Ecotourism and Development in Post-Genocide Rwanda

Other than exploring a country and continent I have not yet been too, there is a reason for going to Rwanda more than just for a fun adventure. I’m going with a group of students from Drake University. We are taking a J-term class abroad. We have the opportunity for cultural immersion and expanding our global horizons.

Traveling seems to be more memorable when you have a reason to be doing it and you have something to focus in on. What are we learning about? The class is called “Ecotourism and Development in Post-Genocide Rwanda.” We will be studying the national conservation plan by visiting the four national parks: Akagera, Nyungwe, Gishwati, and Volcanoes. While at these parks we will have the opportunity to study their differing ecology and wildlife. Furthermore, we will have the opportunity to meet with staff at each park and learn about their business plan. The National parks are very important to Rwanda and the conservation of those habitats. Rather than making a profit from farming and cutting down the forests, there has been more of a push to increase tourism. This way the people who live there can still make a profit, but the forest isn’t destroyed in the process. Rwanda’s best source of international trade is tourism.

Not only are we learning about the environment, but we are also learning about the genocide that occurred in the recent past – 1994. Although Rwanda was torn apart during this time and is still one of the poorest countries on Earth, its future looks optimistic. Rwanda has a stable democracy and rapidly improving health and education – not to mention it is trying to grow in a sustainable manner.

This class is led by Dr. Michael Renner and Madeleine Nyiratuza. Dr. Renner is a professor at Drake University. He currently does research on the mountain gorillas in Gishwati. Madeleine Nyiratuza is our leader from Rwanda. She is the president of Forest of Hope Association (FHA). The FHA works on conservation of the Gishwati Foresr reserve in Rwanda. I have yet to meet her, but I am already in awe of the work she has accomplished.

We are currently in the midst of traveling. Two legs of our trip are down and two more to go. It is taking us two days of flying in planes to get there. One day of travel and we still haven’t made it out of the U.S. I guess the wait is helping to rev up the excitement.

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