Monthly Archives: September 2012

Dian Fossey’s work lives on

Dian Fossey was smiling down from the heavens today on Nyange School as the Art of Conservation team introduced the AoC kids to Fossey’s important work to save mountain gorillas & her efforts to work with local communities to end poaching of gorillas & other wildlife. AoC teachers led the kids in a discussion about poaching & what to do should they come across people mistreating animals.


AoC volunteer Ellen Strachota – binoculars & notebook in hand – mimics Dian Fossey’s field work for AoC kids to draw.

To reinforce today’s lesson, AoC kids drew & used water colors to paint pictures of other forest animals considered “vulnerable”, including the tree hyrax & black-fronted duiker.


AoC artist, Eusebe, gently assists students with their artistic expressions.

One of the coolest things about AoC is their holistic approach to working with schools. In addition to their health & conservation enrichment program, AoC gifted the rain catchment systems at Nyange & Rushubi schools, providing supply of fresh water for the schools & communities for hand washing stations & cleaning. The water can be boiled for good drinking water.



Ni ah’ubutaha [“so long” in Kinyarwandan].

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Nuko, nuko!

The Art of Conservation kids at Rushubi School enchanted us with a welcoming song & dance. What an enthusiastic performance – one we’ll likely never forget.

Nuko, nuko! [Kinyarwandan for Bravo!].


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Good morning, Kigali!

We’ve been away in the bush in the Mara region of Kenya for three days & back now in Kigali with Internet access. More on the safari experience later. [Prepare for wildlife photo overload. Jack Hanna would be impressed.]

Today, Kavos, our Congolese host in Ruhengeri (in the Musanze District), is coming to drive us around Kigali & answer all of our bazillion questions about this intriguing city.  On deck – visiting the Genocide Memorial Centre, Rwanda Nziza [local art crafts market] & Milles Collines Hotel, made famous in the movie Hotel Rwanda.

Our main purpose in traveling to Africa is to volunteer with Art of Conservation. We’ve spent two days in schools near the foothills of Volcanoes National Park with AoC founder Julie Ghrist & her team. The energy & caring teaching approach creates an enrichment learning experience unlike any other in Rwanda. The kids absorb & respond to the One Health messages of personal health & a healthy environment, actively participating in the classroom discussions & arts activities.

Check out these charming smiles! [Girls & boys alike keep their hair cropped short. Girls wear blue & boys are in khaki at Rushubi School.]  More later…losing battery power.

Rushubi School girls appreciating a little of AoC teacher Innocent’s engaging way of getting across a lesson about mountain gorillas daily living routine.

Students apply & are selected by their school to participate in the AoC enrichment program. Each day, kids peered through the windows, trying to be part of AoC with their lucky friends.

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u Rwanda ni Rwiza

Who knew a 45 minute delay leaving Des Moines would result in a 24 hour delay in reaching Rwanda? Consensus of the Rwanda Trio (Ellen Strachota, Tracy Levine & muah) is Rwanda is more than worth the wait!

Rwiza = beautiful in Kinyarwandan, native language for most Rwandans. Without a doubt Rwanda is an amazing counry.

Stepping off the flight Sunday night in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, the smell of charcoal hits you full force. Charcoal is the primary cooking and heating fuel in Rwanda. Not really a good thing, as this pollutes the air & is a cause of deforestation.

So, lots of friends & family have wondered about how the three of us would survive in a country that is primarily known for the horrific genocide of 1994. There is so much more to Rwanda than its tumultuous & tragic past. You soon focus on the mesmerizing beauty around every turn & the engaging friendliness of every Rwandan you meet.

And, yes, we’re all safe. We’ve already got some great stories, but for now, these photos capture a bit of our first few days.

Art of Conservation founder Julie Ghrist’s dog Byiza loves to steal your chair.

Juvenile gorillas ( 4 – 7 years old) romp and somersault through the forest – never straying too far frrom the family.

Park warden’s rule: stay 7 meters away from the gorillas. We obeyed this; the gorillas don’t appear to know where the line is.

Blackback eating fire ants. I had plenty of fire ants biting my ankles & legs. This guy could have plucked his next meal from me. Nasty little buggers.

Ellen Strachota & our new friend Carla from Biondi Beach, [yep; she’s an awesome Aussie] demo a little courage here. This Kwitonda Family mountain gorilla seemed a lot less interested in us than we were in him.

It was an incredible trek up into the Gahinga Mountain foothills to spend a little quality time with the Kwitonda Family of mountain gorillas.

Art of Conservation founder, Julie Ghrist, me & Tracy Levine in Volcanoes National Park – home to approximately 400 mountain gorillas.

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