Happy Holidays!

On our 2014 trip to Rwanda while visiting mountain gorillas, the Agashya Group.

On our 2014 trip to Rwanda while visiting mountain gorillas, the Agashya Group.

Every year throughout the holiday season, we reflect on all the blessings in our life. We count you, our readers, among them. Whether we get to see our many friends and family members around the world in person, on Facebook, or only in our thoughts, know that we keep all of you close to our hearts always. We’ll be moving to Hawaii in January where we will continue working towards our mission of inspiring people to care for each other and the world around them. Here’s hoping that your holidays are merry and bright, and that 2015 brings you health and happiness no matter where you are or what you do.

Lisa and Tim


Lisa Brochu and Tim Merriman

Principals, Heartfelt Associates

Science Interpretation on a GRAND SCALE

Created at Wordle.net.

Created at Wordle.net.

Virtually all people everywhere enjoy the innovations of science but often without any appreciation of what it took to develop that innovation. We rely on and love our technology, but many people don’t seem to understand that the same scientists who bring us technology are the same ones who are telling us about the effects of humankind on global climate change. In some cases, our technological advances are creating adverse effects, while in others, the advances help mitigate those effects.


Science agencies like U.S. Geological Survey, NASA, USEPA and NOAA and the work that they support are often misunderstood at best or ignored at worst. In 1994, the Newt Gingrich and Richard Armey Contract with America planned to eliminate the entire budget for USGS. Gingrich and Armey did not appreciate that our understanding of weather, rainfall, earthquakes and other catastrophic events is dependent upon researchers in USGS, NOAA, NASA, USEPA and other science agencies.


Recently I read an article about Dr. David Scholnick of Pacific University. He takes the credit for putting shrimp on a treadmill, one of the many research projects that has come under fire by legislators and the public for wasting taxpayer dollars. He reports that it cost only $47 for the shrimp treadmill (out of his own pocket), not the 3 million dollars in taxpayer funds claimed in 2011 political campaigns. His research grants were not about getting shrimp to work out. Instead, they supported work to understand how shrimp react to infections in estuaries. This is critical to survival of important seafood sources and reflects ecosystem health in general. If you’ve ever eaten seafood of any kind, or spent time in the ocean, or understand that ocean waters cover three-quarters of the planet and have an impact on how the entire world functions, this research matters to you.


Eighty-year old Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma is soon to become Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. He is also author of the 2012 book, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. This top Congressional science official will encourage us to plunge our heads deeper into the sand, ignoring the obvious threats of climate change and our impacts on it. The divide between scientists and climate change deniers has never been greater.


The effort to help people understand global climate change is too little and too late so far. Sometimes the available information is simply too scientific and over the heads of the average citizen or elected official. We have a global crisis in UNDERSTANDING but no real emerging global effort to improve the situation. If the political will to act on multi-national climate change strategies across all political lines is lacking, how do we as a society change that?


We need a broad national strategy to help the public understand the growing impacts of global climate change. We are hammered by national ads for political candidates, the need to drill for more oil and support for a pipeline. Big money is behind the acceleration of global climate change, yet very little is spent to help people understand their role in the acceleration rate and future impacts of climate change. An investment in science interpretation is long overdue. We need more science interpretation, national ad campaigns, and cross-agency collaboration to make it happen. It’s never too late to slow the rate, but much of the damage is already done. We each need to keep encouraging our elected representatives to do more in support of science education and interpretation. The future of our grandchildren depends on it.


– Tim Merriman







Missed Opportunities – Video and Photographic Histories

Daisy Carson, my grandmother, is the teacher near the center with her hands on her head. I wish I knew more but there's no one left to ask. Look through your oldest photos with people who know the stories.

Daisy Ellison Carson, my grandmother, is the teacher near the center with her hands on her head. I wish I knew more but there’s no one left to ask. Look through your oldest photos with people who know the stories. Record the stories as you hear them.

I recently spent several days going through boxes of family photos left to me in my mother’s estate and given to me by my sister just months before her passing. I scanned each photo and attempted to add a meaningful tag on the title of the jpeg file. Many of the photos have a question mark where a name should be, but everyone who would know these relatives from the early 1900s has died.


When I managed a state park visitor center for eight years in Illinois, one of the more common conversations I had was with elderly men who recalled experiences from the 1930s when they worked in the park for Civilian Conservation Corps as young men. Those were missed opportunities. We had no easy way to collect and store personal stories and just did not see the importance at the time. Many of them could have provided photos and anecdotes about the unique times working with the New Deal program that built the lodge, shelters and many of the bridges in that park.


