We have made several trips to Rwanda to provide training and interpretive planning in two national parks. The dedication of the guides we have met in Rwanda is inspirational. They are deeply committed to the conservation and care of the spectacular park resources of their nation.
Last January we asked the guides we trained in Nyungwe National Park about their access to the Internet as a resource for continuing education and communication with professional colleagues. Most had some use of a computer through a park office, library or classroom but no personal access at home. The few who did have their own computer had old models without much power or software. Many of the guides are working full-time while also going to school to complete a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree and supporting additional family members. Though computers can be purchased in Rwanda, they are more expensive than most park guides can afford on an annual salary of roughly $3000. Unlike the situation in the US, Internet service is very inexpensive once you have the hardware for access.
We offered to help guides obtain laptops or iPads and have spent the past nine months inviting friends and colleagues to help out, either through purchase of new models or through donation of gently used models. Within a few months, we sent three laptops and an iPad to Jules Cesar Dushimimana, Ange Imanishiwmwe, Niyigaba Protais and Kambogo Ildephonse. Donations of funds and computers were made by Nicole Deufel, Mike and MaryJane Swope, Pam and Mike Neely, CarolAnn Moorhead and Luke George, Marji Trinen, Tobias Merriman, Lisa Brochu and Tim Merriman.
This past June Lisa and I went to Australia to do several training events with the assistance of colleagues Claire Savage and Rusty Creighton. They personally donated funds to purchase a new laptop for a guide. Claire also asked the Forum Advocating Cultural and EcoTourism (FACET) to help and they funded another laptop. Emily Jacobs was kind to donate funds to support software installation, shipping and backup flash drive costs for the new laptops.
The second round of equipment was recently delivered by Dr. Beth Kaplin of Antioch University New England to Gilbert Muhawenimana and Harudy Prudence Uwitonze, who are working on Master’s degrees. Dr. Kaplin has been doing tropical forest ecology and restoration research for many years in East Africa and travels back and forth several times a year. We are grateful for her kind assistance in transporting equipment to the guides.
Capacity building is often identified as training and advanced skills development, but we think it must also include improving access to appropriate technology. If you would like to help us purchase the next two or three laptops to donate or have a second generation or newer iPad to donate, please call me at 970-231-0537. A new laptop is $250, but a contribution of any amount helps. You can make a real difference in the professional life of a colleague in Rwanda.
– Tim Merriman