The Pole Pole Foundation, POPOF, is a non-governmental organisation created by local inhabitants and those working in and around the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). "Pole pole" is kiswahili, meaning “slowly”. Our holistic approach to conservation and sustainable community development means we will grow gradually to achieve our ultimate goals. We strive for long-term changes to conserve the ecological gem which is the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, and to better the livelihoods of the communities which live on its boundary.
The Pole Pole Foundation was officially registered on 24th September, 1992 in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Registered Charity Number: Just112/S-Kv/06/1997
We are a partner of the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) of the United Nations Environment Program, UNEP - category E.
- Bathélemy Wenga Mulindwa, Chief of Departments
- Philemon Munguyene, Chief of the Department of Gender, Family and Children
- Christian Amani ya Igugu, PhD., Chief of the Department of Environmental Education
- Augustin K. Basabose, PhD., Chief of the Department of Scientific Research
- Danny Kahekwa, Deputy Head of Department of Scientific Research
- Patrick Muligano, Chief of the Department of Community Conservation
- John Kahekwa, Chief of the Department of Ecotourism
Members of Honor and Advisers:
- Juichi Yamagiwa, Ph.D., Kyoto University, Japan
- Augustin Kanyunyi Basabose, Ph.D., Primatologist, DRC
- Chisato Abe, artist, Japan
- Charlene Jendry, Partners In Conservation, USA
- Rick Murphy, Conservationist, USA
- Richard Milburn, UK
- KINDERGARTEN & PRIMARY SCHOOL
- Byakesho Mizinzi Marie Claire, School Headmistress
- and 9 teachers,2 sentries and 1 usher
- SECONDARY SCHOOL
- Valentin Nyaluhaze, Headmaster
- and 11 teachers, 2 ushers and 2 guards
- 1 usher, 1 guard
- The Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN)
- The Pole Pole Foundation Japan
- The Pole Pole Foundation UK
- Partners In Conservation
- The Gorilla Organisation
- The Born Free Foundation
- The Berggorilla Regenwald and Direkthilfe
- Apenheul Primate Park
- Whitley Fund For Nature
- The Tusk Trust
- Kawabe Tomohiro, AdvanBridge Inc., Japan
- JOHN KAHEKWA, Founder and General Manager
Conservationist, and the Kahuzi-Biega National Park’s chief gorilla tracker in 1983 - 2003. John was born in 1963 in Miti village near the KBNP headquarters. His aunt was the wife of Adrien Deschryver, the co-founder and the first warden of the KBNP. At the age of ten, John watched a film of the Kahuzi-Biega gorillas and dreamed about working for the Park in the field of conservation. In 1983, after secondary school, he was employed by the park as a gorilla tracker and started to follow two groups of gorillas every day, identifying them by recording the unique nose print of each gorilla.
He observed the natural life of gorillas in the wild; reproduction, newborn babies, development in their groups, social interactions and death. He also became aware of human pressures on the natural resources of the park, and how local communities were impacting on the gorillas’ habitat. He then sought to find sustainable solutions which would both protect the natural resources of the Park, and alleviate the socio-economic crisis impacting the local communities.
In 1986, a tourist gave him a US$10 tip after a gorilla visit. John immediately went to Bukavu town and bought 10 plain T-shirts. He printed gorilla faces on the fronts and the words “I tracked gorillas in Zaire”, and sold them to tourists. In 1987, this T-shirt business increased because part of the famous film ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ was filmed in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park with John as an advisor. He played a small part in the film, too. The money he saved from the T-shirts business was the starting fund for the establishment of the Pole Pole Foundation in 1992.
John is now world-famous for his gorilla conservation work and his holistic approach to sustainable community development, in an area which has been badly-affected by conflict and bloodshed.
- BARTHELEMY (BATHY) WENGA MULINDWA, Chief of Departments
Baths has a master's degree in HIV/AIDS management from Stellenbosch University, South Africa. He is in charge of managing strategic implementations of HIV/AIDS prevention initiatives in the rural communities surrounding the habitat of the gorilla sub-species known as the Eastern Lowland Grauer's Gorilla (gorilla beringei graueri) in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, as well as Maiko National Parks, Itombwe Natural Reserve, Tayna, Walikale and Kasese forests.
