Category Archives: Humanitarian Situation

News from the International Population, Health and Environment Conference 2013

Hi, This is Sam,

I recently went to Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, where the International Population, Health and Environment Conference (PHE) 2013 was being held. I attended this annual convention along with many civil society organizations, government officials, researchers and donors from across the world. We gathered to share, learn, network and identify the needs and priorities of PHE advocates and organizers.

The conference was spread over two days and offered many interesting seminars such as “Integrating PHE in rural agricultural interventions among small holder farmers”, or “Sustaining and scaling up PHE interventions in and around national parks in Uganda”. We also discussed how we can raise the profile of our PHE efforts and results as this could increase new donor interest in our projects.

Overall, it was a pretty amazing and very informative event, and it was incredible to see PHE members from all over the world working together towards the same goal of improving PHE’s global projects. My positive experience makes me look forward to next year’s conference – but don’t worry until then I will of course keep you posted with news about other projects and events that are happening down here in Africa!

PHE_group

Goma is quiet – but for how long?

Hi, this is Sam,

As I’m sure you know, the past couple of weeks have been very difficult indeed for everyone here at the Gorilla Organization, but especially for our colleagues in Goma. Here at the Kisoro Resource Centre in Uganda, we have seen a steady stream of refugees pass our windows as they flee the insecurity across the border.

But this is nothing compared to what our colleagues in DR Congo have seen and heard. They were quite literally scared for their lives – as well as for the lives of their families – when the M23 rebel group took Goma towards the end of last month. While the rebels captured the city (relatively) peacefully, there was still fighting, with rockets fired into the city from higher ground and soldiers from both sides out in force on the streets.

Now, though the M23 soldiers have left Goma itself, still the fear and uncertainty remains. How long will this fragile peace last? When will we be able to work free from fear? For now, we can do little more than wait and see how the situation develops. Fortunately, even at the Goma Resource Centre, our vital work is continuing, though, as I’m sure you can appreciate, not at full capacity. I look forward to writing to you again soon with better news.

 

Naming the Kwita Izina baby gorillas of 2012.

Performers dancing along african rhythms

Performers dancing along to traditional african rhythms before the giving of names begins

Hi, this is Tuver,

As you know, last week I attended the eight Kwita Izina, an annual  ceremony where the baby mountain gorillas born over the past 12 months in Rwanda are officially given their names. As I hope you can see from these pictures, the atmosphere of the event was great and it so many people came from across the world celebrate the arrival of these precious babies and learn more about Rwandan culture.

This year on june 16th, 19 newborn gorillas were given names in Kinigi, the Northern Province of Rwanda. The event was chaired by Pierre Damien Habumuremyi, Prime Minister of Rwanda and I was one of thousands who looked on with joy as selected dignitaries gave the infants their names.

Some of the given names for this year’s newborns were “Icyeza” which means extreme beauty, “Ishimwe” meaning gratitude, “Itazaba” that can be translated into English as light, “Duhirwe” that means let us be lucky and “Kungahara” which means prosperous. Also, this year twins from the Susa group were born, their names “Impeta” and “Umudende” make reference of a very important and high valuable medal in Rwandan culture.

“The giving of the names for newborns remains an occasion of joy and worth celebrating” declared Ms. Rica Rwigamba, head of conservation within Rwanda Development Board (RDB), and boy was she right! There was singing and dancing and then even more dancing well into the night.

About 161 baby gorillas have been named at the Kwita Izina ceremony in Rwanda since the first festival was held  back in 2005, and The Gorilla Organization has been a proud supporter of each one.

Here are some more pictures from this year’s Kwita Izina for you to enjoy…

Delivering the given names of the newborn gorillas
Announcing the names of the gorilla babies

Digniatiries from both near and far were invited to name this year's gorilla babies

 

Presenting the given names of the newborn gorillas

Presenting the given names of the newborn gorillas

Celebrating the World Environment Day

 

Local people from Goma picking up rubbish from the streets of the town

 

Hi, this is Tuver,

To celebrate the World Environment Day, the local communities of Goma in Eastern DR Congo gathered yesterday morning for a special cleaning activity. From children to women and men, we all worked really hard to clean and collect the rubbish left in the streets and the areas surrounding the beach in Goma.

