GRACE Educators stand outside of the radio station.
In GRACE’s remote, poorly developed area of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), people rely heavily on radio. Radio is the only way news and other information is communicated. This makes radio an attractive option for GRACE’s conservation education efforts. Not to mention, radio allows us to reach a larger number of people than would be possible if we relied solely on sending GRACE Educators in person, on foot, to far-flung villages lacking roads.
With the COVID-19 pandemic limiting our ability to do in-person training and education, we turned to our already successful radio programming as a way to continue and expand our conservation outreach.
In a major new project now underway, we’re bringing messages about hygiene and the threat of human-wildlife disease transmission to remote communities in close proximity to Tayna Nature Reserve.
About Tayna Nature Reserve
GRACE is located on the northeast border of Tayna Nature Reserve and is the only international NGO working in this remote area. Tayna is special because it is:
900 square kilometers of tropical forest;
a community-managed reserve;
within the Albertine Rift, one of the most biodiverse regions on the African continent; and
one of the eastern-most locations for Grauer’s gorillas.
The communities living closest to Tayna Nature Reserve are only accessible by foot and require several days travel.
This makes radio an excellent tool for GRACE!
GRACE Educators broadcast on the radio.
Can You Hear Us Now?
More than just sending conservation messages out on the airwaves and hoping for the best, our new project aims to assess how effective radio is as an educational tool in our region.
Regular in-person outreach to the remote Tayna communities is not feasible for GRACE. Our new project will verify that community members can indeed tune in to our programs from their villages. At the same time, it will assess the potential of radio communication to change attitudes and behaviors.
Our hope is that GRACE can use radio as a tool in scaling up our already successful community conservation projects that have been piloted with the three villages closest to GRACE.
Community members listen to a radio outside.
Dramas, Interviews, and a Special Song
Designed with help from GRACE’s expert education advisors, the radio campaign uses a mix of dramas, informational sessions, and interviews with leaders and influencers – as well as a special song written by GRACE Educator Sims Guy. The program is delivered in a mixture of Kiswahili and Kinande languages.
The Tayna radio station estimates its audience is 60,000 people. Our project focuses on the listening behavior of communities in close proximity (within 15 kilometers or roughly 9 miles) of the reserve itself.
GRACE Educator Gracianne Kavira Basyanirya interviews a community member.
The project was designed during the ongoing COVID pandemic, and following an 18-month Ebola outbreak which came within 15 kilometers of GRACE. Our themes then are no surprise: hygiene and the conservation threat of human-wildlife disease transmission.
Our efforts focus on behaviors related to hand-washing, wearing facial coverings, and building “tip taps” or other hand-washing stations.
This project offers GRACE an opportunity to bring educational programming to people living in remote areas where formal education is nonexistent or of very poor quality. We expect the increased access to be well received, as education is highly valued in Congolese culture.
Getting the Basics: Pre-Assessment Survey
Community engagement team members trained by GRACE Educators recently completed a one-month-long survey of households living in and around Tayna Nature Reserve. The goals of the survey were to:
Survey team members undergo training led by GRACE Educators.
Determine actual and potential listeners of the Tayna radio station to help estimate the geographic reach of radio broadcast.
Establish baseline information on people’s:
knowledge of local wildlife, threats to wildlife and forest habitat, wildlife protection laws, and the role of hygiene in protecting gorillas;
attitudes toward the reserve and protecting the forest and wildlife; and
current practices that impact the forest and/or wildlife, such hygiene practices, hunting and forest resource use.
Using information gathered from the survey, we will identify behaviors contributing to local threats to gorillas. While the initial campaign focuses on hygiene practices, future programs will be developed to address other threats identified in the survey.
Along with our survey, we are working to make sure all communities have access to a radio by giving out one solar-powered radio to each of the 21 Barazas (extended family groups) in the survey area.
What Does This Have to Do With Gorillas Again?
Improving hygiene and reducing the risk of disease transmission is critical for people and gorillas, given the recent Ebola outbreak and current COVID-19 pandemic and measles outbreak.
Disease is one of the three major threats to gorillas in DR Congo. (The others are hunting/poaching and habitat loss, destruction, and fragmentation.)
People in and around Tayna Nature Reserve do not hunt apes, but they do hunt other wildlife which results in them entering the reserve. Raising awareness that bushmeat is a disease transmission route and teaching good hygiene practices helps address disease risks for people and gorillas.
GRACE staff hand out solar-powered radios to leaders of local communities.
Barriers to Behavior Change
Underlying many of the major threats to gorillas and their habitat is the extreme poverty prevalent in GRACE’s region. Our survey highlighted some of the shocking barriers to adopting simple hygiene practices like hand-washing.
A child uses a no-touch hand washing station.
While living in proximity to a tropical rainforest, many people face challenges accessing water and particularly soap in their homes. With soap unavailable, some use ashes as a substitute.
Though the challenges are substantial, they also highlights how simple, low-cost solutions like a tip tap water station could have a major impact on improving hygiene. For GRACE, this is motivating. We know that protecting healthy forests and gorilla populations requires actions to promote the health and well-being of people too.
Tune in Next Time
The hygiene and human-wildlife disease transmission radio programming developed as part of this project is currently playing on air. At the same time, we are studying the pre-assessment survey data to improve our understanding of local communities in this region.
After the campaign, we will conduct a post-assessment and ask questions to assess whether the radio campaign was able to improve knowledge and attitudes and teach conservation-friendly behaviors to listeners. We will also ask if people listened to the radio programs and, if so, whether they prefer one type of programming over the others (drama, interviews, others). Data from this project will inform our future radio programming plans and other conservation education efforts.
Be sure to “tune in” next time, as we share the results of our surveys and feedback from the communities.
Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in the U.S. that operates the world’s only sanctuary for Critically Endangered Grauer’s gorillas in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The largest primate in the world, Grauer’s gorillas only live in war-torn eastern DRC. Their numbers have dropped by nearly 80% in the past 20 years due to heavy poaching. They are considered one of the 25 most endangered primates in the world with only 3,800 individuals remaining in the wild.
GRACE cares for 14 orphaned gorillas rescued from poachers and works to rehabilitate them so they can one day return to the wild. At GRACE, the gorillas live in a single gorilla group that functions as a surrogate family and spend their days in protected forest habitats. GRACE also leads field research and partners with local communities on education and conservation initiatives to protect a critical population of wild gorillas living in Tayna Nature Reserve. For more about GRACE, visit gracegorillas.org.
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