Africa Storytelling Project
Ephrème Hategeka Bwisha works tirelessly to mobilize his community and its local authorities to restore the forests of Congo which have been impacted by war and climate change.
Born in 1965, Ephrème studies economics at university. When he completed his studies, he settled in Idjwi near Bukavu, eastern DR Congo. Ephrème had a vision of building a local community-based organization that could focus on restoring the area's destroyed ecosystems, exploring food security and solutions for health issues.
Following the large-scale deforestation caused by the Rwandan refugee crisis between 1994 and 1996, Ephrème founded Voluntariat Action Mobility (VAM). Last year, VAM adopted climate change as a priority. “We can not put everything on the back of Rwandan refugees, we must recognize that it is also a significant responsibility of Congolese to deal with what has happened to our environment”, says Ephrème.
Despite many challenges to its success, VAM has become a force in the community. Factors such as low levels of environmental awareness and little understanding of the impacts of climate change by the people and local government, as well as inadequate human and financial resources did not stop VAM from moving forward to restore the local ecosystem near Idjwi.
Many would say Ephrème's group has pioneered a vibrant local and international advocacy movement,
mobilizing authorities and communities in the face of climate change to safeguard and restore the forests in eastern Congo. Since 1999, VAM has planted an average of 9,000 seedlings per year, an activity that culminates annually with the Global Days of Action organized by 350.org. “We collect seeds of native trees in May and conserve them for germination until August. Other seeds such as Eucalyptus, Grivelia, Acacia and Cedrela are purchased from Nyabihu, near Gisenyi in Rwanda. During the Global Work Party in 2010, we planted 8,000 seedlings, and 6,000 plants were planted for Moving Planet - the worldwide climate solutions rally - on September 24, 2011”, says Ephrème.
Ephrème notes that collecting these species is hard and expensive work, but the impact of VAM’s activities on communities is clear.
“What makes us happy is that local people are asking us where to find the seeds to duplicate the model. Sometimes, the trees planted on the roads are stolen, not as an act of destruction but to be transplanted within households”, explains Ephrème, before pointing out that the administrative authority is increasingly becoming more sensitive to this issue.
“Today if you want to cut a tree even in your property, you need permission from the Inspector of the environment. This is a result of VAM’s advocacy”, says Ephrème.
For more information about Ephrème’s story visit: http://world.350.org/africa/2011/10/06/on-the-front-to-protect-congo-forests/