As part of this day’s activities we all walked along the streets to promote the conference that we later on attended at the ISDR GL University. The themes of this special conference were: “Green economy: what are we doing about it?” and “Problems regarding the disposal of plastic rubbish”.

I hope that this activity makes people more sensitive to the importance of the environment as well as help them to keep their surroundings tidy. Have a look at these pictures I took and learn a little more about what happened on that day…

Promoting the Conservation of the Environment and inviting locals to join the conferences

 

Inviting locals to the cleaning activity of the streets in the town

 

Attending the conferences about the Green Economy and the Disposal of Plastic Rubbish

 

The Nkwenda Health Centre opens its doors to everyone!

Hi, this is Tuver.

The Nkwenda health centre is one of the Gorilla Organization’s great success stories here in the DR Congo. We set it up back in July 2007 to provide first aid and a range of other frontline health services to the indigenous Bambuti communities living on the edges of the Virunga National Park.

Since then, however, the project has been expanded to offer free or affordable healthcare to everyone living in the immediate vicinity. In 2009, we started working with a number of international charities and NGOs, including Merlin and Helping Hands, who provided the clinic with vital, lifesaving drugs and other treatments.

So far, around 5,000 people have benefited from the work of the clinic, which is situated just 12km from Kiwanja in Rutshuru territory, North Kivu. And, with the clinic going from strength to strength, many more will also benefit from access to emergency medical care provided by specialists, both from the DR Congo and elsewhere in the world.

However, it’s imperative that we maintain excellent relations with our donors and other well-wishers so that this clinic, which is situated on the edge of the forest home of our cousins the gorillas, is never short of even a single quinine or paracetamol tablet.

Here are some photos of the clinic in action….

The clinic the Gorilla Organization's supporters helped to build

The clinic the Gorilla Organization's supporters helped to build

Communities living on the edge of the gorillas' forest home get access to medicine

Communities living on the edge of the gorillas' forest home get access to medicine

International doctors provide healthcare for all at the clinic

International doctors provide healthcare for all at the clinic

World Day of Peace

Last week, on 21 September we celebrated World Day of Peace here in Goma. The women of North Kivu and the Great Lakes region, including Rwanda, Burundi and DR Congo, seized the opportunity by planting trees overlooking the town of Goma. Over 100 trees were planted to mark the occasion and cement peace in this troubled region.

The trees were provided by our resource centre and I joined the women on their 7km march to the site of the tree planting, where the Vice Governor of North Kivu Mr. Feller Lutaichirwa Mulwahale planted the first tree. These trees are not only a symbol of peace but also reinforce the reforestation of the area that began last year.

The World Day of Peace celebrations continued in Bukavu, where we also run projects to protect the gorilla habitat. President Joseph Kabila joined local women to deliver the torch of peace and all in all there was a very positive feeling surround this special day.

Have a look at some of the photos of the tree planting – it was a wet day but we were happy about rain as it is good for the trees!

DSC_2781DSC_2786DSC_2775DSC_2772

August 16th – Ex-Militiamen’s long way back to normality

 Posted on behalf of Ian Redmond.

16th – Gisenyi is a peaceful place for a holiday, with a golden sandy beach and luxury hotels.   Recently, Presidents Kabila and Kagame, of DRC and Rwanda, held a joint press conference on the border between the twin towns of Goma (DRC side) and Gisenyi (Rwanda side).   The event created a palpable sense of optimism that security and stability might soon return to the region.  

Part of that process involves trying to lure back the armed militias of Rwandan origin who have been living as outlaws, terrorising villagers, in the forests of eastern DRC since the genocide 15 years ago.  Today, the Network 7 crew had arranged to visit a nearby Demobilisation and Rehabilitation Centre to interview some of these ex-combatants who, in an extraordinary experiment, are being given the chance of a new life. 

