Gorilla Highlands Experts know that wildlife can only thrive if the human populations around national parks prosper as well — and we feel it’s high time we do something beyond responsible tourism. But what could best boost peace, security, economic and social development in the Gorilla Highlands region? Well, we have one big idea to share with you …
We are proposing that we put our energy into the concept of youth hubs for the youngsters of Rwanda, Uganda, and DR Congo to come together and change their realities. These hubs will of course be tightly connected to the amazing natural world the three countries share, but go even further. They will provide practical skills geared towards personal development, civic engagement and regional peacebuilding. We want to uplift future leaders of surrounding communities who will create a region full of opportunities.
Yes, that’s the thinking behind our project in the making. And you are encouraged to read this article and the 2-page draft document with a critical eye. We hope you could help us assess the potential of the Hubs and improve on the concept.
Born at a University Under the Volcanoes
The idea of the Hubs was conceived in 2021, but it would take until March 2022 for it to be eventually born. Gorilla Highlands Experts — in person and through Zoom calls — used it as the practical part of the community development and project planning module at INES-Ruhengeri. This university in northern Rwanda is oriented towards applied sciences, so they were happy to offer such an experience to seven Enterprise Development and Management course students.
The excitement and tension of their formal study involvement reached a fever pitch: they adjusted the emphasis of the initial idea, chose specific pilot activities and then defined the project scope and milestones. (The photos we inserted show moments from their two-week engagement.) The project management draft was then shared with over 50 smart people from the Gorilla Highlands region and across the world for feedback and enrichments.
And that is when I came in! Allow me to introduce myself at last: I’m Francois “Misigaro” Rebero, a 21-year-old Rwandan from around Nyungwe Forest National Park. Last year, as I pursued my Bachelor’s degree at African Leadership University, I learned about the Gorilla Highlands Initiative. My studies include a three-month internship period that I hoped to do with the Gorilla Highlands team. Little did I know that I would end up being on board when the Hubs project takes its baby steps!
I had not just one, but even two job interviews, the second of them with INES students in Musanze. These were about more than just grilling me. Everyone was free and welcome to share their experiences and ideas. By the third meeting, I found myself sitting as the future project manager … Everybody in the room was probably expecting great ideas and creativity from the specs guy!
I don’t know how much I managed to impress them, and how much I will impress you all, but I am very much motivated! My personal mission is poverty reduction and equity and the university expects me to do something in the field of conservation. The Hubs project ticks all the boxes.
All the Fun of the Summer Camp, and Before
Even though my intern duties cease at the end of August, I hope to remain part of the Hubs for most of its one-year pilot phase. Above all, I want to enjoy the International Summer Camp, scheduled for December! Imagine spending quality time in nature with my agemates from the three countries to devise together precisely an effective mission of unity, leadership and community impact! We will have hiking opportunities and cultural exchange activities, with each other and with nearby villages. And I am sure there will be some Historically Marginalised People with us too, to make it even more colourful.
I love the marginalised term, but if you are not from Rwanda you probably do not know that this is how we officially call the Batwa people. When INES students went for a study tour to the world-famous Ellen Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, the Batwa were a major topic. They discussed how these former masters of the forest and today’s poachers could be best worked with, and helped. The Hubs project can’t be only about members receiving but also about members giving! … That was the origin of the Batwa focus in the social responsibility part of our project draft.
When you download it, you will see many other elements we have planned for. Let me mention but a few … Our members will engage in weekly personal growth sharing meetings with frequent guest speakers, mostly devoted to values and attitudes. There will be a monthly leadership training session, with participants gathering to tackle anything from conflict resolution to a leader’s confidence. On a quarterly basis we will run a small business development campaign, fostering creativity and interest in eco-friendly enterprises. We will encourage intentional observation — of people, their behaviour, emotional condition and problems — that should bring to life business ideas that address what people really need/want (instead of what they may say/think).
As almost everything else in the Hubs project, the proposed seed funding capital of USD 10,000 will be linked to the natural environment and its preservation. We will finance members who successfully complete the training and dream of business initiatives that help keep our beautiful hills and lakes pristine and biodiversity intact. There is no great future for our region without that …
If you agree or disagree, please leave a comment below and help us conceptualise the Hubs!