Launch of a Global Education Children’s Book “The Wildlife Divas Adventure Team: Saving the Endangered Mountain Gorilla”
Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Natalie E. Brown | July 30, 2022
Kampala, Uganda (as prepared for delivery)
I am thrilled to join you today on behalf of the United States government for the launch of “The Wildlife Divas Adventure Team: Saving the Endangered Mountain Gorilla” — a children’s book written by Ms. Lisa Randolph. Today’s event is particularly meaningful for me because it combines two of my favorite things: reading and wildlife. In fact, as a child, the library was one place my parents allowed me and my sister to go on our own, and my hometown is the site of one of the world’s most recognized zoos, and where I celebrated most of my birthdays as a kid.
Ms. Randolph’s book promotes American conservation tourism to Uganda using the fictional “Wildlife Divas Adventure Team.” It is such a clever way to reach young people who are contemplating careers in science, such as conservation biology, and encourages tourism to Uganda. I also really like that the book celebrates girls and young women conservation and STEM – science, technology, engineering and math. Directly Mwandha knows how important this is to me. On my first trip to one of Uganda’s parks I met the amazing Dr. Margaret Driciru, one of UWA’s most experienced vets, and I recently texted Sam from Lake Mburo, full of excitement that all of my guides were knowledgeable women.
As everyone here today knows, Uganda is endowed with incredible biodiversity and harbors some of the world’s most iconic species. The U.S. Mission in Uganda appreciates the importance of conservation, both to safeguard the planet’s biodiversity and to generate economic development. We do this through our ongoing work with the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), the upgrade of biosafety labs like the one the Minister and I inaugurated at Queen Elizabeth National Park last November, the CITES e-Permitting System the Minister and I unveiled exactly one year ago, and many other ways. Conserving the mountain gorilla, along with the contributions that gorilla tourism makes to individual livelihoods and development, for example through the income gained from gorilla-tracking tourist activities in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, generate important revenue for the surrounding communities and, more importantly, for further conservation.
I therefore commend Ms. Randolph for shining a spotlight on Uganda through this book and hope it draws more tourists to experience the magnificence of Uganda and its biodiversity, and spurs interest in environmental conservation and the role that each of us plays.
Across the world, as environmental conditions continue to deteriorate due to climate change and biodiversity loss, conservation literacy, with a focus on the early-childhood years, is experiencing dynamic growth in research and practice.
Conservation literacy encourages children to explore the environment and develop cognitive frameworks for understanding the natural world. It lays the foundation for children to develop environmentally focused skills, values, and attitudes as they grow older.
We know that strong reading skills are critical to success in school, work, and life. The U.S. government supports the development of foundational reading skills in the early grades in Uganda and works to establish a reading culture, encouraging families and communities to take time to read with their children.
To promote a culture of reading, in celebration of Drop Everything and Read Day, I recently spent time with students at the Buloba Church of Uganda Primary School as well as at the Mulago School for the Deaf. At each site, I read stories to early primary students and saw the excitement and interest that the tales ignited. It is only by learning to read that children of all abilities can read to learn and gain understanding of the world around them.
Conservation literacy can play a part, helping children to develop a love for both reading and nature that will stay with them throughout their lives. I know I have benefitted from this exposure as a child. While the childhood zoo visits I mentioned were incredibly formative, it was reading a National Geographic children’s atlas with my mother that made me curious about the world, leading to a career in diplomacy. Many, many, many years later, I still have that book because it, and the experience of reading with my parents, were so important to me.
I hope that the book launched today will have the same impact on a child and further inspire a community of environmentally active children in Uganda and around the world to engage in meaningful, conservation-learning experiences.
And I know this is possible. I have personally seen the value in engaging children in protecting wildlife. Over the past year, the U.S. Mission in Uganda partnered with Peripheral Vision International (PVI), a U.S.-based NGO, to produce two episodes of its hit science and technology-based TV show for African youth, N*Gen, which sounds like the word “engine,” but stands for “Next Generation.” The two-part episode on human and wildlife conflict was filmed in Murchison Falls National Park, featuring children from Clarke Junior School here in Kampala and inspirational staff from UWA. It was rewarding to see the children recognize how difficult life is for both humans and animals living around a large protected area like Murchison Falls. And the kids loved making stinky repellent to keep elephants from raiding crops! (N*Gen is broadcast here in Uganda and is also on YouTube.)
Efforts like the N*Gen episodes and the publication of this book underscore the importance of promoting conservation at a young age. These efforts also highlight the need for sustained partnerships across different sectors so that we protect wildlife and conserve our natural resources for future generations. That is why the United States Government is also investing, together with the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities and UWA, in conservation businesses led by Ugandan youth. These youth work in their communities to help safeguard Uganda’s vibrant protected areas.
I want to thank all of you here today for your interest and commitment to wildlife conservation. And I want to thank Ms. Randolph for such an informative and engaging book. Please continue your efforts and be sure to consider ways to tap into the energy, creativity, and passion of young people.