- JUICHI YAMAGIWA, PhD, Japan Representative, Member of Honour and Adviser
President of Kyoto University, Japan. Primatologist and professor at the Laboratory of Human Evolution Studies, Graduate School of Science since October 2014. The President of International Primatological Society in 2009. He first came to the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in 1978 to prepare his thesis in primatology. He became very familiar with the park staff, especially the guides and the trackers. He and John met in 1983 and tracked gorillas together. Both identified gorilla members and recognised over 155 individuals and have published several scientific papers as co-authors.
He joined POPOF as a member of honour in 1993. He is the representative member of POPOF Japan.
- AUGUSTIN KANYUNYI BASABOSE, PhD, Member of Honour and Adviser
Dr. Augustin K. Basabose, from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has played a leading role in the conservation of great apes in Central Africa for more than 20 years. He graduated with a PhD degree in Zoology from Kyoto University, Japan, after completing a thesis in 2005 on chimpanzee ecology in the montane forests of Kahuzi-Biega National Park, DRC.
He was our National Representative for the International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP) in DRC between 2006 to 2012, and became the Interim Director of IGCP from April to December 2012. Dr. Augustin participated as team leader in a number of Biodiversity Surveys on small and large mammals in the Albertine Rift Region, including several gorilla censuses in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park (in 1996 and 2000), Virunga Volcano Range (in 2010) and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (2006 and 2011).
Dr. Augustin has been an active member of the Executive Committee of the Great Apes Section of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) primate specialist group since 2005. He is a life member of the International Primatological Society and has been a member of the Editorial Board of the International Journal of Primatology since 2011. He is an international collaborator for the Leading Graduate Program in Primatology and Wildlife Science at Kyoto University, Japan. Dr. Augustin teaches Primatology-related courses at a number of universities in Eastern DRC. He has been a member of the Pole Pole Foundation since 1995.
- BYAKESHO MIZINZI MARIE CLAIRE, School Headmistress of the kindergarten and primary school
By the time Byakesho Mizinzi Marie Claire graduated secondary school, she already had to feed her children. As it was impossible for her to find any job at the time, she had no choice but to illegally collect wood from the Kahuzi-Biega National Park to sell to others in the village. Having realised her potential, John Kahekwa invited her to work at the kindergarten and primary school in 1999. Since then, she has worked hard and gained the respect of the students and the other staff. In 2007 she was promoted to be the school's headmistress, or 'Directress'. She won a local scholarship and is studying rural development.
- VALENTIN NYALUHAZE, Headmaster of the secondary school
Valentin Nyaluhaze is a teacher of more than three decades experience. He has been leading POPOF’s secondary school since 2004. The first intake of pupils to take the state exams in agro-forestry succeeded with a 100% pass rate, thanks to the good skill and guiding hand of Nyaluhaze and his co-workers.
- DANNY KAHEKWA, Deputy Head of Department of Scientific Research
Danny has a bachelor's degree in Ecology and Forest Resource Management from the Official University of Bukavu. He researches nature conservation and he is President of the Conservation Youth Club, which aims to educate, involve and enthuse the next generation about the importance of nature conservation.
- RICHARD MILBURN, UK Representative, Member of Honour and Adviser
Richard was born and brought up in London, UK. Having traveled and volunteered in teaching and conservation activities in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, he studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at the University of York, UK.
He met John Kahekwa in April of 2011 while on a work placement with the International Gorilla Conservation Programme, researching conservation in conflict and post conflict environments as part of his Masters in Post-War Recovery, also at the University of York. He was so impressed with the work being done, that he wanted to help POPOF and so took up the offer of becoming POPOF's representative in the UK.
- KAWABE TOMOHIRO, Partner in Web-Public Relations
Kawabe is a TV production coordinator and translator at AdvanBridge Inc, Japan. He lived in East Africa for eight years and he met John in 1997 during his first visit to the Kahuzi-Biega National Park for a documentary film. Since then, he has arranged several documentary filming projects in the KBNP in cooperation with POPOF.
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