by Rachel Daneault, Primate Zoological Manager, Disney’s Animal Kingdom
When I was initially asked to come to GRACE it was to work with the gorillas. It did not take long for me to realize that the people in the community were just as special as the gorillas I was to work with. That was two years ago. Ever since that trip I have planned to return.
I arrived back in Katoya on July 25th. We were told to be ready in the morning by 9:00 am for the community to welcome us. After 16 hours driving through areas that most sane people would not call roads (see August 13 blog post) and a 6 hour time difference, 9:00 am seemed to come very quickly. However the reception we received was amazing. Students from the local primary school were singing songs welcoming us and we were escorted by two Mwamis (traditional Congolese chiefs). The children sang many songs and memorized poems about conservation to recite for us. We were presented with flowers and speeches were made to celebrate our arrival.
Next we were told that the staff of GRACE was preparing a special welcome for us. I was unsure what to expect. The community had done a beautiful official welcome that we all loved. We were driven most of the way up to GRACE and told to walk the rest of the way.
A beautiful banner was erected in order to greet us. As we got closer we could hear music and singing. As we turned the corner we saw that the staff was doing the singing and playing the instruments. They created songs to greet us. They presented us with gifts and a letter of thanks. The whole experience was surreal. It’s hard to explain the feeling of sincere gratitude the staff exuded. It’s always so important to remember that although we are here to help the gorillas we cannot do this work without helping the community as well. Our impact is far reaching and so important to those people who live in the areas where we work.
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