by Jason Bremner, program director, Population, Health, and Environment
The next morning, our group rises early for a long drive to Nyungwe National Park, in the southwestern corner of Rwanda. In Nyungwe we meet members of the Destination Nyungwe Project (DNP), another collaborative project that is integrating interventions and organizations across a wide range of disciplines to address the complexities of conservation and development in the region surrounding Nyungwe National Park. DNP is a collaborative effort led by International Resources Group with partners the Wildlife Conservation Society and Family Health International. This project, with USAID support, aims to bring ecotourism development, biodiversity conservation, and public health programs to Nyungwe Forest National Park and surrounding areas. The objective is to increase tourism revenue and community support for the protection of the park by getting communities involved in enterprises that contribute to the tourist experience while providing households with direct economic benefits. This work is complemented by Family Health International’s efforts to improve government health centers in this remote area as another example of benefits that can come from conservation of park resources.
After a day of visiting DNP, which included hiking through the forest, watching a local dance troupe, and visiting an improved health center, we work our way back towards Kigali. Along the way we stopped for a brief visit to the Murambi genocide memorial in Gikongoro, to pay our respects to the more than 40,000 people who lost their lives at this site during the 1994 genocide. The visit was an emotional experience for all of us and many people reflected on how such a human tragedy could happen. Some of the interesting discussion and reflection on this visit later was focused on the role of land scarcity in conflict. Participants in the meeting commented on the more recent ethno-political conflict in Kenya and observed that many people are discussing the role of demographics and land availability in that conflict. Similar questions were raised in the drafting of a policy brief on the PHE linkages in Rwanda. In each of these cases there are many root causes for the conflict that are far more apparent than PHE linkages. Our visit in Rwanda and our drive through the thousand hills, however, helped us see those less apparent and complex challenges that households face in maintaining their vulnerable livelihoods. At the end of our time together, the members of the East Africa PHE Network, renewed our commitment to bring these challenges to light and to share the lessons of those projects that are looking for innovative and integrated solutions to addressing them.