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:
- “Why are women important to conservation?” and
- “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.
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.
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.