The Christian Science Monitor Weekly

November 26, 2018

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and others turned to poaching, Imanishim- we made a pact with himself: to devote his life to protecting nature in his native region, the Kitabi area. Seeing children destroy nests and torture birds had sealed his de- cision. Later, when a scholarship enabled him to resume school, "I said, 'I got this op- portunity, and now I want to give something back to my community,' " he says. Launching his nonprofit and ecocenter With a zoology and biodiversity conser- vation degree in hand, he became a forest guide and naturalist at the Nyungwe For- est. Then, after being named Rwanda's top young innovator in 2012, he used the prize money to create Biocoop. Last year Iman - ishimwe broadened his vision and set up the Kitabi EcoCenter, a camping site at the top of one of Rwanda's highest and most scenic mountains that combines ecotourism with his conservation projects. Although he toured the world in search of grants, it was here in the Kitabi region that he found one of his closest allies. He teamed up with Craig Conard, a pediatri - cian from New Orleans, who was working to prevent malnutrition at a nearby hospital. When Dr. Conard saw the site of the future ecocenter, he "fell in love with the place" and gave time and money to the cause. "At the end of the day, preserving the culture, helping the people, and conserving the en - vironment of that special place is the most important, and something we have to do," Conard says. Imanishimwe's vi- sion has drawn interest far beyond the borders of this country. He was one of 100 young African leaders invited to the Unit- ed States in 2015 as part of an initiative, during which he caught then-President Barack Obama's attention during a heated discussion on climate change. It's a moment he shares via YouTube, not without pride. And this summer, in a partnership ad- dressing biodiversity and endangered spe- cies in the Nyungwe Forest, a delegation from Germany visited to study Imanishim- we's model. 'Filling in a gap' The bustling Rwandan capital of Kigali, at least five hours away by bus, showcas- es how this nation has turned into one of Africa's fastest-growing economies, some say. But the sparkling paved roads out of the city have yet to reach Kitabi, revealing how much remains to be done. Imanishimwe is playing his part in the renewal of the region as well as the country, says Eric Rukinga, a financial administrator responsible for 20 villages in the Kitabi area. When Mr. Rukinga's family returned to Rwanda in 1994 after decades in exile, it found a country "where hope was dead." He adds, "Young people didn't want to get involved." But now, Imanishimwe is "filling in a gap," engaging locals in various tasks. "In 1994, young people mobilized to de - stroy our country, and now young people are mobilizing to rebuild the country," says Rukinga, soaking in the views during his lunch break at the Kitabi EcoCenter. "That gives me hope." When young people need training or a sense of direc- tion, Rukinga connects them to Imanishimwe. "I explain to them how Ange made it that far," he says. T h e s u c c e s s o f the ecocenter has prompted similar tourist base camps to open up, Rukinga says. I m a n i s h i m - w e ' s f o c u s o n conservation comes alongside increased government awareness of the economic importance of harnessing the opportunities offered by Rwanda's protect - ed national parks. After long neglect, numerous initiatives have emerged in recent years to combat poaching, reforest the country, and edu - cate guides who can teach the benefits of biodiversity. But for many struggling villagers, the ini- tiatives can feel remote, theoretical. "Those people had felt let down," says Patrice Nzamuye, a former warden at the Nyun- gwe Forest who now works for a company that harvests pine, cypress, eucalyptus, and acacia in a buffer zone around the forest to limit encroachment. "Ange is making them understand that even if they never under- stood the importance of the forest, it's time now for them to know that the forest gen- erates money and that the money is being allocated into the community." Mugendashyamba, who first worked for Imanishimwe as a "walker" clearing inva- sive species, is now a "man for everything" at Biocoop. Charged with anything from taking care of the base camp's chickens to setting up visitors' sleeping quarters at the Kitabi EcoCenter, the poacher-turned- nature-protector has a roof over his head and a salary to feed his two children. "And I'm telling other poachers they don't have to kill animals to survive," Mu - gendashyamba says on a cold night as he keeps alive a bonfire for those who are en- joying locally made ginger carrot soup. r Three other groups protecting animals UniversalGiving (www.universalgiving .org) helps people give to and volunteer .org) helps people give to and volunteer for top-performing charitable organiza for top-performing charitable organiza - tions around the world. All the projects tions around the world. All the projects below are vetted by UniversalGiving; below are vetted by UniversalGiving; 100 percent of each donation goes 100 percent of each donation goes directly to the listed cause. directly to the listed cause. r Merazonia (http://bit.ly/MerEcuador) runs a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation runs a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center on 250 acres of Amazon rainforest center on 250 acres of Amazon rainforest in Ecuador. Take action: Financially sup in Ecuador. Take action: Financially sup - port the renovation of this organization's port the renovation of this organization's clinic (http://bit.ly/MerClinic). clinic (http://bit.ly/MerClinic). r Osa Conservation (http://bit.ly/ OsaCons) applies scientific and other OsaCons) applies scientific and other expertise to safeguarding the biodiver expertise to safeguarding the biodiver - sity of the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica. sity of the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica. Take action: Give money to this group's Take action: Give money to this group's sea turtle conservation program (http:// sea turtle conservation program (http:// bit.ly/OsaTurtles). bit.ly/OsaTurtles). r Romania Animal Rescue (http://bit .ly/RomaniaAnimal) aids animals from .ly/RomaniaAnimal) aids animals from poor areas, with a focus on spay and poor areas, with a focus on spay and neuter services. Take action: Make a neuter services. Take action: Make a donation to support this organization's donation to support this organization's Homeless Animal Hospital Project Homeless Animal Hospital Project (http://bit.ly/HomelessAHP). (http://bit.ly/HomelessAHP). V FROM PREVIOUS PAGE Kitabi Kigali Akagera National Park R W A N D A Nyungwe Forest National Park Volcanoes National Park KAREN NORRIS/STAFF B U R U N D I T A N Z A N I A U G A N D A C O N G O MAP AREA 40 THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR WEEKLY | NOVEMBER 26, 2018

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