The smooth tarmac of Rwanda’s roads wound upwards from the lake and we were soon pulling into a compound with several large corrugated iron buildings.  From one of them came the sound of singing and clapping – music is central to Rwandan culture – and after a short wait we entered the barn-like hall.   The 200 or so men had clearly been given a lecture, and among the Kinyarwandan words on the blackboard, one stood out – ‘jenocide’.   

The principle behind this scheme is that people show remorse for the suffering they have caused, and learn to live a normal life again.  Our driver Yahaya announced in Kinyarwanda what we hoped to do, and asked if any of those present had been involved with mining or bushmeat poaching.   Quite a few stood up and out of those prepared to talk to the camera, we selected three.  The most harrowing for me was the second, Emanuel, a fresh-faced, slender young man of 22.   Yes, he had killed people he said; he was five when he fled to Congo, and 12 when he first killed;  he had used guns, knives and machetes – whatever was to hand – and didn’t know how many people he had killed.  My heart went out to him as much as to those he had bereaved, because he was a victim too.  

Emanuel Hakizimana, former child soldier in DRC, now returned to Rwanda - Photo Ian Redmond.

The use of child soldiers to commit atrocities is one of the most chilling practices. We are social beings and when young, follow the example of those who care for us.   Children need role models, but if your role model is a murderer and heaps praise on you when you kill, you become trapped in a twisted parody of family life and then used as a tool to commit evil deeds.  I noticed he was wearing a crucifix, and he explained he had become a Christian since returning to Rwanda.  One can but hope that his new faith will help keep him on the right path.

The other two men, Samuel and Valence, were older and a little more guarded in their answers.   They had been adults in 1994 and when Grant Denyer, the Network 7 presenter, asked about whether they had killed simply said that when one shoots in a war, one cannot tell if your bullet hits someone.  As well as unknown numbers of people, all three also admitted to killing chimpanzees, elephant and, in Valence’s case, gorillas.  I asked whether it was a male or female gorilla, and he replied it was a silverback he had killed and butchered for meat.   “But Rwandans don’t eat gorillas,” I said, “Why did you do it?” “Because I was with Congolese soldiers who told me to.”  And I suppose that if he had refused, he might not be here today….

He insisted that he regretted his crimes and was grateful for the chance of a new start in life, but all three were worried about how they would make a living when they re-entered normal society.  As we pulled away and drove to Kigali, we were worried too – deep in thought about what we had heard and wondering whether their remorse was real and whether ‘normal society’ was ready to accept them, warts and all.

Read Ian’s previous post here.

14th August – Miners and minors

Posted on behalf of Ian Redmond. 

The biggest threat facing all the large mammals in Kahuzi-Biega NP is illegal hunting for the bushmeat trade. In the illegal mining camps in the park, miners who spend their days doing hard physical labour need protein.  They buy bushmeat from teams of hunters who comb the forest for animals and trade meat for minerals – so much ore bartered for so much meat.  Traditionally the Bashi people of this area do not eat ape meat, but it seems that in the mining camps, traditional taboos are swept aside in the turmoil of war and the desire for profit.  And as numerous reports have observed, from NGOs such as Global Witness right up to the UN Security Council, those profits are used by the militias who control the mines to acquire weapons and ammunition.  For the miners themselves, if the choice is between ape-meat and no meat, it is hardly surprising they choose to eat – as John Kahekwa, founder of the Pole Pole Foundation is fond of saying ‘an empty stomach has no ears’.

Kalimbi artisanal mine, Eastern DRC - Photo Ian Redmond.

I was keen to meet some of the miners, but the lowland sector of the park is still under the control of ‘negative forces’.   After clearing our plans with MONUC yesterday, we drove instead to Kalehe today, along the lake-side road with stunning views of islands and inlets.  The mine we had arranged to visit was extracting a tin ore called cassiterite rather than the better known coltan, but both minerals are used in the manufacture of electronic devices.  We were accompanied by a government security man from Bukavu, and after meeting the Kalehe local authorities, another one from there.  Finally we met the chief of the village near the mines, and he too decided to accompany us.  We drove a few more kilometres to a steep-sided valley with sides scarred by mining waste.  Down in the valley, the stream had been repeatedly dammed and diverted to produce small alcoves with waterfalls to wash the ore.  Clusters of people were shovelling gravel or swishing it with their hands to release the sediment which was carried downstream.  The sediment-filled water was in stark contrast to the clear mountain streams that flowed down the hill before meeting the mine tailings.

