Tag Archives: Conservation & Health Education

Talking Gorillas with Dept. of Parks & Recreation in Iowa USA

Much of the United States is experiencing extreme heat and humidity (along with the political nonsense in Washington) and Des Moines, Iowa – my hometown – is no exception. I was invited by John Terpkosh, Des Moines’s coordinator of the parks and recreation service and USTA’s Community Tennis Association leader, to join him at Davis Park- the city’s largest inner city park. With pleasure, I spoke to about 20 children from disadvantaged backgrounds hoping to teach them a bit about Africa and its critically endangered animal species. Well, hmmm, I walk away from today’s gathering with more questions than satisfaction.

Davis Park in Des Moines, IA USA.  Art of Conservation 2011At Davis Park in Des Moines, Iowa on a hot summer afternoon.

It’s striking to me how the families my AoC team and I work so intensely with in the rural Rwandan communities will go to great length to get their children enrolled in our conservation and health education program. Baby brothers and sisters of our students are trying to get good marks so they may be selected to participate in our year-long course. Yet what I saw today -and certainly what my USA teacher friends have been describing- many of these students rather shove a teacher out the door than get an education. I’m greatly generalizing here and all cases are unique, but what a shame we have such problems in the US- a place where we live in relative safety, in peace, access to essentials such as running water, electricity, and food.

Evelyn Davis Park in Des Moines, Iowa USA.  Art of Conservation 2011Learning about Africa and gorillas at Davis Park in the USA.

John and I are ready to try again next time I come home, perhaps in the winter. We can’t give up. If anything the day gives me more determination in better understanding what children need in order for my team and I to nurture in them more compassion to care for the environment and other living things. It’s tough. I look to our sweet Rwandan students in a slightly new light and with exceptional gratitude in being able to be trusted by such lovely individuals despite their hardships.

Davis Park for Dept. of Parks & Recreation.  Iowa USA.  Art of Conservation 2011Children look at the many different photos I brought in of African animals. John Terpkosh and the Doster/Stanley family look on.

My mom helped me pack up my bags of materials when a tiny hand slipped into my hand followed by a voice from a darling girl saying, “We don’t want you to leave.”

Thanks John for this opportunity. See you next time!

AoC featured in United States Tennis Association’s Cross Court

USTA's Cross Court cover story on AoC's tennis in Rwanda.  2011
Page 2: USTA's Cross Court story on Rwanda tennis.
Page 3: AoC's tennis program in Rwanda.

Nick & Kristine Stop By AoC

During Nick and Kristine’s Africa 2 Anywhere ride, we were fortunate to have them stop by for a few days and help out at Art of Conservation. Beginning in Durban, South Africa and just 3 months into their epic motorbike journey, the two travelers offered their help in any way we needed assistance. Among the many things they did were preparing worksheets for classes, pretending to be mountain gorillas making night nests in our classrooms with children, and putting the primer coat of paint on the Ibirunga Tennis & Running Club’s newly constructed toilets and showers. Plus my team and I got to listen to Nick and Kristine’s stories and see photos of what their trip had entailed so far.

Nick begins painting the toilets at Ibirunga Tennis & Running Club in Musanze. AoC 2011.Nick making the first mark on Ibirunga Tennis & Running Club’s newly constructed toilets and showers.

Kristine painting the toilets in Musanze Town. AoC 2011.Kristine painting toilets in Musanze Town, Rwanda!

As we got busy painting, the rest of the AoC team was finishing up a weekend lesson with the tennis and running kids in the grass field next to the courts. Once the children made their way over to us, we found ourselves without brushes. The kids were eager to help.

Soon everyone joins Nick and Kristin.  Ibirunga Tennis & Running Club AoC 2011.Nick smiles as kids paint and paint and paint.

Assumpta helps paint at Ibirunga Tennis and Running Club in Rwanda. AoC 2011Tennis player Assumpta helps paint.

By noon, the job was done and Kristine, Nick and I headed quickly to the pizza joint next door. The children sit for their national exams this week, but once that’s over with we’ll continue painting – it just won’t be as much fun because Nick and Kristine got back on the road and are now in Uganda!

Thanks Nick and Kristine! Safe travels!
Here is their blog… Africa 2 Anywhere.

Lessons on Predator and Prey

Olivier here again with more scenes from the classroom.
We like to offer our students lots of visuals and other materials for a hands-on learning experience. With photographs being passed around, we continue our ongoing lesson about Food Chains: What Eats What & Who Eats Who. (please see previous blog)

Leopard in the trees with impala kill. Botswana.  AoC 2011Look! A Leopard with its shining eyes and an impala kill up in a tree. This is a good example to illustrate the concepts of predator and prey.

