Written by: Valerie Akuredusenge
Hi! My name is Valerie Akuredusenge, the Program Director of Conservation Heritage – Turambe, (CHT). I grew up in Gakenke District in the Northern Province of Rwanda. I began my journey in wildlife conservation as a tour guide, leading others through the dense rainforests of central Africa. I facilitated influential conservation experiences for tourists by bringing them up close and personal with some of the world’s most amazing wildlife.
As my love and appreciation of this wildlife grew through those experiences, I knew I needed to share this excitement with the local communities living alongside animals like mountain gorillas. I joined Art of Conservation in 2006 and became a leader in conservation education. I have taught over 2,800 children in communities bordering Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park about how to maintain healthy lives for the continued prosperity of the local communities and gorilla populations as well. Additionally, I am creating the next generation of Rwanda’s wildlife conservationists by inspiring local students to care about their natural resources, and act on behalf of wildlife and habitats.
In 2013, I became the Program Director of Conservation Heritage – Turambe, an off – shoot of the very successful international non–profit organization called Art of Conservation that worked in Rwanda for over 6 years conducting conservation and health awareness programs in Musanze District, Rwanda.
Conservation Heritage – Turambe is local non-profit organization based in Musanze District in the Northern Province of Rwanda. CHT works with local communities bordering Volcanoes Natinal Park home to the critically endangered mountain gorillas.
Since 2013, CHT has worked as a local non-profit organization in Rwanda. In Kinyarwanda, Turambe translates to “let us be sustainable”. All 7 of the CHT staff members are Rwandan and committed to continuing the important and inspiring work that was done by AoC previously.
The goal of CHT is to educate local communities near Volcanoes National Park to ensure they live in harmony with mountain gorillas and their habitat. CHT believes that disease transmission between mountain gorilla populations and human populations is a major threat to gorillas. To make sure the lives of mountain gorillas and that of human populations next to the park is in balance, CHT conducts year – long after school conservation and health awareness classes in communities near the Volcanoes National Park, home to mountain gorillas.
To be able to do it, the CHT team and I utilize different methods to deliver conservation and health messages to local communities. Art is a great tool we use to help spread our messages and also make our program more unique.
Through our classroom programming, CHT teaches over 200 local schoolchildren about conservation and health. These conservation lessons instill in students an understanding and compassion of nature and wildlife. Local community members are also encouraged to stay healthy because the health of wildlife is linked to that of people.
CHT’s work also improves local livelihoods through different initiatives. We conduct tree-planting activities to prevent soil erosion, provide animal habitat and create beautiful green space. We also donate water tanks to schools to ensure water availability.
Additionally we do community outreach through our local schools by conducting conservation and health awareness classes to remote schools. We host annual events including the 3k Gorilla Fun Run to increase gorilla awareness with communities and partners and we host annual tennis tournaments to raise awareness of CHT and mountain gorillas, and how to stay healthy.
At the very end of our year long after school programming, we host a very big event – Parents As Partners’ Open House – to share with our partners, local authorities, parents of kids and participants of our program what we have achieved during the year and celebrate!
To achieve our goal, we also partners with different conservation organizations including the Houston Zoo. One of the Houston Zoo missions in the protection of mountain gorillas is to make sure they are safe in wild and partner with conservation organizations. In this context, CHT is really honored to be have Houston Zoo staff here for a one-month visit. Houston Zoo staff is incredibly helping my staff and me in capacity building where she has been assisting, coaching, teaching and training and inspiring us on how best we can improve our way of planning and improving our documents.
Together with her expertise, the CHT team including me have gained a lot of experience in strategic planning, evaluation, writing documents, and many more. In addition to capacity building, Houston Zoo has been a very close partner of CHT. They have been sponsoring CHT’s staff salaries, project development, raising funds for CHT and marketing the project. We are very fortunate to be with their staff member, Martha, who is really making us strong readers in conservation to be able to reach our goal. My staff and I cannot wait to use what we learnt from the Houston Zoo.