Modifying stream flow to wash cassiterite, Kalimbi, E.DRC - Photo Ian Redmond.

Many of the people in the stream-bed were clearly teenagers, some even younger. Mines in eastern DRC are notorious for using child labour, but although many of these miners were minors, to be fair it was the school holidays and like teenagers everywhere they were working to earn a few bob.  The presence of mothers with babies and people of both sexes and all ages carrying sacks and washing ore gave it the feel of a sort of community mine.  There was no apparent overseer forcing the kids to work, they seemed self-motivated and cheerful despite their obvious poverty.  At my request, the village chief asked some of them if they attended school, and of course they dutifully nodded..

Woman carrying 36 kg of Cassiterite, DRC. Photo Ian Redmond.

A smallish woman came down the steep path with a fore-head strap supporting a sack of ore on her lower back.  I helped to lift it off and – impressed by the weight – borrowed a spring balance.  It weighed 36 Kg but she laughed at my surprise and said it wasn’t particularly heavy.  We followed the path up the hillside to the mines – simple holes dug into the ground by men with torches strapped to the side of their head, wielding lump-hammers and chisels. Outside the mine entrance, a boy sat pounding ore into smaller fragments and picking out the heavy bits that contained cassiterite.  The waste was tipped down the hillside, causing the scarring we had seen from the opposite side, and promising bits were put into sacks to be taken down and washed in the stream.  Jason the camera-man followed the miners down into the ground and I followed him down the steep descent, slippery with mud.  This kind of mining is known as artisanal mining, and it doesn’t get much more basic than this.  Squatting in the dark with weak batteries in their torches (another expense to come out of the meagre earnings) men were hammering their chisels into the rock face and assessing by weight and appearance the lumps they chipped off.  After taking some video of the work, I gave my camera to one of the security men behind me and gave it a go.  I used to work for a builder when I was a teenager, so using a lump-hammer and chisel was not new to me, but in the confined space it was difficult to swing the hammer, and when I did chisel off a few lumps, the owner of the tools pointed out that there was no cassiterite in them.  It may be hot, sweaty manual work, but you need to know what you are doing if you want to make a living out of it.

Miners at work underground, Kalimbi, E.DRC - Photo Ian Redmond.

Back at the cars, I interviewed the president of the Kalimbi miners, Mr Safari Kulimushi, and asked him about the laundering of illegally mined minerals.  He said that the biggest problem was the insecurity – people never knew when the next armed gang would come through killing, raping and looting homes.  Because of that, it was difficult to monitor what was going on in all the mines.  Things were much better organised when there were expatriates running the mines, he opined, because they had machines  gave training.and maintained the roads better.  We both agreed that what the area needed was investment from the industries that used the tin and tantalum being mined here – then workers would get a fair wage and be taught how to mine safely (we saw not a single helmet, pit-prop or safety device) whilst minimising the environmental impact.  

M.Safari Kulimushi, President of Miners at Kalimbi, E.DRC - Photo Ian Redmond.

And if the industry investment included developing a system of certification, then the use of ‘conflict minerals’ would be reduced if not eliminated.  This is what the Gorilla Organization has been trying to do with the Durban Process (so called because they first got miners, traders and end-users around a table in Durban to hammer out an agreement and develop plans to set up a model mine to show how it should be done).  Unfortunately the process has stalled due to lack of resources – there is only so much a small NGO can do.  So again, one has to ask where is the investment from the wealthiest industries on the planet – electronic goods manufacturers who use the tin in solder and tantalum in capacitors, or for that matter the media and telecommunications companies that depend on electronic goods?

