Kahuzi Biega Environmental School

The park guards of Kahuzi-Biega National Park are vital to the security of the gorilla groups that inhabit the park. They are the ones confronting the poachers and illegal loggers. They are real heroes in this story, risking their lives to protect the eastern lowland gorillas and the park environment.

That’s why the Forest Health Alliance has focused much of its efforts on supporting the guards in their mission. In some years, our fund-raising helped pay their salaries and kept them going.

Another long-standing priority: providing a school for their children.

Our continuing commitment is to raise sufficient funds to pay teachers and other ongoing expenses into the future. Please help sustain this school with your donation. Support those who protect the gorillas.

The school will do more than help the park guards of today meet the needs of their families. The school is also an essential long-term investment in the next generation of guards. It is the children of today’s guards who are in line to become the guards of the future, since it is customary in the DR Congo for children to follow into the occupation of their parents.

That is why it is essential that these children obtain the education they will need to do the demanding job of wildlife conservation that will be expected of them. They will face a lot of challenges.

I cannot overstate the vital role that guards play in the protection of the gorillas,” says Forest Health Alliance founding President Kerry Bowman. “They’re the last and sometimes only line of defense between gorillas and the hunters and poachers who threaten their existence. Support for the education of the children of these guards is a measure of the gratitude we owe them. It is also an investment in the training of the guards of tomorrow.”

The guards live together with their families in a compound in the isolation of the park. Until now, the 100 primary-school-aged children have not had a school, due to the lack of public funding and the park’s remote location. The Forest Health Alliance recognized a need and began laying the groundwork for the Kahuzi-Biega Environmental School in 2003.

With the DR Congo now on a war-recovery footing, “This is the best time to launch sustainable activities at the park,” says Dominique Bikaba, Director of Strong Roots Congo, a local Congolese citizens’ organization, and one of our partner groups in the area.

“Forest Health Alliance delegates came here when no other foreigners were willing to cross the Congolese border, and we are eternally grateful for the help we received during and after this time of war.” Our partner group has been authorized by the Congolese government to build and run the school, but they receive no additional funding.

Thanks to donations received by the Forest Health Alliance, we were able to finance the buying of land very close to the park for the school. Construction of the school building is now complete and the first cohort of students arrived in September 2007.

The Forest Health Alliance is especially thankful to the Youssef-Warren Foundation for making this initiative a reality by their decisive contribution and ongoing support. We honor and appreciate George Youssef and Susan Warren for their steadfast commitment to wildlife preservation.

Additional funds are still needed, however, for ongoing expenses for years to come.

The new schoolhouse comprises three classrooms, one office and a washroom. The building itself consists of simple iron sheets, planks and a concrete floor.Each classroom accommodates up to 30 students. Staff includes a director, three teachers, two aides and one custodian. Over the next few years, future phases will entail the addition of primary-level and secondary-level classrooms, and will be open to children from the area around the park.

Along with teaching the basics, the school will offer a strong environmental program with a focus on conservation.

According to Dr. Bowman, this undertaking will directly benefit all the inhabitants of the park. “We’re linking human well-being with the health of the environment. We are enriching the lives of human inhabitants in order to protect the gorillas. This is the underlying philosophy of the Kahuzi-Biega Environmental School.”

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