Impalas prey to the leopard. AoC 2011A photo of impala that was taken in Akagera National Park last year during Team AoC’s retreat. (Please click here for retreat blog) These animals are many in this park situated in the eastern part of Rwanda and they are food for predators living there.

We teach our children about domesticated animals and wild ones. (another blog-Be Kind To Animals with Dr. Magdalena and her dog Arwen) Domesticated dogs are so important to human beings because they protect their masters and livestock from danger. African Wild Dogs, or painted dogs, are also important because they are part of Africa’s landscape, so as humans we are to protect them.

Valerie with photo from Peter Riger.  Domesticated dog protecting sheep and goats.  AoC 2011 Valerie holds a photo from Peter Riger taken in Botswana of a domesticated dog protecting goats and sheep from cheetah and leopard.

As you know, African Wild Dogs are unique to Africa and they are among this continent’s carnivores. They are also endangered. They are faced with shrinking room to roam and are also susceptible to diseases spread by domestic animals.

Peter Riger's photo of Painted Dogs in Zim.  AoC 2011More photos of African Wild Dogs taken from Zimbabwe by Peter Riger during his recent visit to Painted Dog Conservation.

Food Chains: What Eats What & Who Eats Who

Hi, it’s Olivier blogging. Our lessons are fun and exciting to the kids. Today Valerie and Innocent alternate teaching and I translate their English to Kinyarwada. We inform our students about food chains starting with plant life. We share with them that plants are able to use light energy from the sun to produce food by themselves and store it in their leaves. Some animals eat trees, shrubs, and grass, such as giraffes, zebras, elephants and antelopes. Predatory animals like lions and leopards prey upon plant eating animals. Other animals may eat both meat and plants. These are omnivores.

Food chains lesson at AoC 2011Children have fun studying photos which are passed around the room.

Valerie talks about food chains. Art of Conservation 2011Valerie teaches the children about herbivores, carnivores, omnivores, and more.

We go on distributing more photos of animals including a picture of a mountain gorilla eating bamboo shoots and other plant material found in the rain forest of Volcanoes National Park. Wow! Children like them very much because they were linking the photos to the movie of mountain gorillas they saw in our previous lesson.

Mountain gorillas eating vegetation. AoC 2011A child carefully examines photos of mountain gorillas and begins to have a much broader knowledge of this critically endangered mammal.

Oh, what beautiful animals! Photographs of Greater Kudu with their twisted horns excite the children. Valerie and Innocent reinforce that these animals are herbivores and can be preyed upon by big carnivores. Kids are quizzically looking at this photo while listening attentively to the AoC team’s explanation about the animal.

Kudus in Botswana.  Visuals used in class at Rushubi.  AoC 2011Divine and her classmate look at the photo of Greater Kudu antelopes. They are fond of their twisted horns.

Elephants are a big hit with the students. Children are amazed by the way elephants grab their food using their trunks.

How and what do elephants eat?  AoC 2011This photograph of an elephant’s trunk is from one of the four orphaned elephants Julie visited at LIving With Elephants in Botswana.

Inside a 'Living With Elephants' elephant's mouth.  AoC 2011An opened mouth of an orphaned elephant in Botswana.

Valerie and Innocent end the lesson with the request that we can’t be harmful to the environment and wild animals and we must do our best not to interrupt food chains.

Types of Animals from Around The World

Hi. This is Innocent.
I recently taught the AoC Rushubi and Nyange students about types of animals. It’s true at each class session we talk to the children bordering Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park about taking care of all living things and this lesson not only focuses on types of animals living in the forest next to their home, but also those living elsewhere around the world either on land or in water. There are more than 1.5 million species of animals in the world- and millions more still waiting to be discovered.

The Blue Whale.. Innocent's Types of Animals lesson.  AoC 2011As I am teaching, I show the children an illustration of a blue whale, the largest animal in the world that happens to be far bigger than a bus!

In addition to animals living in Volcanoes National Park our students learn much more about animals living in other Rwanda national parks such as Akagera National Park, plus what swims in the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika, River Nile, what hops around on Madagascar, and what is beating the cold of the Arctic Circle.

Word Wall vocabulary-invertebrate.  AoC 2011Dieudonne reads aloud in Kinyarwanda the translation for invertebrates which is part of our vocabulary of the day.