Heavy metal - cassiterite tin ore, E.DRC - Photo Ian Redmond.

The journey back to Bukavu was long, bumpy, dusty and – for most of it – dark. When the steel plate that protects the sump rattled loose for the second time, I got out my Swiss Army knife and cut another length of para-cord to tie it up again.  You are a sitting duck in such a situation, and indeed we were ambushed – but by kindness not bullets – as locals came out to see what was going on, and one man immediately volunteered to crawl under the vehicle to tie up the plate.  He didn’t even ask for payment, just shook our hand and wished us a safe journey, which is what we had – arriving back at the hotel at nearly 10.00pm for a late supper.

That’s all for now folks – tomorrow, on to Goma.

Cheers, Ian

Read Ian’s previous post here.

12th August: Arboreal Gorillas and Philosophical Guardians

Posted for YoG Ambassador Ian Redmond.

The excitement was palpable on the drive up to Kahuzi-Biega National Park HQ.  For several of the Australian Network 7 TV crew, this was to be their first gorilla encounter and they had been planning for months and travelling for days to get here. The chief warden had agreed to give an interview, and I wanted to ask him to give the first of my YoG Blog interviews.   Only then would we head into the forest in search of gorillas.

The warden, Mr Radar Nishuli, was ready for us and I guess we expected a typical warden’s interview about the problems of running a World Heritage Site over-run by militias and rebels.  Standing in front of a pile of elephant and gorilla skulls, evidence of bushmeat poaching from the vicinity of the HQ during the war, the camera started rolling.  Radar didn’t disappoint, but it was pretty standard fare until he was asked why he did what he did;  he thought for a moment (English being his fourth language) and explained that he had been working in the park for 25 years and had come to know and admire the gorillas; it would be difficult to express to someone who had not experienced a gorilla encounter but – and he searched for the words – there is something about the way they behave with each other and how they use the forest, “God gave us intelligence and what do we do?  We destroy things.   Gorillas don’t have the intelligence to make cars and guns and things, but they have their families and live in harmony with nature…”   I’m paraphrasing here, but the meaning was so clear and so profound, we were all taken aback by his eloquence.   Afterwards I asked him to summarise what he thought of the UN Year of the Gorilla in the light of what he had said… as soon as I have worked out how to compress a massive HD video file down to a size that can be up-loaded to the internet you’ll see what he said.

Afterwards, I was delighted to greet one of the unsung heroes of gorilla conservation, the venerable old pygmy tracker Pili-Pili.  He began working with the Park’s founder, the late Adrian Deschryver, in the 1960s and although long retired and now showing his age, he still seemed fit – indeed after our chat he began picking weeds off the stone steps to the park visitor centre.   When I asked about his health, he told me he is usually hungry (there being no such thing as a pension scheme) but the weeds he was picking had medicinal value;  I paid him something for his weeding and asked a friend to take my photo with him – I hope someone sits down with him and takes down his oral history, for he has lived an extraordinary life.
Ian Redmond with retired gorilla tracker Pili-Pili, Kahuzi Biega, DRC. Picture by Mick O’Donnell
It was then just a short drive along the road through the park to a trail leading to where the advance party of trackers had already located Chimanuka’s Group.   Perhaps it was because we were so late starting, but the trek was long and it was mid-afternoon before we reached the gorillas.   For the producer’s and presenter’s first gorilla sighting it was pretty impressive – Chimanuka the silverback and several females and young were high up in a Myrianthus tree feeding on fruit.   As we peered upwards and dodged falling fruit, Chimanuka clambered to the main fork and carefully embraced the trunk for a controlled slither down to the ground.   At a leisurely pace the females followed, some finding more acrobatic routes down, and one reaching to a neighbouring tree with a long slender branchless trunk and sliding down like a fireman’s pole (video to follow).   So much for the wildlife books that still talk about gorillas being too heavy to climb trees – they are excellent if careful climbers and do so whenever there is fruit or other food to be had in the canopy.   The group continued travel-feeding on the ground for a while as we struggled behind untangling tripods and buckles from vines and thickets.

