When I was growing up with my 6 brothers and 3 sisters, I loved playing games, especially soccer. We grew up on the island of Idjwi in Lake Kivu and we were always in contact with nature. There was a small forest close to our house, with wildflowers, birds, and parrots. The parrots used to perch in our trees because of its tasty fruits. Although we loved playing games such as hide-and-go-seek in the forest, it was dangerous because of all the venomous snakes. Working with wildlife was my childhood dream, so after my studies, I got a job at Virunga National Park, the oldest park in Africa — and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This football pitch is right next to Rumangabo park station, where I live. You can read more about my work with the Virunga Youth Alliance on this site.
I was shocked to see all the social problems faced by the children and youth that lived around the Virunga National Park. The park should be known for its mountain gorillas, not youth gangs and armed groups. The idea came to me to start a youth club that would bring children and conservation together through sports.
Children are the future
Sport is a universal activity that draws countries and people together in a unique way. The key to sports is relationships. Friendships get forged during the sports and games, the small group activities, the informal chats, the warm atmosphere of fun and acceptance. Some children will be amazed to find adults who want to take the time to get to know them and who enjoy being with them. I also believe these children need something like sports to look forward to, something positive in their lives. Hopefully, playing together will help them forge strong friendships — friendships that will help bring Congo out of the darkness of war.
We try to educate about the importance of the mountain gorillas
I have listened to children who were enrolled by force in militias or sexually abused and who are now back in their communities. In our group, these children find safety and even joy, which is something gangs and militias cannot offer. Slowly, attitudes are changing among the youth, and maybe, just maybe, we will be able to build trust and hope in their lives.
I manage the Briquette Program for Virunga, and in my spare time I am the head of the Virunga Youth Association, whose goal is to educate children about conservation through sport. The synergies of my two roles allow me to have a great impact on the conservation of my heritage.