Digital images have made it easy to shoot videos of conversations with guests and scan old photos and documents. That’s the good news. The bad news is that we often do not slow down and collect the story or archival photos that someone might provide. Here are a few thoughts on how to facilitate these archival collections at an interpretive site:


  • Post an invitation on the wall at your facilities and online that lets people know you have an interest in historical stories about the locale or people living in the community. Provide a place they can upload still photos or videos if you have more advanced website capabilities.
  • Keep an appropriate camera and digital storage equipment in a place where staff talk to guests and train them in how to use it to collect a personal story and appropriate support information.
  • Pre-script some questions to start the conversation.
  • Have the guest sign a photo/video release when collected, so that you can make use of the items shared. Keep contact information on each storyteller so you can ask followup questions later.


Story Corps is an organization doing this on a very broad scale and they store their archives at the American Folklife Center. They also share their stories on National Public Radio on a regular basis. There are many other organizations who keep personal story archives on varied themes.


Keeping your own organizational archive of stories as videos, still photos and written narratives will always have a value to your staff. When doing research for a new program or exhibit, these resources are invaluable. They also serve as an institutional memory. Staff members move on and their knowledge of what happened over the years is lost unless it is recorded somewhere carefully in your own archives.


Digital resources are easy to share with others. I sent my collection of family photos by flash drive to nephews and nieces all over the U.S. in hopes that our collective memory of our own family will not die in a cardboard box in the garage or be dumped into a yard sale. Archives of photos and stories are valuable resources and can now easily be shared for families, communities and organizations.


– Tim Merriman

Biocoop Rwanda: Entrepreneur at Work

AngeLisa and I took our first hike at Nyungwe National Park in 2012 with Ange Imanishiwmwe. He proved to be a talented park guide and naturalist, engaging us in a discussion of the importance of forest elephants and helping us identify the birds calling in the distance.


What we also learned about Ange right away was his commitment to helping his community and his nation improve. In his words, At age 7, I made a commitment to devote my life and work to integrating poverty reduction, food security, and environmental protection in my home district, the poorest in Rwanda.

It seems a large commitment for a young man in a nation recovering from a tragic genocide in 1994, but for the last few years we’ve been watching Ange made dreams come true. In 2012, Ange was named “Top Young Innovator” by the Ministry of Youth & ICT. One year later, he had an individual meeting with Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagamé. He is proving to everyone that a boy of 7 can make a promise that will be kept by the man he becomes.


Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 9.02.05 PMAnge started Biocoop Rwanda, a youth cooperative, and it is making a dramatic difference in the area near Nyungwe National Park. It has already created 650 jobs for local people with an objective to create 5,000 jobs in the next five years. They have raised more than $100,000 USD in grant funds, using Kiva.com and other microfinance programs to gain needed equipment. Recently they acquired a 3-wheeled motorcycle to transport milk to market for local farmers participating in a milk co-op. They have workers clearing invasive species plants out of Nyungwe National Park and they work to reduce poaching. A garbage initiative turns trash into fuel, reducing dependence on charcoal.


Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 9.04.45 PMMore than 90% of Rwandans live as subsistence farmers though soil is very poor and acidic in the Nyungwe area. Biocoop is working to improve soils through composting and teaching better farming practices. Reducing poverty and improving food security is also good for the park, as people with few options often turn to illegal activities like poaching and cutting trees. Biocoop tries to improve their ability to make a living on their farms near the park without having to go into the forest for subsistence.


Ange earned a Bachelor’s degree in Zoology and Conservation and is finishing a Master’s degree in Biodiversity Conservation. He has earned the Certified Interpretive Guide credential through training we provided in Nyungwe. Through his salary he supports his wife, son, mother, two sisters and two brothers. Several other guides from Nyungwe also work with the Biocoop.


Ange w compEarlier this year Ange was the first Nyungwe guide to receive a donated laptop in support of his work. We continue to raise funds and take donated laptops in support of the many guides in Rwanda trying to improve themselves and their communities.


Ange is seeking sponsors to bring his message of how entrepreneurship can help improve local communities to the U.S. and Europe. If you know of a potential sponsored speaking opportunity, let us know and we will put you in touch with him. Biocoop Rwanda is becoming a force for conservation, training and defeating poverty. It is a challenge that will last for decades but very important to the future of the parks and people of a recovering nation. There is a world of good to do in Rwanda and beyond. If you’d like to help, contact us and we will share ideas.


– Tim Merriman