International Women’s Day Celebrations

March 8th was a day of celebration for communities near GRACE! As we work towards a more gender-inclusive world, International Women’s Day, celebrated each year on the 8th of March, is one of GRACE’s biggest and most important events.

The role of women around the world is often undervalued or overlooked. In DR Congo, as the primary caregivers for their family, women are often the first educators for children. They play an active role in daily decision making, including the use of natural resources for food, cooking, medicine and collecting water. Therefore, women directly influence their family’s commitment to conservation. It is a priority for GRACE (in alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals) to celebrate the positive impacts and contributions of women living near Tayna Nature Reserve.

This year on International Women’s Day, members of two communities near GRACE came together to honor women and girls. For the first time, the GRACE Education Team partnered with Women’s Associations in both Kasugho and Katoyo to expand the celebrations. This required more than 10 collaborative planning meetings with the women from both villages.

On the morning of March 8th, these plans excitingly came to fruition: the day was filled with poems, speeches, educational presentations, a special radio broadcast, tree planting, pledges for gender equality, and even a processional to join together women from Kasugho and Katoyo for the closing ceremonies. The excitement was palpable as more than 6,700 women, men, and children took part in this all-day event!

Enjoy these highlights from GRACE’s 2022 International Women’s Day Celebration:

Children Honor Female Role Models

The Friday before the event, GRACE Educators met with children at Muyisa Primary School to talk about International Women’s Day. They asked children to think about women who inspire them, and then color a picture of that woman to honor her. Children discussed the important women role models in their lives and took their finished artwork home to share with their families. (Additional coloring pages and resources for children to celebrate all year round are available here!).

Speeches, Poems and Songs Celebrating Women

A special broadcast on Radio Tayna presented by women from Kasugho and Katoyo highlighted the importance of women in the community and conservation. Members from the community, including nurses, leaders from the church, and Presidents of the two Women’s Associations, spoke to a diverse crowd of people on March 8th. Children from the primary schools shared poems they had written in honor of women. Music and dancing encouraged everyone to join in the celebration!

Tree Planting on International Women’s Day

To highlight their active involvement in conservation, women from the two villages took part in tree planting events. Women from Kasugho planted more than 525 anti-erosive trees along the main road (many children were also eager to help!).

Under the direction of Louise, GRACE Farm Manager, women from Katoyo planted 50 fruit trees on the GRACE farm. These included trees for GRACE’s newest project, Christina’s Garden, growing lemons, passion fruit and tree tomatoes to provided added nutrients (including Vitamin C) for the GRACE gorillas. Once fully grown, seeds from the fruit trees will also provide starter crop for members of the community who wish to grow fruit near their homes.

Pledges and Pride Walls

Also new this year were the addition of pledges and a Pride Wall. The Pride Wall encouraged men, women, and children of the community to share their thoughts and voices by answering two questions:

  1. “Why are women important to conservation?” and
  2. “What is one thing women can do to protect gorillas and the forest?”

“Women are important in the conservation of nature because they are the first educators; from their education, they guide their children on the conservation of the nature.”  – KAVUGHO Mangadelna, Kasugho Village

“To protect gorillas, I will avoid cutting trees in the forest. I must plant my own trees in my field.” KANYERE Mwengesyali, Katoyo Village

The responses were overwhelmingly positive, with over 100 people sharing their thoughts across two villages. Participants emphasized the important role women play as educators and role models for children, with some writing “To educate a woman is to educate the entire nation.”  Planting trees and breeding domestic livestock like guinea pigs were cited as actions women can take to protect gorillas and the forest.

Community members also had the option to choose a pledge and take their photo to show their support. Men and women both took part in these pledges to demonstrate a variety of ways they can help support gender equality.

In separate photos, two community members pose for a photo holding a piece of paper with a message in Swahili.
Left: A community member holds up his pledge for International Women’s Day: “I will teach my daughters to be leaders.” Right: A community member holds up her pledge for International Women’s Day: “I will celebrate the importance of women.”

