is still looking for sponsors, has the support of the association World Bicycle Relief. More than Qhubeka 200 bikes are due to be distributed to youngsters from 10 years old so that they can get to school more easily. These bikes will simplify their day-to-day life as well as facilitate the detection of new candidates for the academy.

The national coach Jock Boyer and the association project Rwanda will provide logistical support. The former American professional has already helped raise funds with a mountain bike event, the “50 Mile Ride for Project Rwanda” organised on April 27th at Foothill Ranch, California.

“It was Jock who introduced me to high level cycling in 2007,” says Niyonshuti. “He formed the national team, and cycling progressed considerably in Rwanda. Today, through the academy, I would like to help the National Federation develop our sport. It’s a way for me to give something back to cycling.”

Photo (credit Julie Ghrist): Adrien Niyonshuti, very popular in Rwanda, is a role model for young cyclists and, in this case, for tennis players.

Happy Earth Day!

From Julie Ghrist

It is our belief that every day is Earth Day yet today is special because we get to celebrate with people from all corners of the planet. AoC is also pleased to join Earth Day Network’s outstanding concentrated effort. They are calling their Earth Day 2013 The Face of Climate Change and have invited everyone to post photos to their site. (Click here to go to Earth Day Network.)

From Earth Day Network-
Climate change can seem like a remote problem for our leaders, but the fact is that it’s already impacting real people, animals, and beloved places. These Faces of Climate Change are multiplying every day. Fortunately, other Faces of Climate Change are multiplying too: those stepping up to do something about it. Help us personalize the massive challenge climate change presents by taking a photo and telling your story. How has climate change impacted you? What are you doing to be part of the solution?

Tree planting
Today we are planting trees in Rwanda.
Blog-#2-WLDChildren plant trees to prevent soil erosion, create animal habitat, and beautification.

Building bird houses
Today children construct bird houses.
Happy Earth Day. Making bird houses at Art of Conservation 2013After cutting wood, children glue the pieces together. Decorating will follow.

Please join us in celebrating our home- Planet Earth. It deserves our care and respect. We must strive to do better.

Brownie Troop Gets Behind-the-Scenes Visit to Santa Barbara Zoo

From Guest Blogger - Mary ElliotBy Mary Elliott for Brownie Troop 50305

When 11 second-grade girls gathered around Santa Barbara Zoo zookeeper Lacy Byrnes, they were quietly looking toward bachelor residents Goma and Kivu, two male Silverback gorillas munching on their afternoon treats while relaxing in their habitat.

Santa Barbara Zoo keeper, Lacy ByrnesSanta Barbara Zoo zookeeper Lacy Byrnes.

As Byrnes spoke about these disappearing creatures and their plight on the critically endangered list, the girls listened intently while gazing toward the great apes before them.

As part of learning about conservation, while also earning badges, Brownie Troop 50305 got a behind-the-scenes tour at the Santa Barbara Zoo by gorilla keeper Lacey Brynes. She explained the day-to-day life of the Santa Barbara Zoo’s two male silverback gorillas.

While working in facts about the gorillas’ plight, Brynes also talked about a more elusive species — the mountain gorilla, found only in their natural habitat at Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest in Uganda and the Virunga Massif in Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Brownie Troop 50305 got a behind-the-scenes tour at the Santa Barbara Zoo Brownie Troop 50305 members, left from, Tilly Dozier, Alyssa Silva, Collette Johnson, Charlotte Hamilton, Lauren Elliott, Sequoia Chamlee, Elaia Hamilton, Carah Shapiro, Elizabeth Leka, Catherine Bryson and Leila Suleimanagich visit the Santa Barbara Zoo.

Their zoo visit is part of a bigger project in which the Brownies then learned more about the mountain gorilla, and how with only approximately 880 left in the wild, they face extinction.

With their new in-depth look at the gorillas and the knowledge and information still fresh after the zoo visit, the girls had the opportunity to write to girls their own age who live near the more endangered mountain gorillas in Rwanda. Through Art of Conservation, the girls were able to ask girls their own age questions about living so close to such rare and raw beauty.

The exchange proved difficult in that no mail is reaching Rwanda at the moment. Julie Ghrist, founder of the Art of Conservation, suggested that the Brownies email their questions, and then she would have the girls in Rwanda answer via the Art of Conservation blog.

The 7- and 8-year-old girls questions were straightforward: “Why would someone want to hurt a mountain gorilla?” was the most commonly asked question. Followed by, “Have any of the girls in Rwanda ever seen a mountain gorilla up close?” They also wanted to know what it was like to live in a place that could top Santa Barbara in the exotic and extreme.

The correspondence between the girls is inspiring and recorded on their blogs, found on AoC’s website by clicking here. Art of Conservation runs education programs for children in rural communities bordering Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and allowed for the opportunity to open up conversation between two groups of diverse kids striving for the same goals.

Art of Conservation is a U.S.-based nonprofit organization operating in Rwanda that promotes conservation through educating and empowering communities. Art of Conservation provides innovative conservation and health education that directly affects the critically endangered mountain gorilla. AoC’s educational model encourages students to use creativity to build life skills and gain reverence for themselves, their community and the world. AoC also develops and supports local income-generating initiatives for adults that create sustainable growth.

The Santa Barbara Zoo gave the Brownies a behind-the-scenes tour of the lowland gorillas, and through its local programs and camps had educated many of the girls in the Brownie Troop before in some capacity. They also partner with a company called Eco-Cell. The zoo collects old cell phones and sends them to Eco-Cell, where they are refurbished and sold domestically and abroad. The money raised by the sale of these cell phones is used to fund the position of eco-guards in the Democratic Republic of Congo. These employees patrol and monitor the habitat of the Western lowland gorillas, and are an integral part in reducing the amount of poaching in these areas.

Brownie Troop 30505, led by co-leaders Mary Elliott and Liz Venegas, made friends and earned badges, but more importantly they learned that there is a connection in this world from our own Channel Islands, to the forests of Rwanda, and they can be empowered to help change the dwindling number of 880 mountain gorillas (just as much as the children living there). For if not for our children and their guardianship over Earth’s great treasures, these great animals, much like our whales, will go the way of extinction.

— Mary Elliott is a co-leader for Brownie Troop 50305.


From Julie
From Julie

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Tonya Huston visits AoC classes. Imidido Project. 2013Tonya with AoC students and team at Rushubi School, Kinigi.