The “Utalii Kwetu” program is a program which, in its pilot phase aims to introduce to young children, leaders of tomorrow to ecotourism in Virunga National Park. Through ecotourism, Kwafrika Travel is working to involve local communities surrounding Virunga National Park on nature conservation and environmental protection. The program was officially launched by both the Deputy secretary of the United States in charge of the Directorate of Oceans and Environmental affairs Mrs. Monica P. Medina and the Vice-Governor of the province of North Kivu, Major General Romy Ekuka at the end of February 2022.
This program is an initiative of Groupe Utalii Kwetu, a non-profit organization created and financed by tour operators based in eastern DRC including but not limited to Kwafrika Travel under its social responsibility.
Being one of the most threatened protected areas on the planet, Virunga National Park has been facing multiple challenges including: lack of infrastructure, insecurity, destruction of ecosystems… Groupe Utalii Kwetu believes in ecotourism in Virunga National Park as a way to tackle issues related to ecosystems destructions in the protected area.
This will be done partly by reviving school tourism in the area. School tourism is very crucial because students from an early age are introduced to the culture of tourism: travelling to learn and undertake. The eastern region of Congo and the entire country suffering from bad press, the school tourism program in the park aims also to introduce students to the country in a different way having in mind their cultural and patriotic development, beyond the purely pedagogical aspects. In addition, it aims to change the narrative about Congo by showing a different picture of Congo with its children visiting their countries.
As tourism works in tandem with the environment and nature conservation, the “Programme Utalii Kwetu” in its pilot phase additionally aims to raise awareness among Congolese children neighbouring Virunga National Park about the need to protect our fauna and flora. The DRC is a country rich in biodiversity with many unique and endemic species; thanks to the Congolese tropical rainforest, the country plays a major role in maintaining the global balance of ecosystems. Unfortunately, because of poaching, we lose species every year and the Congolese forest is shrinking at a dizzying speed due to increasing deforestation.
In contrast to many initiatives on school tourism started in several regions of the DRC, “Programme Utalii Kwetu” is based on scholastic materials (books and didactic materials) of international standard. The books come in two version (student manual and teacher’s guide). A total of 3 books have been developed:
- “Découverte du Milieu” for low level school children: this book aims to plant a seed of curiosity in the child so that he might discover his neighboring environment. It introduces concepts such as tourism, tourist site, tourist, environment and nature to the schoolchild starting primary school.
- “Un écolier explorateur” for middle level school children: this aims to introduce schoolchildren to their local and national environment. The child learns about wild life in general. Mastering concepts like national parks of DRC and their fauna and flora, climate change, leadership and entrepreneurship, weather pattern in DRC…
- “A moi le tourisme” for up level school children: the book aims to make the child an ambassador of DR Congo, making tourism promotion and environmental protection his / her own quest. The children after being taught through this book should be able to say what congo is, its role in maintaining the global weather, its history, its culture, its cities and its tourist attractions.
As part of the pilot phase of “Programme Utalii Kwetu” funded by the U.S. Department of State through the U.S. Embassy in the DRC, a pilot phase is being implemented in 25 schools surrounding Virunga National Park. This pedagogical phase only concerns the 1st and 2nd graders using the book “Découverte du Milieu”.
On this day, May 23, 2022, 25 public primary schools with a total of 6,175 pupils in the 1st and 2nd grades were equipped with our manual entitled “Découverte du milieu: student book and teachers’ guides”. The books not only introduce the notions on school tourism, nature conservation and environmental protection to the schoolchildren of today and citizen (leader) of tomorrow, but introduce the courses of entrepreneurship and leadership at the elementary level of primary school.
For the director of EP KAYANJA, a school ravaged by the recent eruption of the Nyiragongo Volcano which took place exactly a year ago: “These scholastic materials will greatly help our school, a school that lost everything during the recent volcanic eruption.” “They will allow us to make these children who are direct neighbours of Virunga National Park, true protectors of this protected area, a world heritage,” he added.
The distribution of teaching materials took place after a series of trainings targeting the 75 teachers of the 25 targeted schools, 9 itinerant inspectors and 9 teaching advisers.
This program spearheading ecotourism in Virunga National Park has since its inauguration received the support of the provincial government thanks to a promise from HE Mr Vice-Governor Major-General Romy EKUKA who has promised an unequivocal support from the under State of Siege provincial Government. The program also aligns with the aims of the National Committee on “school tourism” implemented in 2020 by the national government.