Media Impact Promotes Chimpanzee Conservation in Rwanda

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Media Impact Promotes Chimpanzee Conservation in Rwanda

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Drama promotes chimp conservation in Rwanda. Curious? Find out more about @PCIMediaImpact
Tuesday, April 17, 2012 - 3:30pm


From people to chimps; the solution lies with both and somewhere in between

“The natural world is the larger sacred community to which we belong. To be alienated from this community is to become destitute in all that makes us human. To damage this community is to diminish our own existence.”  -- Thomas Berry

PCI-Media Impact has always been focused on people. Bettering people’s lives. Improving the health and living conditions of men and women. Empowering communities. Touching the individual.

It is people who make up communities, which make up our global world. Yet there is more to this social tapestry. There is the environment we live in and the species we share it with. This is our greater community – natural landscapes, biodiversity and wildlife.

Change starts with community. As we realize just how  dependent we are on our environment and the other animals and plants that exist alongside us, we understand that visionary solutions to global population, health, sustainability and conservation must include all links in the chain.

PHE is a well-known acronym among those in the population, health and environment fields that stands for just that: Population, Health, and Environment. The key concept is that these three elements are interlinked as one. PHE programs are cross-sectoral development initiatives that link conservation, health, and family planning interventions. These programs are generally located in biodiversity hotspots, where population pressure is among the factors contributing to environmental degradation. Rwanda is a prime example.

When the global population surpassed 7 billion last October, Rwanda’s population contributed with 11 million people, up from 7.7 million in 2000. Considering that Rwanda is roughly only five times the size of the Taj Trapezium Zone, established to protect the Taj Mahal from nearby oil and coal refineries, the fact that it has a population of 11 million and is home to many endangered species is alarming. And the small nation’s population is expected to nearly double by 2050.

One cannot drive through the rolling hills of central Rwanda without noticing that nearly every square acre of land is devoted to agriculture and farming. The towns and villages are cluttered with domestic dwellings, which are teaming with people. Those who have cars weave between a sea of pedestrians and farm animals. There is little space to share, and that goes for Rwanda’s indigenous animals – including those most closely related to us, namely chimpanzees.

One of the last areas of untouched forest in Rwanda is Nyungwe National Park (NNP). Located in the Albertine Rift, NNP is a bastion of high altitude forest with flourishing biodiversity and endemism. Although the park covers just over 1,000 square kilometers, it is home to 13 primate species, including the chimpanzee.  Unfortunately, these chimps are threatened due to occasional poaching, habitat destruction (mostly due to forest fires started by wild-bee honey collectors) and the risk of human-animal disease transmission from tourists and local community members. As Rwanda’s population grows, so do these threats.

In response, Media Impact and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working with local partners to raise awareness about existing conservation efforts in place to save Rwanda’s chimps. The Entertainment-Education program, My Chimpanzee-My Community, will create a 24-episode radio drama set to air  in early 2013. Yet before this radio-novella is broadcast nationally, the urgency of its message must be understood. And this is, once again, where Media Impact steps in.

Last month, Media Impact sent three representatives to Kamembe, a rural town on the Rwandan-Congolese border, to lead the My Chimpanzee-My Community training workshop. These workshops, which are essential to Media Impact’s Entertainment-Education program development, do more than just train. They focus on a broader capacity-building agenda. They enlighten local organizations to the greater purpose behind each project. They encourage diverse community constituents – local partners, technical advisors, producers, directors and writers – to work together in producing a product that appeals to a wide audience and represents all sides of an issue.

In order for My Chimpanzee-My Community to capture the urgency of Rwanda’s conservation issues and broadcast the essential fact that population and ecosystem are integrally linked, a diversity of voices must come to the table. Therefore, Media Impact invited numerous constituents to participate in the Entertainment-Education workshop: conservation-education and beekeeping development officers; tourism agents; former chimpanzee poachers; law-enforcement wardens; teachers and principals; journalists and chief editors; radio hosts and technicians; scriptwriters for the national Rwanda radio station; NGO members; preachers, and other community liaisons. Indeed, it takes a community.

One of the most essential things that Media Impact has learned in 27 years is that, in order to create sustainable programs, local talent must be strengthened and allowed to lead. My Community participants not only learn the fundamentals of designing successful Entertainment-Education dramas, engaging audience members in critical conversations and implementing sustainable and impactful campaigns, but they also become advocates for the issue at hand. They become leaders, activists and the sparks of social change.

One member of the My Chimpanzee-My Community workshop – a WCS community officer -- captured the intimate connection between civic leadership and environmental protection when he declared, “I’m passionate about justice because without justice there is not respect; without respect, there is no conservation; without conservation, there is no life.” 

When examining the PHE problems that Rwanda faces today, we realize just how crucial the message behind My Chimpanzee-My Community is for the future of the most densely-populated country in Africa. Although the message starts with protecting Rwanda’s chimps, it goes well, well beyond. The greater story within is about the inherent relationship between population growth, health and the environment.

With 430 persons per square kilometer, the pressure of human activities on Rwanda’s natural ecosystem is inescapable. Human-induced changes in the environment are exacerbated by population growth, the resulting demand for agricultural land, economic growth, industrial development and the endless quest for natural resources. As a result, Rwanda is a hot-spot for deforestation and desertification, the contamination of freshwater sources, and widespread biodiversity loss. These changes not only harm the environment and other species, but Rwanda’s people. The effects are as urgent as the causes themselves.

This is why Media Impact values My Community education as its greatest tool. Once the people of Rwanda understand the urgency of the PHE situation at hand, they will be impelled to act. And this is the job of those behind Media Impact’s Entertainment-Education projects: getting the community to ask penetrating questions and find sustainable solutions.

Only through a gathering of diverse community constituents, can the most important questions be raised: If everyone understands the urgency of this issue, why is there still no action or behavior change?  What are examples of good motivation strategies to create that change?  What is our entry point as communication specialists in the field?

These are the questions that were shared and discussed during the My Chimpanzee-My Community capacity-building workshop. They are the questions that will frame the direction of the Entertainment-Education radio novella and the questions that will illicit response. Although the solution often is found with an answer, it all starts with a question. This is why the questions raised during Media Impact’s training workshops are so important: they give birth to the solutions we hope to name.


PCI-Media Impact empowers communities worldwide to inspire enduring change through the use of creative storytelling. Media Impact is an international leader in supporting social change through multifaceted communications programs. During 27 years of work with local partners in communities around the world, Media Impact has leveraged the power of media and the inspiration of storytelling to produce more than 3,000 episodes of 75 programs. Together with our partners we have reached more than 1 billion people in more than 40 countries. To learn more, please visit our website:


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Keywords: Environment & Climate Change | Chimpanzee | Chimpanzees | Community | Conservation | Media Impact | PCI-Media Impact | Rwanda | Social Actions | Sustainable Living | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service