On our visits to Kasiisi Primary School this week and last, the Great Primate Handshake Uganda 2012 staff and volunteers had the pleasure of meeting Francis Rwabuhinga, who has been the Kasiisi Project’s Conservation Education Coordinator since May 2011. Francis, a former pupil at Kasiisi Primary, was one of the first scholars sponsored by the Kasiisi Project, and after completing secondary school and a degree in Environmental Management, returned to the project as Wildlife Clubs Officer. Ideally placed to work with the communities around Kasiisi Primary and Kibale Forest, having grown up there, Francis soon became Wildlife Clubs Manager, before moving into his current role a little over a year ago.
Francis’ role, coordinating conservation education programmes in 14 schools around Kibale Forest, involves educating children about trees, animals, forest ecology, and global issues such as climate change. People accept what he tells them, he says, because he’s from this area, and they recognise and trust him. Francis is also a key player in specific projects, including water quality monitoring around Kibale National Park, the implementation of clean, energy-efficient stoves, and the ever-popular Wildlife Clubs. The water quality monitoring project is ongoing, but the data collected will be disseminated to the communities around the Park to explain why water quality is affected by deforestation and climate change, and what can be done to ameliorate this. Likewise with the energy-efficient stoves: Francis is active in teaching children the difference between traditional and energy-saving stoves, and explaining the link with global deforestation and environmental problems. Wildlife Clubs, which we had an opportunity to join in with this week, use music, dance, drama, debates and traditional lessons to give members a passion for tree-planting, healthy ecosystems and the amazing biodiversity that surrounds Kasiisi Primary and so much of Uganda.
With Kibale Forest home to a population of almost 1,500 chimpanzees, it is also important that the Kasiisi Primary pupils, and the communities surrounding the forest, are given information about the importance of protecting our closest relatives. Francis is therefore currently managing the Great Ape Project, which aims to foster positive attitudes and behaviours towards chimpanzees and the other great apes by educating people about the threats facing them, why they are important, and how they are related and similar to humans. As well as managing this project, Francis is training teachers in delivering it, and coordinating the ongoing pre- and post- programme monitoring of people’s perceptions and attitudes.
The results of evaluating previous and ongoing programmes show that the work Francis and other Kasiisi Project members carry out is having a positive impact on attitudes to conservation. It is now widely accepted that environmental degradation is a bad thing, and local knowledge of sustainable practices and, equally, things that should be avoided in order to protect the environment, is increasing. Francis knows that lasting behavioural change takes time, though, and that there is still much more that needs to be shared with the community. “It is not easy to tell people to conserve wetland habitats or not to hunt bushmeat when they don’t have much themselves”, he says. “People need to be told how to use natural resources wisely, and the government needs to provide alternatives for them, rather than just telling them to stop doing certain things.”
Francis is hopeful for the future, however. Passionate about the Kasiisi Project, he feels that it has made him who he is, and that it will continue to flourish, helping more children to grow up with a passion for the environment. He hopes that the project will continue to run so that it reaches all the people living on the boundaries of Kibale National Park, helping them and conserving the environment. “Without the environment”, he asks, “what can you do?”.
If you would like to support the Kasiisi Project in its valuable work with communities and conservation around Kibale National Park, please go to http://www.kasiisiproject.org/how-to-help/.