A Couples Experience
In 2011, Matt & Jess lived as a married couple in Kanyawara, Kibale National Park, Uganda. While Jess was studying the chimpanzees in Kanyawara, Matt was volunteering with the Kasiisi Project. Here are their stories:
Jess, the chimpanzee researcher
I first came to Kanyawara in November 2010 without Matt. He planned to join me in Uganda in March 2011 after his service in the US Navy had ended. Before his arrival, I spent the vast majority of my time in the field tracking the chimpanzees from dawn until dusk. However, after Matt arrived and started volunteering with the Kasiisi Project, I became increasingly interested in the project and its mission. I became great friends with the field project manager, Caroline, and we talked about how I could be more involved on my days off. Amy, the wildlife education manager, worked with my research schedule and we were able to come up with a plan. I love kids and wanted to bring my passion for chimpanzees to them. Even though the Kanyawara chimpanzees’ forest borders the village, many Ugandan children have never seen a chimpanzee, and even more children have misconceptions or no knowledge at all about chimpanzees and their behavior. This became more and more apparent the more time I spent in Uganda. It became important to me to educate the local children on their forest cousins. I developed a powerpoint presentation specifically geared toward Ugandan children to discuss the similiarities between chimpanzees and humans as well as important conservation issues (e.g., snaring, poaching, habitat destruction, etc.). My presentation was full of photographs and videos, which I knew the children would love and understand the most. Through the wildlife club, we organized times for me to give talks at the Kasiisi Project schools and even at the field station in the park. The kids loved it! They were completely enamored with learning about chimps. We practiced chimpanzee vocalizations, facial expressions, locomotion, and behavior. The kids were always so excited that we generally spent at least an hour answering questions. The children were very receptive to our conservation solutions as well. Some said they would tell a teacher or Uganda Wildlife Authority ranger if they encountered a poacher or a snare in the forest. Others said they would not eat meat that was snared in the forest. When given the opportunity to learn about chimpanzees, we could see many of the misconceptions melting away and true understanding taking place. Talking with the children about chimpanzees was one of my most rewarding experiences while in Uganda. The Kasiisi Project was very supportive and provided all of the supplies (e.g., transport, generator, projector, etc.) that were necessary to implement the talks. I strongly encourage other researchers to take advantage of the Kasiisi Project and the opportunities they offer. I am certain that your life will be enriched just as much as the children, if not more.
Note. The Kasiisi Project has a copy of my presentation and other chimpanzee researchers are welcome to use my presentation for talks.
Matt, the Kasiisi Project Volunteer
I arrived in Kanyawara in March of 2011 as a long term volunteer. My wife, Jess was already in Kanyawara doing research for her PhD. I immediately became involved with the project and was fortunate to work closely with the field manager, Caroline Riss. I began my work as a judge for Kasiisi Project school debates. The schools came together once or twice a week and debated important conservation based proposals. This was my first major insight in to the schools, the children’s way of life, and their views on conservation. I then became the field organizer for the Water Project. The Water Project teaches children at the primary schools the importance of water conservation and cleanliness through classroom instruction and field work. It also taught the kids what actions they could take to promote these ideas within their villages. The Water Project was a great opportunity for me to work closely with the kids involved and learn even more about them and what their lives are like in Uganda. I was incredibly lucky to spent eight months in Kanyawara working with the Kasiisi Project. It provided me with an opportunity and memories I will never forget.