With only a dozen full-time employees, the Kitabi College of Conservation and Environmental Management (KCCEM) in the south of Rwanda is small compared to schools like Western, but its heart and its goals for the surrounding region far surpass its stature.
The Ministry of Education has prioritized education of girls and recognized the importance of gender development to improve economic and social well-being.
It also has significant ties to this university. Three years ago, KCCEM’s Principal, Jethro Odanga, helped shape the direction of Western Heads East as its Project Coordinator. The award-winning project is the university community’s response to the HIV/AIDS and malnutrition crises in East Africa.
On the fringe of Nyungwe National Park, Kitabi College of Conservation and Environmental Management employs II full-time employees and contracts teachers from across the region.
An “opportunity of a lifetime” led Odanga to ‘head east’ – literally. A little more than a year ago, the Rwandan government asked him to establish KCCEM as part of its strategy to rebuild the impoverished country, which is anxiously trying to recover from the 1994 genocide and war that brought it international notoriety.
Oversight of KCCEM falls to Rwanda’s ministries of Education and Tourism & National Parks, which may seem an unlikely pairing until you consider the college’s goals are tied to education related to sustainable uses of the environment for economic development and tourism purposes.
By showing citizens how to live in harmony with, and benefit from, the land around them, KCCEM will help develop personal entrepreneurship practices linked to environmental conservation and protection. The college also hopes to marry this training with tourism to diversify Rwanda’s economy – as a small, overcrowded country with very little industry, natural resources are critical to its future.
“I am really happy,” Odanga says.”This is what I’ve always wanted to do and I’m proud of how far we have come with the college in such a short time.”
The modern brick buildings were in shambles when he arrived in 2007 and there was no electricity, water or other infrastructure.Now, the college has a large classroom with plans to develop another, a computer lab with Internet access and 20 buildings that serve as accommodation, offices and study spaces. It is nestled in southern Rwanda’s rolling tea fields, removed from the hustle and bustle of the capital, Kigali, 90 minutes away.
As one of the only schools of its kind on the continent, KCCEM serves the entire Albertine Rift region, which includes Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia. Its inaugural class of 11 Congolese students is completing its first year. Located on the fringe of the largest-surviving mountainous tropical rainforest in Africa – Nyungwe National Park – the college offers unique research and teaching opportunities related to flora and fauna endemic to the region.
“To date, very little research has been conducted in Nyungwe,” says Odanga. “From unique plants to butterflies to primates, this forest is rich with opportunities for discovery, though we have only recently begun to see increased interest from researchers throughout the region, and around the world.”
With an eventful year under his belt, Odanga points to the initial success of KCCEM as proof positive that great things do indeed come in small packages.
While volunteering in Rwanda, Research Western’s Douglas Keddy kept family, friends and colleagues up to speed with his blog. This edited entry from Friday, Feb.
13 offers a snapshot of his experiences.
View Keddy’s blog at www.dispatchesafrica.blogspot.com
Kitabi, Rwanda – Having been here 33 days, I’ve begun to feel like a bit more of a local. I have my hotel in the city. They know me by (last) name (well, close to it). I don’t rush to the manager when I find women’s underwear hanging in the closet and used soap in the bathroom.
I have my go-to restaurants, my favourite meals and my local friends. I have a spot at the table and a mobile phone. I have a barber, though I wear my hair short. I can sing along to the chorus of some songs in Kinyarwanda. And not know what they mean. I drift unconsciously between languages when greeting people.
I have a job and need to wash my clothes by hand. I’ve given up hope for a warm shower with water pressure. And for not having to flush using a basin. I have eaten brochette after brochette and have quit resisting all the fresh tropical fruit. I have places to go to feel peace and I have a routine.
I know the prices of things, have ridden a minibus halfway across the country and have grown to love the taste of mashaza. I no longer take a picture of every single thread of low-lying cloud hanging over the mountains. I don’t flinch when the power goes off for the seventh time of the day. And it rains for the tenth. I have watched hours of Africa Magic television and have begun to dream with a Nigerian accent. Children smiling remind me of my own.
I know to order my drinks akonje and my sides without mayonnaise. I know the bends in the road and the smells. I respect the opportunities I have in life, and appreciate that others don’t. Time spent waiting has meant more time for thinking, observing and listening. If it weren’t for Paul, I wouldn’t know how North American sports teams were doing. But I’ve developed a better appreciation for futbol.
I’ve likely seen more of the country than most Rwandans. In some places, I’m less of a novelty because of the colour of my skin.
But I don’t have my family and friends in Canada. I miss you (but I’m still not ready to come home).
About 250 of the world’s 320 remaining wild mountain gorillas are in Parc National des Volcans. Tourism plays a big role in rebuilding the economy.
The writer is Research Communications Coordinator with Research Western. He recently returned from Rwanda, where he spent nearly seven weeks as a communications volunteer to the Kitabi College of Conservation and Environmental Management.
See related story:
“Helping Rwanda move beyond its history”
posted April 2/09