The Rob and Melani Walton Foundation’s commitment to advancing knowledge and increasing sustainability is at the heart of our partnership with the world-renowned Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, as they work to save one of humanity’s closest animal relatives – the gorilla. Construction of the Rob and Melani Walton Education Center in Rwanda is underway, located at the heart of the organization’s headquarters. The center will serve as a place to educate and inspire generations of conservationists to work individually and collectively to tackle the conservation challenges of the future and ensure the survival of gorillas and their richly biodiverse forest home.
One of the Fossey Fund’s four pillars of work is training future conservationists. The Rob and Melani Walton Education Center will provide a critical space for students from Africa and around the world to learn about mountain gorillas and conservation.
When completed, the center will triple indoor classroom space and feature a science and conservation library, computer laboratory, and spaces for hosting public lectures, stakeholder meetings, scientific conferences, and programming for schools and community leaders. Acting as a “conservation university,” the center will expand and enhance existing university training programs, certification courses, and internships and strengthen regional/international partnerships. By enhancing the quality of training, expanding opportunities, and strengthening collaborative networks, future African scientists will have an elevated platform as they become leaders in conservation.
The center will also host youth and community programs on-site, a first for the Fossey Fund. Through outdoor classrooms, living laboratories, and forest immersion experiences, all visitors will be able to directly observe and participate in vital ecological concepts like reforestation and water conservation.
In time this local outreach will double the number of students served from schools surrounding Volcanoes National Park (from 17 schools to 34), triple the number of area teachers (from 68 to 200), and double the number of community leaders (from 80 to 160), all in support of engaging families and communities as champions of sustaining long-term conservation.
Led by architecture partner MASS Design Group, construction of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund campus has been carefully designed to be as sustainable as possible. In addition to hiring locally, the Fossey Fund is utilizing locally sourced materials in the construction of the campus to further its conservation mission and limit impact on the environment. Volcanic stones from the site’s excavation are being upcycled and re-used in the walls, while local wood and bamboo will provide warmth and texture on the interior of the buildings. Using green roofs and planting native trees helps to reclaim an ecosystem displaced by agriculture. It also increases thermal and acoustic performance and provides opportunities for scientists to study key ecological processes like pollination and reforestation. Additionally, a rainwater harvesting system will re-use greywater from the buildings, while a constructed wetland will utilize native species and materials to naturally treat wastewater.
In keeping with their motto “Helping People, Saving Gorillas,” the center will enhance programs to address food insecurity and livelihoods in communities around the park. The campus will contain a nursery to distribute food trees to local community members and will use sustainability elements like rainwater harvesting and composting to directly illustrate how improved water storage and agricultural techniques can raise income while protecting natural resources.
We invite you to visit the inspiring work of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund HERE.