It is not possible to educate people on the importance of biodiversity if they are hungry, sick, or cannot provide for their children’s needs. — John Lukas
The Okapi Conservation Project education team reaches out to communities living around the Okapi Wildlife Reserve to both educate them about the importance of the forest and engage them to become stewards of their natural heritage. The local people are very poor and depend heavily on the forest for ecosystem services. The infrastructure in the Democratic Republic of Congo cannot provide even basic services for them and their families. To make the connection with conservation, the education team listens to villagers needs during outreach programs and the Okapi Conservation Project then works with donors and partners to provide vital community assistance. Over the years this assistance has included building schools and health clinics, providing school materials and medicines, building fresh water sources, providing medical care and transport for severly ill people to local hospitals.
The Okapi Conservation Project continues to support ten clinics around the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. Healthcare workers, supported by the Okapi Conservation Project, provide valuable assistance to local residents of the Reserve. In visits to rural villages, special emphasis is provided on subjects such as the prevention of HIV-AIDS, malaria prevention and treatment, and midwife training. Emergency transportation to missionary hospitals is provided by the project motorcycle, by trucks, or by plane.
The access to clean water is the easiest and most direct way to improve the general health of the local people. Okapi Conservation Project staff continue to build and help maintain clean water sources in villages around the Reserve. These efforts provide tangible assistance to the residents and engender a vested interest in the preservation of the forests and wildlife of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.
In recent years, the Okapi Conservation Project has been working to empower local people in the Ituri region and is internationally recognized for our efforts. The Project’s work focuses on training and providing more than 62 women with knitting and sewing material, improving community agriculture, supporting soccer teams and providing educational tours at the okapi breeding facility in Epulu.
Embroidery produced by the women has been distributed to orphans in the towns of Mambasa, Niania and Wamba. Vegetables were grown and distributed among association members and more than 10 women are able to make a living today from tailoring. The Okapi Conservation Project women’s soccer team won tournaments in Niania and Mambasa and the players are able to disseminate conservation messages during the soccer matches.