From July 24th through July 26th I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to work with a group of 17 young women in what must be one of the world's most scenic regions: Nyungwe National Park in Rwanda. The park itself consists of a dense, imposing forest landscape that is home to 13 species of primates, many of which are endangered. Monkeys were everywhere. And I even had to chase one out of the house I was staying in while working on my computer!
For this workshop, the focus species was the chimpanzee and the workshop participants wrote a number of great tales featuring chimpanzees.
For those of you whose impressions of Rwanda are dominated by the movie HOTEL RWANDA and news about the genocide, please realize that is not Rwanda today! Traveling in Rwanda was such a relief - the roads are amazing, the buses only fill up to capacity (not beyond), the motorcycle taxi drivers wear helmets and carry one for you (the passenger) as well. Everyone is very friendly and helpful and there are very few people who are pushy or aggressive, as I have encountered in a number of other countries. Rwanda's economy has been doing well and, although there are certainly some concerns over political freedoms and freedom of the press, it appears Rwanda has a bright future. And it is certainly a wonderful country to visit.
One of the goals of the Endangered Species, Empowered Communities project is to provide another data point to help shape both children's and adults' perceptions of the countries featured in this project. When the last time you heard much in the news about Rwanda was when the genocide occurred, it is natural to feel it is a dangerous country. Many people feel the same about Nicaragua or Cambodia. Even DR Congo is far safer and more stable than most people realize. Of all these countries, I feel that the impression that many people have of Rwanda is the least deserved. And I hope these books, which will feature information on life in Rwanda, will serve as a source of positive news about the country to help balance-out the media's tendency to only report bad news, thus sometimes unfairly shaping our opinions of entire countries and cultures.