We began the lesson by watching nature films, (please click here for Valerie’s film day blog), after which I then discuss with the class the difference between vertebrates and invertebrates. The beautiful nature films also made the kids aware that amazing animals are found in every part of the world.

Types of Animals lesson.  Art of Conservation 2011.Upon receiving laminated animal cards, I suggest to my students to carefully study the features of the animals so they may correctly put them under the correct group on our Types of Animals grass mat display.

Over the course of several years and several safaris throughout Africa, Team AoC uses photos taken in the different locations and uses them as learning materials in the classrooms. We also have the privilege of using photos from friends such as Peter Riger of the Houston Zoo from his visits to Painted Dog in Zimbabwe and Cheetah Conservation in Botswana and Doug Groves with his babies in Botswana at his place called Living With Elephants. Thanks friends and I hope work and animals are fine!

Types of Animals lesson. AoC 2011 Rwanda.Here is our grass mat on which students hang animal cards according to their characteristics.

After every student has had chance to place their animal card under its correct group, children come to realize that there are two general animal groups: vertebrates and invertebrates. They now understand that vertebrates can be split into five groups namely fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals whereas invertebrates which make up 95% of all animals in the world can basically be split into arthropods, mollusks, echinoderms, and annelids.

A fun class, please stay tuned for more.

Heroes of the Forest Performed at 2011’s Igitaramo Party

At Rwanda’s recently held Igitaramo party, 100 Art of Conservation students performed to a song called Heroes of the Forest written and recorded by Courtney Kaiser and Benjamin Cartel. Holding papier mache animal masks made by Eric and Eusebe at the AoC art studio in Musanze Town, children danced and sang in front of their peers, parents, neighbors, tourists, and government officials. Igitaramo is held annually in Kinigi Town on the evening before Kwita Izina, a gorilla naming ceremony hosted by Rwanda Development Board.
Please click here to view our video of the children’s performance.

David Attenborough’s Love of Nature & Wildlife Inspires Our Students

Hi readers! Valerie here again.
We already know that our students who live next to Volcanoes National Park have heard about the mountain gorillas and other animals in the same ecosystem. But there is no doubt in my mind that they need to know about other species living elsewhere in the world. This is why we selected from our office library sections from nature films including those narrated by Sir David Attenborough such as BBC’s The Life of Mammals, The Blue Planet, and Life in the Undergrowth, to name a few, to share with our students. By doing this, we are preparing the children for our upcoming lessons focusing on animals and their environment. After setting up the generator (remember, the classrooms are without electricity), the projector, and the laptop we make sure all of the windows were covered with grass mats and banners before we start the nature films!

Ah, David Attenborough, in the classroom, well sort of.  AoC film day. 2011Inside Rushubi School classroom watching David Attenborough in action.

Mr. Attenborough is one of the most widely known natural history film makers. I am amazed by the amount of time he has spent observing animals in their natural habitat and writing about them.

The Great Migration. AoC film day. 2011Our students pay much attention watching scenes of The Great Migration.

Wildebeest, zebras, and predators including lions excite the children during a segment showing The Great Migration. Students exclaim in Kinyarwanda: ‘Yen …..Yen …Reba .. Ambaaaa’. In English it’s as though shouting, ‘Wow, wow, look, wow!’ These children have never travelled outside their country to see other wildlife in their natural habitat. So, do not be surprised to hear their amazement through laughter and shouts.

Madagascar-lemurs.  AoC film day. 2011Lemurs of Madagascar in this section of nature films!

Still more ooohs and aaaahs coming from our students watching amazing animals in their natural habitats. During out recent geography lesson, Julie told the kids about lemurs while pointing out Madagascar on the map. While children watched lemurs, specifically the Verreaux’s sifaka, climbing, leaping, and running the whole class was noisy! We reminded the kids that lemurs are found only in Madagascar just as mountain gorillas are only found in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and the Virunga Massif.

Film showing the original Karisoke Research Centre of Dian Fossey. AoC 2011Showing a film on Dian Fossey and the mountain gorillas. Children see here one of the cabins of the famed Dian Fossey Karisoke Research Center located in between Karisimbi and Bisoke Volcanoes.

We also thought it is very important to show the kids a movie of Dian Fossey who devoted her time, love and effort to the mountain gorillas until she even lost her life defending them. The children were able to see where her site used to be and through comments and discussion they know about Dian Fossey and how great she has contributed to the mountain gorillas’ survival. We again remind our students of the limited habitat of the mountain gorillas: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the Virunga Massif. (Click here for my previous geography blog.) (And here for Innocent’s blog on his visit to the original Karisoke Research Centre.)

