Yared Fubusa’s Gombe School of Environment and Society is improving conditions for people and wildlife through education that promotes self-reliance, economic and cultural vitality, human health and peace.
Yared is making the educational experience of rural Tanzanians relevant to the situations in which they live. Through formal and informal schooling, Yared’s model of community learning promotes environmental stewardship, community stability, and economic sustainability. Yared has developed a multi-dimensional program that generates income for the school and the local community. A profitable demonstration farm, a study-abroad program, and programs in wildlife and cultural tourism, employ rural Tanzanians and the programs’ profits support a residential secondary school and conservation outreach programs. The programs are embraced and sustained by community members and international clients. Yared believes the long-term viability of human habitation in the region requires careful consideration of the local community and environment, with an emphasis on education and economic viability. Yared’s project is based in western Tanzania, east of the shores of Lake Tanganyika and near the site of primatologist Jane Goodall’s famed research station in Gombe Stream National Park. He tackles problems not unique to regions where indigenous populations and protected wildlife coexist, and has shown that his educational model can support rural community members and local wildlife. Yared believes his program builds a bridge between wildlife and human prosperity.
Throughout rural Tanzania, as in much of Africa, school curriculum is not always responsive to local needs. As a result, there is a disconnect between what students are taught in the classroom and the reality of life in their rural communities. Secondary school graduates may have spent hundreds of hours studying, completing assignments, and preparing for national exams, but most young graduates quickly realize they are ill-equipped to be productive members of their rural communities; where up to 94 percent of the population is employed as farmers or fishermen. Though most rural Tanzanians drop out of school during adolescence, neither they nor those who graduate from secondary school ever have the opportunity to focus on the importance of biodiversity and wildlife protection and conservation.
The plight of indigenous people living near protected areas shows how all too often the interests of conversationalists and community-dwellers are not compatible. Around the world, hundreds of thousands of indigenous people have been displaced from their homelands to make way for nature preserves. In such instances, local cultures are severely depressed and ironically, local flora and fauna may eventually perish because native people no longer feel a sense of stewardship toward the land and wildlife. In the worst scenarios, local people in conflict with conversationalists are driven into poverty and turn to exploitative practices like charcoal and brick making, logging, poaching, and slash-and-burn agriculture.
In Western Tanzania’s Kigoma Region, where Yared works, this is all particularly true. The region includes the eastern shores of Lake Tanganyika and the world-renowned Gombe Stream National Park, home to chimpanzees studied by primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall and her associates. Natural treasures not withstanding, the Kigoma Region is also a place of tremendous despair and poverty for local people. Unheard and unseen by the outside world, hundreds of thousands of Tanzanians and refugees from strife-torn nations of Central Africa eke out an existence based on the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources and international food relief. Thus, in the immediate vicinity of the world’s longest continuous study of any wild animal group in the history of science, live some of our planet’s poorest people. As a result, the degradation of area forests and farming systems is alarming and local wildlife, notably the declining chimpanzee population, is detrimentally affected. In response, more research money flows in to benefit the region’s animals while very little is done to develop the livelihoods and opportunities of the local people.
In 2004, Yared founded the Gombe School of Environment and Society (GOSESO) to bring relevant educational experiences to an entire community and to create opportunities for productive livelihoods. In pursuit of each aim, Yared stresses the need for interventions that are symbiotic and protect and promote local human communities as well as wildlife, biodiversity, and protected areas. These principles are evident in all aspects of the GOSESO’s work, while the following five functional units lay the groundwork for improved conditions for humans and wildlife: 1) A small residential school 2) A conservation outreach program 3) An agricultural demonstration farm 4) A study abroad program 5) A wildlife and cultural tourism program. Though GOSESO is attuned to the situation in Gombe, the GOSESO model is relevant to many rural settings throughout East Africa and beyond.
Since early 2003, when his community and environmental work came together in his plans for GOSESO, Yared began outreach programs and to lay the groundwork for a more permanent infrastructure. In 2006 Yared convened a group of local elected and religious leaders and presented a proposal to procure land to house the residential school, demonstration farm, guest lodges, and a headquarters. He presented his case in front of thousands of villagers and after delivering a make-or-break speech, was granted a 99-year lease on 500 acres of Kitobe Forest, roughly one-third of the village’s land.
Thus, the community feels strong ownership of the project. The leaders first consulted form the Community Council (a compliment to GOSESO’s international Board of Directors) and Yared, the local boy and youngest child in a family not far away, has made good on his promises. In the heart of the forest, classroom buildings have been constructed and in 2009 the first class of GOSESO students will enter the residential secondary school. Yared has integrated Tanzanian requirements and the input of local people into the school’s curriculum and acknowledges that the academic program has been strongly shaped by a practical needs assessment and the incorporation of indigenous knowledge. When the first class graduates from the program, the school will operate at capacity (200 students) and young alums will be encouraged to use their skills in the rural communities from which they came, or to continue their studies in Africa’s best colleges and universities.