A Procession for International Women’s Day

The ceremonies concluded with a procession of women from the two villages meeting in Kasugho. The excitement was contagious, and everyone was happy that it didn’t rain! The women of Kasugho and Katoyo came together to demonstrate their support of each other, leadership in the community and their commitment to conservation.

Overall, International Women’s Day 2022 was a successful and celebratory day. We look forward to expanding future events to Kasugho and other villages near GRACE in the future!

Celebrating Women All Year Long!

From our founding to today, women have been at the heart of our gorilla conservation efforts. 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. We continue to engage with Women’s Associations to develop and sustain livelihood and community development projects.

Next year, we plan to expand our International Women’s Day celebrations to a third village. We believe in a future for gorillas built on community. Our goal at GRACE is to celebrate the role that women continue to play in creating a future where gorillas and people can thrive. In that way, every day is International Women’s Day at GRACE.

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About GRACE

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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Female

Born: 2006 (estimated) Rescued: 2006

Tumaini means “hope” in Kiswahili. Rescued from poachers near Goma in 2006, Tumaini was very young, between three and six months old, and in poor health. Tumaini is a peaceful and very social member of the group at GRACE, but can become protective of her food, especially her favorite – wild bananas. Tumaini seems to want to be the most dominant gorilla in her age group and likes to display often to show off. She is shorter than other gorillas her size, which may be a result of stunted growth from malnutrition experienced at an early age.

Male

Born: 2010 (estimated) Rescued: 2011

Shamavu was carried around for weeks in a small backpack while his captors searched for a potential buyer. Once confiscated, he received medical attention in Virunga National Park and then was transferred by plane to GRACE. Shamavu is the youngest male in the group of 14 gorillas at GRACE. He’s full of restless energy with an inexhaustible eagerness to play. He and male Lubutu are best pals and they’re often seen wrestling and chasing each other up trees, around stumps and through their night quarters. Shamavu boasts thick dark hair and striking eyes. Watch Shamavu’s trip to GRACE.

Female

Born: 2002 (estimated) Rescued: 2005

Confiscated near Goma in eastern DR Congo, Serufuli was named after a North Kivu, DR Congo governor. She was between two and three years of age when she was rescued. Serufuli is a beautiful gorilla that is described by staff as kind. She is one of the quieter gorillas and rarely causes a stir, but she has close friendships with both of the highest-ranking females at GRACE — Pinga and Mapendo — and can influence who is seen as the dominant female by the group.

Female

Born: 2003 (estimated) Rescued: 2005

From the moment Pinga was rescued from poachers, her rescuers knew that she was a gorilla destined to be in charge! Pinga has always been very “wild-like” in that she is not human-oriented — a promising quality that will make her a strong candidate for reintroduction. Pinga is the oldest female at GRACE and led the group for several years before male Kighoma came of age. She is still one of the highest-ranking females in the group, but now jockeys for the alpha female role with Mapendo. Pinga has been the loving surrogate mother to almost every orphan gorilla at GRACE.

Female

Born: 2009 (estimated) Rescued: 2010

When Ndjingala was barely one year old, she was rescued from captors who were trying to sell her illegally. She was in bad shape when she was found. Her captors had tied her using a rope around her waist, which had worn deep cuts into her hips – plus she was sick. Fortunately, Ndjingala’s health slowly improved. Ndjingala loves to play and climb trees, and has a bit of a goofy side. She has started to be interested in mothering younger gorillas and often carries them around on her back.

 

Female

Born: 2010 (estimated) Rescued: 2011

Muyisa was rescued in 2011 on the border of Rwanda and DR Congo. She was taken into Rwanda, and then due to insecurity could not return to her home in DR Congo for three years. During this time, she lived alone with only a human caregiver and she unfortunately suffered from stress and pulled out much of the hair on her head as a result. Remarkably, when Muyisa met the group at GRACE, the gorillas physically embraced her and she integrated seamlessly into the group. Today, she is a confident young female who loves playing with gorillas her age.

