Lisa and I took our first hike at Nyungwe National Park in 2012 with Ange Imanishiwmwe. He proved to be a talented park guide and naturalist, engaging us in a discussion of the importance of forest elephants and helping us identify the birds calling in the distance.
What we also learned about Ange right away was his commitment to helping his community and his nation improve. In his words, At age 7, I made a commitment to devote my life and work to integrating poverty reduction, food security, and environmental protection in my home district, the poorest in Rwanda.
It seems a large commitment for a young man in a nation recovering from a tragic genocide in 1994, but for the last few years we’ve been watching Ange made dreams come true. In 2012, Ange was named “Top Young Innovator” by the Ministry of Youth & ICT. One year later, he had an individual meeting with Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagamé. He is proving to everyone that a boy of 7 can make a promise that will be kept by the man he becomes.
Ange started Biocoop Rwanda, a youth cooperative, and it is making a dramatic difference in the area near Nyungwe National Park. It has already created 650 jobs for local people with an objective to create 5,000 jobs in the next five years. They have raised more than $100,000 USD in grant funds, using Kiva.com and other microfinance programs to gain needed equipment. Recently they acquired a 3-wheeled motorcycle to transport milk to market for local farmers participating in a milk co-op. They have workers clearing invasive species plants out of Nyungwe National Park and they work to reduce poaching. A garbage initiative turns trash into fuel, reducing dependence on charcoal.
More than 90% of Rwandans live as subsistence farmers though soil is very poor and acidic in the Nyungwe area. Biocoop is working to improve soils through composting and teaching better farming practices. Reducing poverty and improving food security is also good for the park, as people with few options often turn to illegal activities like poaching and cutting trees. Biocoop tries to improve their ability to make a living on their farms near the park without having to go into the forest for subsistence.
Ange earned a Bachelor’s degree in Zoology and Conservation and is finishing a Master’s degree in Biodiversity Conservation. He has earned the Certified Interpretive Guide credential through training we provided in Nyungwe. Through his salary he supports his wife, son, mother, two sisters and two brothers. Several other guides from Nyungwe also work with the Biocoop.
Earlier this year Ange was the first Nyungwe guide to receive a donated laptop in support of his work. We continue to raise funds and take donated laptops in support of the many guides in Rwanda trying to improve themselves and their communities.
Ange is seeking sponsors to bring his message of how entrepreneurship can help improve local communities to the U.S. and Europe. If you know of a potential sponsored speaking opportunity, let us know and we will put you in touch with him. Biocoop Rwanda is becoming a force for conservation, training and defeating poverty. It is a challenge that will last for decades but very important to the future of the parks and people of a recovering nation. There is a world of good to do in Rwanda and beyond. If you’d like to help, contact us and we will share ideas.
– Tim Merriman