Written by: Jessie Estrada, an Alumna of Eton College
It was around mid-January when our Travel and Tourism instructor, Nazmi Kamal, first introduced us to Virunga during our sustainable tourism course and gave our class the idea to start a campaign to help raise money for Virunga National Park located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Africa. Virunga is a world-renowned national park and UNESCO world heritage site; it is known as one of the most bio-diverse places on earth and home to the planet’s last remaining mountain gorillas. This park is not only the home to many endangered wild life species, but it is also the home of many communities that survive day by day through what the park provides for them.
After learning more about the park and the dangers it faces day by day, Kristen, J.R., Navi and myself immediately knew that something had to be done. We were all travel and tourism students from Eton College and each one of us grew much attached to the situation of the park and what it stood for; we each became passionate in different ways. The only common goal that we shared was the fact that we wanted an opportunity to make a difference. That is how the idea of this fundraiser became a reality to us.
When we first came together and began to brain storm exactly what we wanted to do, we had to figure out exactly what problems in Virunga we were going to target. Virunga faces many threats to its conservation; the main three being the constant attacks by the armed militia (M23 rebel soldiers) caused by a politically unstable Congo, poacher attacks against the majority of wild life residing within the park, and oil companies trying to attain Congo’s rich natural resources. In the last 15 years, over 150 park rangers have been killed fighting against the poachers and rebels that trespass into the park.
Once we had our target, it was time to plan exactly what and how we were going to help. The end result? We came up with the idea, with help from Nazmi and Emin, to host an auction and bake sale to raise $500 going towards the conservation and protection of Virunga National Park and contribute to the survival and well-being of wild life within the park and to start a mini contest, known as the “Pet Selfie Challenge” to raise awareness of our campaign. The money we collected would be used to directly support these brave rangers with new boots and other equipment to ensure their safety and also food supply for the orphaned mountain gorillas being cared for at the Senkwekwe Mountain Gorilla Center. This was not the only way we planned to collect money, on the side, Kristen created a webpage that would allow more people to be able to contribute through online donations. We wanted to reach out to people outside of our college, we wanted to make people aware of what was happing and why it was important.
On February 11th, 2015, we hosted our auction and bake sale! It was fantastic, everybody who showed up enjoyed delicious pastries baked or bought by students in our tourism class and had fun bidding on items that were brought by instructors and students. Everybody contributed and everything went according to our plan. After weeks of research, planning, setting up and advertising, our campaign “Save Virunga 2015” was a total success. We ended up raising over $600, which was over our original goal of $500. This experience has been amazing, and working among this group of dedicated and passionate individuals, was life changing. We learned through our struggles to never give up on each other and by working together, one can truly make a difference.
“The highest reward for a person’s work is not what they get for it, but what they become because of it” – John Ruskin