Female

Born: 2004 (estimated) Rescued: 2007

Mapendo, whose name means “great love” in Kiswahili, was about three years old when she was confiscated from poachers in December of 2007. She is a tough girl, and very smart. She occasionally uses tools, including branches which she uses to rake in food out of her reach when her caregivers are not looking! Mapendo is one of the highest-ranking females in the GRACE group, jockeying for the role of alpha female with Pinga.

Female

Born: 2015 (estimated) Rescued: 2016

Lulingu is the youngest gorilla at GRACE, and is really adorable. All of the older females love Lulingu and try to carry her whenever her surrogate mother Pinga will let them. The GRACE caregivers think Lulingu (sometimes called “Luli”) is the perfect little gorilla because she always takes her food and medicine and loves the forest. She is adventurous and loves to climb high in trees. Lulingu has always had an independent nature — on her first day in the forest, she immediately climbed a tree and made her own nest! See her full story here.

Male

Born: 2009 (estimated) Rescued: 2011

When Lubutu was about one and a half, he was rescued by the wildlife authority from four people illegally trying to sell him. He was extremely sick at the time from eating human foods. Despite his rough start, Lubutu adapted well to life at GRACE. Lubutu is now healthy and happy. He is silly and gentle and has endeared himself to every person who has met him. Lubutu is growing up and starting to show more silverback-like behavior, but he still loves to play — especially chasing and wrestling games with his best friend Shamavu!

Male

Born: 2006 (estimated) Rescued: 2008

Kighoma was held captive in near the Tayna Nature Reserve in eastern DR Congo by a militia group. Such groups often keep young gorillas and other wildlife as mascots. He was rescued by a man named Kighoma, the brother of a local king, so that is how he got his name.Kighoma is the oldest of the males at GRACE and is currently the alpha male. He is a gentle leader, always looking out for the safety of the other gorillas in the group.

Female

Born: 2012 (estimated) Rescued: 2014

Kalonge was confiscated by the Congolese wildlife authority in 2014 after villagers discovered her caught in a snare. Today, she is one of the boldest members of the GRACE group. She is an energetic, rough-and-tumble gorilla who likes to play and have her own way. Kalonge can be a trouble-maker with high-ranking females like Pinga, because she wants to be in charge! Despite her leadership aspirations, little Kalonge has many friends and loves to play all day every day!

Female

Born: 2003 (estimated) Rescued: 2004

Itebero was only about one-and-a-half years old when she was confiscated from poachers. She was named after the village in eastern DR Congo where she was rescued. Itebero is considered the smartest gorilla at GRACE by caregivers. She uses tools such as branches to help her access food out of her reach. She even has used the advanced “hammer-and-anvil” technique of cracking palm nuts to get to the oil inside, a method previously thought to be restricted to chimpanzees who are known for their tool-using abilities. Itebero’s tool use even made headlines!

Female

Born: 2007 (estimated) Rescued: 2009

On the day she was rescued, Amani was found stuffed into a plastic bag and was very dehydrated. She had a bullet lodged in her right leg as a result of the poaching incident that killed her family. While she is still a little slow and walks with a limp, she has healed well. Many of the GRACE caregivers believe that Amani is the most beautiful gorilla at GRACE because of her pretty face and sweet personality. She loves to play with the younger gorillas and is a peacemaker after conflicts within the group.

Female

Born: 2011 (estimated) Rescued: 2012

Isangi’s family was killed by poachers when she was around 9 months old. Isangi is tough young gorilla for surviving the ordeal that took her from her family group. She walks around almost as if she is the dominant female, like nothing can harm her. She is quite mischievous, and really loves her food. She tries to sneak tasty treats from the caregiver’s food buckets, and will even try and steal food from other gorillas.p.