The conservation outreach program, the first education program Yared introduced, still exists today. For the community members’ young and old who cannot attend the residential school, Yared and GOSESO staff members work to mediate environmental and societal problems through his philosophy of a “school without walls.” Yared sees the “school” as a place for teachers to come to shower and write reports. The real teaching and learning happens under mango trees or in the town center. Agricultural and health extension workers, GOSESO teachers, and local experts share knowledge and provide the community with first-hand, practical experience in wildlife and environmental conservation and sustainable agriculture.
But the centerpiece of GOSESO’s agricultural work is the demonstration farm. The purpose of the farm is to practice environmentally responsible agriculture, advancing the goal of environmental protection in a community that is dependant on the direct use of natural resources. A core tenet of the GOSESO mission is the notion that educating and training rural people will yield long-term sustainable livelihoods. Ideally, the demonstration farm replaces income currently derived from resource exploitation—from charcoal and brick making to logging and poaching—with more sustainable and less environmentally harmful sources. The farm also aims to operate at a profit. The profits fund GOSESO’s conservation work and convince local farmers that they too can be successful by adopting these techniques.
GOSESO’s study abroad and cultural tourism programs also generate profits to support the program in addition to fostering cross-cultural understanding and transnational dialogue about environmental and community relations. Due to a partnership with Utah State University (USU), college and university students can do research and even receive credit for studying at GOSESO. Though most tourists come from Europe and North America, all visitors bring valuable cultural experiences and broaden their cultural horizons.
At present, villagers prove their membership in GOSESO and stand to benefit from its programs by planting twenty seedlings on their property. As these seedlings grow, so will GOSESO. Yared plans to have profits from a successful palm oil project contribute to a microfinance fund for local start-ups and his conservation unit is preparing to buy from local growers the first of 250,000 seedlings (a project funded by the New England Wildlife Foundation) planted in an area where slash-and-burn agriculture has been practiced for years. Since there is no hospital in the region, and the average life expectancy of a chimpanzee is fifty-three—longer than that of a human, Yared’s long-term plans for GOSESO include the development of the area’s first health center.
Currently GOSESO employs forty-one local staff and conducts outreach work in roughly half of the district’s thirty-two villages. Aside from revenue generated by the farm, study abroad, and tourism programs, Yared has been able to fund much of the project due to his success as an international fundraiser. GOSESO is incorporated in Tanzania and registered as a 501(c)(3) in the U.S. Yared is an intelligent institution builder and has drawn together an international board that actively supports his work in Tanzania. GOSESO’s strongest partnerships have been with USU and the Teton Science School while individuals from around the world have donated funds to build classrooms, scholarships, and program money. Yared also receives strong support from the government of Tanzania and from the local citizenry of the Lake Tanganyika region.
Yared sees GOSESO playing the same role for other organizations as key partners did for him. Just as he spent time studying at USU, a land-grant university in Logan, Utah, and observing at the Teton Science School in Jackson, Wyoming, Yared’s model is replicable, scalable, and focused on creating a new generation of Africans inspired by environmental stewardship, community stability, and economic sustainability. There are many opportunities to expand in rural Africa and this year, an interested group from Angola will spend a month observing GOSESO’s work.
Yared was born in a small village just outside Gombe Stream National Park in a time when young children gathered nightly around campfires to hear old people tell stories. Each night the story was different, but one night Yared remembers hearing an old man tell of families of chimpanzees living in the mountains and of a woman who lived amongst them. Like the woman in this story, Yared felt a deep connection to the natural world from an early age, despite that he grew up surrounded by wildlife conflict. Indeed, one of Yared’s earliest memories is of the return to town of a group of warriors who had been hired to kill chimps and baboons that had been wreaking havoc on field crops for years. Unlike his peers, Yared felt deep sympathy for the slain animals.
As Yared recognized his passion for environmental issues, so too did the woman whom he’d heard stories about—primatologist Jane Goodall. At the age of sixteen, Yared become a founding member of Roots & Shoots, Goodall’s international youth movement. He later won a national environmental essay contest and with it a kuruma radio and a mention on Radio Tanzania. With his parent’s encouragement, Yared excelled at school in Tanzania and then in Virginia and Utah in the U.S., where he studied economics, environmental studies, parks management, and the economics of tourism.
Yared’s studies have focused on rural economies, sustainable livelihoods, and the linkages between research knowledge and action and are tied closely to his work with GOSESO. As a social scientist he has been featured in various newspapers, magazines, and television programs. He has served as a BBC Swahili Service Analyst commenting on various environmental, social, cultural, and economic issues facing Africans. In all his networks and areas of influence, he sees himself as a tireless promoter of GOSESO and an advocate for the people and wildlife of his native Tanzania.
Yared lives and works in Kitobe Forest; near the place he was born.