Virunga National Park, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is home to many rare, endemic and endangered species, such as mountain gorillas, elephants, hippos and chimpanzees. However, the area in and around the park is also under pressure due to conflict, armed groups, illegal activities and population growth. With our project Virunga Youth: Actors of Hope, aimed at the youngest generation in DRC, we aim to turn Congolese youngsters into actors of change for a better future for the Virunga area.
Header photo: scouts in Virunga (c) Paul Villaespesa
Many communities around the Virunga National Park live from fishing, small livestock rearing and agriculture; around 80% of them live below the poverty line. Human-wildlife conflicts are common among communities who have their fields around Virunga National Park; wildlife feeds on their crops. This fuels the conflicts between the communities and the authorities of the Virunga National Park. The population of the DRC is young: more than 68% of the population is under 25 years old. This means the future of Virunga is in their hands. The park needs the support of DRC’s youngest generation.
By recreating the link between young people and the managers of Virunga National Park we aim to raise awareness for the important role the National Park can have for the communities living near the area and their livelihoods. Through sports and cultural activities we work on strengthening the cohesion between the communities in the Virunga area. Last but not least, we provide opportunities for young people to participate in conservation action plans within the framework of Virunga National Park.
What do we want to achieve with this project:
- Virunga scouts act as ambassadors for the protection of Virunga Park.
- Children are aware of the importance of their natural environment and mobilize their peer in the protection of the environment.
- Young people do not to adhere in armed groups and avoid their involvement in the destruction of the park.
- The life and environment of young people is improved by training their skills and contributing to a sustainable livelihood.
- Virunga Youth are active citizens who are able to make a positive contribution to the security and stability in the Virunga landscape.
- The relationship between the youth, their peers, the park and their natural environment is restored, providing positive models and associations.
As young ambassadors for Virunga National Park the Virunga Scouts play an important role in protecting the park. Our partner FESCO is recruiting the Scouts in the communities around Virunga National Park. A team of animators is supervising the young people up to the age of 21.
Through the activities carried out by the supervisors, the young people are made aware of the Scout laws, which include the protection of nature, living together and respecting others. The young Scouts then organize awareness sessions in their respective communities during which they inform the members of their communities (family, parents) of the importance of protecting nature. They do this in small groups, but also in live theaters with large audience participation.
To learn from each other and exchange experiences, Scout groups from different communities meet regularly.
Virunga Youth Football Tournament
Another important pillar in the project is education and fitness: with an emphasis in fitness through sport, we support them in becoming resilient young leaders in this challenging environment. To raise awareness for the importance of nature conservation in Virunga National Park and to strengthen the cohesion of the local communities, we’ve set up an annual football tournament together with our partner IDPE. The last editions of the tournament have proven the success of this concept: over 20 teams participated (16 male, 4 woman) in the match and there were over thousands of visitors from all over the Virunga region, thus strengthening the cohesion of communities and increasing the visibility of the conservation efforts in Virunga National Park.
The lack of available jobs sometimes forces people into illicit activities like poaching and other environmentally destructive activities. Therefore, we train youngsters skills like carpentry and sewing, and organize plastic waste collections with the supervision of our partners FECOPEILE and FESCO. Around Lake Edward we’re setting up a youth center for peer-to-peer learning. Eventually, after training in entrepreneurship, the trained young people will be able to make themselves useful in the community, enjoy economic autonomy and dissociate themselves from illegal activities that destroy the ecosystems of Virunga National Park.
Connecting through cultural activities
Mzee Mbukuli is a well-known artist and actor in Goma. With his support we are carrying out cultural activities, like movie screenings and participatory plays, aimed at encouraging local communities to cooperate with protected area managers, to promote nature conservation and avoid youngsters becoming engaged in illegal activities. By mentoring the young participants and sharing their experiences, we hope this sets a new foundation for long-term conservation in Virunga National Park.