Posts Tagged ‘africa’

I’ve been home in Montreal for a week now and have finally settled back into the rhythm of things. Simple things like supermarkets and the metro are very odd to me. However, I’ve been so well treated at DFGFI that I feel this culture shock would be much bigger otherwise.

My last day in Rwanda was just as memorable as my past two months doing this internship. I was informed last minute that the Rwandan Office of Tourism and National Parks had found an open spot on one of the gorilla treks for the morning of my departure. Some would say that deciding to climb a volcano a few hours before boarding a plane is just a bit too rushed, flaky even. Others, however, would point out that passing up an opportunity to see the rare Mountain Gorillas that can only be found in the area I’ve been working in for the past two months would be just plain foolish. I agree.

I woke up at before dawn in order to make sure that everything I had was packed and ready to go for when I got back from my trek so I could make a mad dash to Kigali to catch my plane. I had been told that if I was going to slam down the serious cash to see the gorillas ($500!), that I should try to go see the Susa group that is the longest trek but the largest group. Alas, I didn’t have enough time to spend trekking all the way up the Karisimbi volcano and so I settled on a steeper but shorter hike up to the Amahoro group.

After a long drive along the usual rock strewn roads that my driver jokingly dubed “an African massage,” we arrived at the bottom of the Bisoke volcano. The trek was long, the group had moved further up the volcano to the dismay of the other tourists. The altitude is just a bit too tough for some people and when you are not young and spry, the climb can be a killer. I’ve been living in Ruhengeri for two months now and have no longer fallen victim to loud panting after climbing up a small hill.

The guide and I were a bit ahead of the group when we finally arrived at a massive crater half-way up the Bisoke volcano. Our guide began to make vocalizations to announce our arrival and that we meant to harm. “rrraaa-hummm, rrraaa-hummm.” All of a sudden, there was a huge amount of rustling in the trees next to us. The guide and I were suddenly face to face with a 600 pound gorilla. The silverback had come to say hi. Directly behind us was a sudden drop into the crater; squeezing my hand, the guide and I made ourselves as small as possible as the big guy brushed by us. After what seemed like an eternity, he went off in another direction to see what our next move would be.

With my heart racing, I was excited to see the rest of the group. Not far off, we could hear more rustling in the trees. Above us, another male gorilla climbed into one of the trees and started to peel the bark and chow down. Soon, a few young ones came round to see what all the commotion was about. Once they realized it was just some bald albinos come to stand and stare at them again, they went back to wrestling each other. I can’t imagine what they think of us. What strange behaviour for an animal to do nothing but stare at them with seemingly no purpose whatsoever? I know one thing for sure, these gorillas blew me away and I could have spent ages up there on that volcano with them Every thing they did mesmerized me. When I caught a glimpse of the recently newborn baby, I was absolutely elated. When they broke out in screams bickering over food, my adrenaline began pumping. Every second was amazing. If I had left Rwanda without having been able to experience this moment I would have been kicking myself forever.

Rwanda, I will miss you. I have come to love you and all the people within. I’ll be back to see these gorillas again.


Read Full Post »

Bisate School

“Muzungu! Muzingu!” all the children shouted as I arrived at the primary school in Bisate. My guide today, Joseph Karama, the manager of the Education Program for Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund international, turned to me and said, “Do you know what they mean? They are shouting: White person! White person!”  When travelling, most people resent the fact that locals will always treat them as an outsider and always will consider them as much  no matter how well they assimilate into the culture. I’ve felt this way many a time before but have come to accept the fact that my pale skin and blond hair makes me stick out like a sore thumb.

 Bisate kids

The kids swarmed us as we got out of the truck to meet the director of the school, Ndayambate Michel.  The school was split between several small buildings that housed the classrooms. It was built in 1972 by the ministry of education and provides schooling for 1,700 children, but until recently had few resources and poor sanitation.  There were only six toilets for the students and teachers to share, which meant there was one toilet for around 285 people.  The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International has since funded 25 more toilets, bringing the number of people sharing a toilet down to 55.  This number is still high and there are plans to add more in the future once enough funding can be secured.

