Our Young Person of the month is Gisèle Kasoki Kahatane from The Democratic Republic of Congo. She is the co-founder of the CONGO TOURISM GATE organization since 2019 which works in the promotion of tourism as well as in environmental education, she holds the position of Tour Guide with a certificate of excellence named “Inspiring Woman in The Tourism Sector” but she’s also the director of the environmental education program named “GORILLA AMBASSADORS” within this organization.
Read her amazing story below and be inspired.
GISELLE KASOKI KAHATANE
From the East of the DRC, Gisèle Kahatane has a deep passion for nature and tourism, which led her to university studies in Tourism and Environmental Management since 2019. During the same year she co-founded the CONGO TOURISM GATE organization to create jobs for young people, promote tourism and contribute to the protection and conservation of nature. Aware of the environmental threats facing the Virunga National Park and the community, she initiated an environmental education program called GORILLA AMBASSADORS, targeting villages and young schoolchildren living near the park.
As a tour guide, she constantly visited several parks in the Eastern region of the DRC. However, her attention was particularly drawn to the Virunga National Park, not only because of its status as the first touristic destination in the region, but also because of the several threats faced from communities living around the park, unaware of the repercussions that this can and/or is creating on human and biodiversity, as well as putting tourism at peril.
On How She Started
The Virunga national park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979 not only the oldest in Africa, but also the one that contains the most important diversity in Africa. Unfortunately classified as in perished site since 1994, is under serious environmental and security threats from armed logging groups, poaching and deforestation. For three decades the Eastern Congo over its natural resources has been in instability and complicating biodiversity conservation which’s vulnerable, and exposes to an upsurge in illicit activities as mentioned bellow, which is having a considerable impact on the park and on the community. In addition, the effects of climate change are making themselves felt: rising temperatures, decreasing pluviosity, drying up of water sources, disruption of agricultural seasons, and so on. All this has a negative impact on local community’s activities including agriculture and farming, which are essential activities for rural their lives.
This was what inspired Gisele to start her journey and it was in this context that she initially started up training and community mobilization activities in 3 primary schools and one secondary school near the park with the aim of informing and raising awareness of the public in general about the challenges of biodiversity conservation, the situation of the great apes, particularly the mountain gorilla, and its habitat, the causes of their extinction, as well as to encourage reflection on how to contribute to the preservation of the apes as a flagship species, to the protection of the environment and to the fight against climate change. Currently, 8 schools around the park in the village of Kibumba have been involved in this program. The main activities are: training for young schoolchildren, guided visit to gorillas with schoolchildren in the parks, environmental awareness, reforestation in and around the park, artistic training and expression on gorilla conservation, advocacy for the Gorilla conservation, recreational activities, and storytelling.
On Her Successes
In terms of impact, more than 2,500 young schoolchildren have been trained currently living in peaceful cohabitation with the Park and the Gorilla; the significant reduction in threats and pressures from poaching and loss of mountain gorilla habitat, which explains the increase in the number of gorillas in Virunga, with around a dozen births registered last year, the training and mobilization of 10 local teachers from schools and villages around the Park, who in turn continue to train other young students in 8 schools. 550 forest tree seedlings have been planted around schools and in degraded areas of the park by young school children.
Gorilla Ambassadors is one of the key actors in Virunga National Park’s success in safeguarding mountain gorillas, previously classified as critically endangered, and now classified as “endangered” by the IUCN. In recent years, thanks to the commitment of Gisele and her team to environmental education, monitoring, support for local communities and the implementation of certain local development projects in the communities surrounding the mountain gorilla sector. With around a dozen births every year, the Virunga mountain gorilla population growth rate has risen to 4.7%, which is higher than the estimated natural growth rate set at 3%. This has enabled the population to reach 350 individuals in 2022, compared with 58 in 1981 and 286 in 2016.
On Her Challenges and Future Plans
In pursuing their goals, Gisele and her team have faced a series of difficulties, the most significant being persistent insecurity due to the presence of armed groups in the park, lack of logistical support, lack of financial support, acceptance and involvement of the entire population in the program’s activities, the volcanic eruption, lack of support from government services and park managers, isolation and remoteness of the areas of action, insufficient teaching materials, etc. The program also operates with no funding, but thanks to the contributions of members of the organization and the generous donations of other people from abroad, the activities are implemented regularly with the involvement of school authorities.
In future years, they expect the program expects to extend its activities in the 3 sectors of the Virunga National Park, create a youth mentoring center in one of the park’s riverside villages and produce a storytelling documentary on culture and conservation in the 4 sectors of the park.
Her Words of Advice For The Youth
Believe you are a creative person, be open to risk, to fail, and try again. Be open to challenge your assumption, limits and perception, be open to learn from others. Communicate clearly your vision, goals and your plan.
Who will be the next OD Young Person of the Month?
You can be the next Opportunity Desk Young Person of the Month! All you have to do is get a friend to recommend your work or fill out the nomination form here. We want to use the platform to recognize and celebrate the efforts of amazing young people around the world. Oh! And you must be an active Opportunity Desk member, either as a fan, reader, or subscriber! Share!