The vines are very thick nowadays, it is thought, because of the absence of elephants. As John Kahekwa of the Pole-Pole Foundation explained in my second YoG interview, the vines are now over-running fruit trees, bamboo and other favourite gorilla food-plants.  A few elephants were recently spotted for the first time in a decade, but before the war this part of the park was home to about 350 and it will likely be a long time before numbers recover to the point where the ecological balance is restored.  We can only wait and see how the gorillas cope with this degraded habitat.
Chimanuka, Eastern Lowland Gorilla silverback, Kahuzi Biega National Park. Picture by Ian Redmond.
Eventually the group settled down and the cameraman got some beautiful shots of Chumanuka grooming an infant (silverbacks often babysit with the kids while the females have a quiet nap – very ‘new-man’ in their approach to family life!). John explained that the infant has been named Pili-Pili after the retired tracker.

Soon after the group moved off, searching for food plants, we came across an old antelope trap just where they had passed.   Fortunately, the trigger mechanism had rotted and the pole had no noose on the end, but I cut it with my trusty panga to prevent anyone re-setting it – many young gorillas and chimpanzees have lost hands or even died from gangrene after being caught in these indiscriminate snares.  It highlighted the dangers gorillas still face, even in patrolled areas.  And as Dominique Bikaba, coordinator of PoPoF pointed out, it is also why surrounding communities need to be engaged in the protection of their park – patrols can never cut every trap if there is a constant setting of new ones – we need potential poachers to understand how the rain that waters their crops comes from the forest, and that by protecting it they will get more benefits in the long run.  As we left the park, however, we saw the dangers the local communities face too.   Right where we had left our vehicles we found broken glass and empty brass cartridge cases where only two months ago, a band of ‘negative forces’ (as militias are referred to here) ambushed a lorry.   Ten people died and many others were injured and traumatised.   It is not easy living in such insecurity, but some of my oldest friends continue to protect the gorillas and the forest despite the danger.   Their dedication is an inspiration to me – surely they need our support now more than ever?

Read Ian’s previous post here.

Kahuzi Biega National Park, Coltan and Militias

Posted on behalf of YoG Ambassador Ian Redmond. 

So here we are in Bukavu, and after a very positive meeting with the park warden, are preparing to visit the park and the habituated gorillas tomorrow.  

But this area faces many other problems that the world has largely ignored. We spoke to a BBC news crew this evening who have been filming the mining issue from the human rights point of view. Their presence here was triggered by the recent report by Global Witness (www.globalwitness.org) on the shared responsibility we in the developed world must recognise for on-going atrocities linked to militias controlling mining operations. When we buy electronic goods, we cannot say for sure that our money is not paying for tin or tantalum (mined here in eastern DRC as cassiterite and coltan respectively) bought from rebel militias who repeatedly rape and murder to terrorise civilians in their sphere of influence.  Coltan ore confiscated in gorilla habitat, Kahuzi Biega, DRC. Picture by Ian Redmond.

Some half a million people have fled from their homes in eastern DRC as a result, and the death toll since the war began is 5 million and rising. Humanitarian reports from this region make shocking reading, and lead one to wonder why more is not being done. If even one of the hundreds of such incidents were to happen anywhere else in the world, it would be front-page news, but few reporters cover the violence in DRC. In the face of such chilling events, why would anyone care about a few gorillas being killed for bushmeat?   

The fact is, before the war, the gorillas in Kahuzi Biega brought thousands of tourists and prosperity to the region. The DRC parks department is working towards the day when the tourists return, and already a few brave pioneers are turning up each week to enjoy a gorilla encounter. Moreover, the agriculture in this region depends on the rainfall generated by the forest; and the future of the forest depends on the seed dispersal agents such as primates, elephants and hornbills surviving to play their ecological role, sowing the trees of tomorrow.

With that thought, I will blog off and get some kip before tomorrow comes!Cheers,Ian

Visit www.yog2009.org for more on the Year of the Gorilla.

Read here how Ian’s journey began.