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.

‘We organise theatre productions with the people from the villages. Working closely together increases awareness on nature conservation very well, especially because we perform real-life situations on stage. It stimulates change at another level.

Mzee Mbukuli – artist en actor from Goma

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.

Virunga youth football training

An important pillar in the project is education and fitness. With an emphasis on sport, we support young people in becoming resilient leaders in their 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 have developed football training sessions with our partner organisation IDPE. Through the training sessions, youth and park rangers connect.

The last edition of the tournament have proven the success of this concept: over 20 teams participated (16 male, 4 women) in the match. Thousands of visitors from all over the Virunga region came to the watch the tournament. This enhanced the sense of connectedness, and increased the visibility of conservation efforts.

Virunga Scouts

As young ambassadors for the national park, the Virunga Scouts play an important role in protecting it. Our partner FESCO is recruiting the Scouts from the villages 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 organise awareness sessions in their respective communities during which they inform their family members and others in their villages of the importance of protecting nature. They do this in small groups, but also in theaters with a large, participating audience.

To learn from each other and exchange experiences, scout groups from different communities meet regularly.

Connecting through cultural activities

Chalondawa Mushiwa Jonathan, or Mzee Mbukuli, is a well-known artist from Goma and part of Foundation Mzee Mbukuli Comedy (FMMC). Through FMMC, he plays an important role in this project by organising cultural activities, such as film screenings and interactive plays, in the region. ‘We organise theatre productions with the people from the villages. Working closely together increases awareness on nature conservation very well, especially because we perform real-life situations on stage. It stimulates change at another level,’ says the artist.

Mzee Mbukuli also makes short films with young people to inspire them, and others, to preserve the national park. In these videos, land conflicts and other real-life situations are approached with humor.

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The lack of jobs can force people into illicit activities, like poaching and other environmentally destructive activities. Therefore, in a previous stage of the project, we have trained youngsters in professional skills such as like carpentry and sewing. With our partners FECOPEILE and FESCO, we also organised plastic waste collections.

Around Lake Edward, we have set up up a youth centre for peer-to-peer learning. The overall objective is for the young people, after training in entrepreneurship, to be economically independent, contribute to community, and to have the possibility to dissociate themselves from illegal activities harming the ecosystems of Virunga National Park.

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