IMAX movie of mountain gorillas. AoC 2011This film shows a mountain gorilla family in their natural habitat.

Of course we could not end our day of films without showing a movie of mountain gorillas. While watching the gorillas the students shouted again and again with happiness. They love them and they sometimes ask us when they should go see them in Volcanoes National Park. The answer is that they do not have all conditions in order to visit them. To visit mountain gorillas in their natural habitat you must be over 15 years of age. Then the students say: Ohooooo!

At the closing of our lesson we asked the students which movie they liked a lot and why? Most of them said, “Gorillas! I saw the juvenile mountain gorillas playing and I was happy!” one student answered.

Thanks to inspirational work of Attenborough and others, our students know now that not only mountain gorillas exist as animals that need protection but also there are other types of animals elsewhere on the world of different size, color and behavior that need care too. Our students did not want us to finish up the movie show. Hopefully, we will give them another chance to watch other nature films for them to keep exploring the world and amazing creatures that live on Planet Earth!

Amy Joins The AoC Team!

I am pleased to announce that I have joined the Art of Conservation (AoC) team as the organization’s new Director of Development. I am excited about this opportunity, as I will be leading the effort to increase AoC’s funding base, while promoting the organization’s mission and programs.

Amy with AoC staff. Rwanda. AoC 2011AoC staff meeting during Amy’s March visit. Pictured above: Amy, Olivier, Eric, Innocent, Valerie, and Eusebe.

When I learned about AoC’s conservation and health education initiatives in Rwanda, I immediately knew that I wanted to get involved in the cause. I have a strong passion for and background in conservation education. I also have experience working in great ape range countries. I most recently provided leadership in managing programs and operations with the Bonobo Conservation Initiative.

Amy with a student at Nyange Primary School. AoC 2011Working with AoC’s conservation and health education students at Nyange Primary School.

Last March during my visit to Rwanda, I saw first-hand the organization’s programs in action and was inspired by the effect this dedicated team is having in providing innovative learning activities for students at primary schools bordering Volcanoes National Park, home of the mountain gorilla.

With community singers and dancers.  AoC 2011An afternoon with community dancers and singers in the Northern Province, Rwanda.

I am proud to join Art of Conservation and look forward with enthusiasm to applying my skills and experience to the organization.

Children Study The World & Locate Mountain Gorilla Habitat

Greetings. Valerie here.
Art of Conservation’s students are now more comfortable looking at maps and locating the country of Rwanda as well as the precise locations of the endangered mountain gorilla habitat!

I begin our geography lesson with Planet Earth. Children discover the compasses on maps and globes representing north, south, east, and west. They locate and say over and over the names of the seven continents. I ask the kids what surrounds the continents… AMAZI they respond, which is water in Kinyarwanda. Earth is a water planet with its surface consisting of approximately 70% water. Together we locate the equator on the various maps now on the classroom walls and worksheets. Students learn that Rwanda is located 2 degrees south of the equator in the southern hemisphere.

Studying the world.  Rushubi Primary School.  AoC 2011.With a colored pencil, Olive locates Rwanda and colors it in. Following Rwanda, Olive locates the East African Community country members which includes Rwanda: Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda.

Although the source of the Nile River is and maybe always will be argued upon, we know it takes its source in or near Rwanda. Flowing from Central Africa it empties into the Mediterranean Sea. Children color in the Mediterranean Sea on their worksheets with their colored pencils.

What’s the highest mountain in Africa? Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. What’s the biggest desert in the world? The Sahara. More coloring in on their worksheets.

Valerie showing visuals during a geography lesson.  AoC 2011I pass out visuals of the Nile River, Mt. Kilimanjaro, and the Sahara Desert.

Reading maps.  AoC 2011When asked to locate a specific country, Angelique searches and finds!

My big challenge is to teach the kids about the difference between the Democratic Republic of Congo and its capital Kinshasa with the ‘other’ Congo and its capital Brazzaville. That’s going to take some time to master!

Coloring in various African countries.  AoC 2011This student is busy locating Mali, one of the many countries where the Sahara Desert is located.

I started BIG with a look at the world, then to the continent of Africa, and to end our lesson we study a map showing the endangered mountain gorilla habitat- Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the Virunga Massif. I want the children to realize that they live in a unique and important place in the world along side a rare animal species. With a better concept of this, they will gain a better understanding of why flocks of tourists travel here to climb the volcanoes day after day and what effects, both positive and negative, it has upon them.

Our students loved this lesson and now they can locate their place where they live on the globe.