 New toilets







Water Tank


In addition, the Fund installed two water tanks last year. Water is hard to acquire around this area and the conditions are therefore very unsanitary.  These tanks collect and store rain water. This is very useful, since the area gets a great deal of rain throughout the year.


Fifth Grade 

With help from Partners in Conservation, the Fund has provided writing materials, notebooks, geometry kits, science books, an atlas and the Hobe newsletter that is written specifically for kids up to the age of 6. The soccer teams also have new uniforms and the school has received a suitcase filled with puppets of all the local animals to teach conservation education. Joseph added that the Fund has just ordered bicycles for all the teachers. This resulted in big congratulations all around and lots of excitement.  Plans also in the works include new solar panels that will provide electricity for the school.  The roofs also need to be replaced since the ones that don’t collect rain water are still made with asbestos and can also be used for collection in the future.  There is also a need for new classrooms, since the secondary school is presently borrowing several of their classrooms.  The construction will cost $75,000 in total.



Director of the School

The director of the school is fairly new and was very happy to work for a school supported by the Fund: “When I first came here, I was pleased to hear that it is supported by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.  The Karisoke Research Center has given over 12,000 books, which is an opportunity other schools don’t have.  This school will be excellent.”



Two Students


His hopes are high and he tells me that eventually he would like to see a computer lab built for the secondary school and to have a sheep cooperative for the teachers to improve their lives.  I too hope that these can become reality. It’s only a matter of money. It always is just a matter of money.

Read Full Post »

BisateMany things can be said about Rwanda but it certainly is not flat. The drive to the Karisoke Research Center wound up and down the hills of the countryside. The driver knew the route well and sped past the many trucks that putted along the small road. Like a rag doll, I was thrust either towards the mountain or the cliff with each snaking turn. I lay back and took in the scenery as we raced along.


We arrived at the office just before noon. I was briefly introduced to everyone and allowed to put away my bag. Then I was off to Bisate, where I would be meeting Jean Peter, the water and sanitation consultant. Bisate is the community closest to the forest where the gorillas live and, therefore, also to the people who have the most contact with them. Gorillas are known to come into the area and human parasites can easily infest a gorilla.

CNN camera crew

When I arrived at the Bisate clinic, CNN camera crews were already there. Jean Peter apologised, saying that they had come at the last minute and would be gone soon. I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by the sudden change in my surroundings since I set out that morning. I had arrived in a much colder, rainier part of Rwanda where I knew practically no one. My French seemed to be of little help as well.


Once Jean Peter was done with the reporters, he came over to show me around. The clinic is small but fully functional. It was a miracle it was there at all. Originally, the clinic did not have clean water or adequate sanitation. In addition, it had a rat infestation caused by improper disposal of placentas and body parts, and only 15 to 20 people could be served per day.


wound dressing room, Emmanuel Mpabwanimana

Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International became involved with the clinic in 2006. Jean Peter explained that conservation could not work unless the communities surrounding the conservation area were taken care of. Lack of medical care is directly related to gorilla welfare and it is essential to “break down this channel of transmissions.”

toiletsThe clinic has seen huge improvements since the Fund began to implement its Ecosystem Health Programs which help fund new equipment and the training of the medical staff. Every bed has a mattress, and the maternity roomWater tanks has new equipment and is getting a new delivery table. There is a consultation room, laboratory services where HIV/AIDS tests can be performed, a wound dressing room, a pharmacy, a maternity room, a delivery room and a room for hospitalized patients. The clinic does vaccinations, prenatal consultation, family planning, health education and a nutritional program. The clinic now serves 50-70 people per day and 17,401 people in the entire community. There are nine new toilets, with two reserved for hospitalized patients. Many universities have come to work with the clinic: MIT helped install the water tanks that collect rainfall; Dartmouth University installed a biogas project that would use the gas created by the latrines to heat a stove; and most exciting of all, Columbia University is helping the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International to install solar panels.

Even with all these improvements, conditions are still cramped. All patients in hospitalization are lumped into one room right next to the maternity room. Plans for the future are to build a new house that would separate men, women, and children, but it requires funding. Hopefully, the clinic will be able grow much more . The people of Bisate as well as the gorillas can only benefit.

Read Full Post »