GRACE staff speak into a microphone at International Women's Day.

GRACE’s work protecting critically endangered Grauer’s gorillas and their habitat would not be possible without the many talented, dedicated women on our team and in the community. We rely on women in leadership, gorilla care, farming, community outreach, research, and so much more.

Among GRACE staff, International Women’s Day is considered the most important event of the year. While celebrations looked a bit different this year, GRACE and local community members marked the occasion to recognize the importance of women in society and in conservation in particular.

Women in a dance group perform for International Women's Day.

Celebrating Women in a Difficult Year

The theme for this year’s celebration in DR Congo was “The feminine leadership: for an egalitarian future in the world of COVID-19.” Typically, International Women’s Day is the largest celebration of the year in the villages around GRACE.

While the number of COVID cases in our region is currently low, precautions this year made for a smaller gathering with safety protocols including hand-washing in place, under the supervision of GRACE Educators and members of the Red Cross. In addition, all celebrations took place outside.

Activities on and leading up to the day included:

  • A village cleanup, with waste from the village collected and placed in a public dustbin;
  • A refresher course on installation and use of hands-free “tip tap” hand-washing stations;
  • A radio broadcast with voices from local women;
  • A march, with women and men participating;
  • Poems, sketches, and songs, including a sketch from the local women’s group about when and why we should wash our hands; and
  • A presentation on the history of International Women’s Day.

Women from GRACE and the community dance wearing dresses made from matching fabric.

The Amazing Women of GRACE

Women have always played crucial roles in GRACE’s operations. We often employ community members during construction or conservation projects, and women have always made up a large percentage of this workforce.

In our full-time staff, we rely on women in leadership, gorilla care, farming, community outreach, and daily operations of the sanctuary. The amazing women at GRACE in DR Congo include:

  • Aldegonde Saambili, Caregiver
  • Devotte Kavira Kiriha, Caregiver
  • Joyce Kavugho Mulamiro, Caregiver
  • Gracianne Basyanirwa, Educator
  • Ivone Kavuo Nzanzu, Kitchen & House Staff
  • Jeanine Masika Vwirasihikya, Kitchen Staff & Caregiver
  • Louise, Farm Manager

Women from GRACE's training stand in a row holding guinea pigs.

Local Women Support & Benefit from Conservation

GRACE benefits from the support of women in surrounding communities year round. From volunteer work planting trees to paid work sewing masks early in 2020, local women’s groups lend their support and keep the spirit of conservation alive in local communities.

Current conservation education and behavioral change programs focused on women include:

  • Our guinea pig husbandry program, which provides a protein source for families and helps reduce small-scale hunting in the forest.
  • Our fuel-efficient stove program for household stoves, which improves health and safety in the home and reduces the amount of wood extracted from the forest for fuel and building.

While GRACE helped design, fund, and implement these programs, and provides ongoing training support, the success is largely dependent on women’s groups. Women volunteered to participate in the programs and then talked to their neighbors about their experiences. They also made a commitment to train other women in what they learned.

GRACE would not be here today without the many women who lend their strength, skills and support to our gorilla conservation efforts.

A local women's group volunteers to work on the GRACE farm.

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

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