Guest blogger: Hannah Chisholm, education volunteer in the Gola Rainforest National Park
Since arriving in Sierra Leone in January, I’ve mostly been working on an educational road show for forest edge communities around Gola Rainforest National Park (GRNP) to show them the breadth of our work and help answer any questions they may have.
Every road show has been different, but they all follow a similar structure so here’s an idea of what typically happens....
Before each road show, Eddie (the education officer) goes to the community to get everything ready and make sure people know we’re coming. The rest of the team and myself then pack up the car with everything we’ll need for the day and hit the road.
After a couple of hours bumping along, we reach the village and even if I’ve never been there before I always know when we arrive as we are greeted by a crowd of people. There are leaf devils, grass devils, kids with tribal face paints and a group of local musicians. I’m dropped off at the parade start point and the rest of the team go ahead to the community barray to get ready. There’s then a parade through the village, which is one of my favourite parts of the day as it’s an opportunity for me to get really involved and people coming out from their houses to join in or to watch. We make our way through the village to the barray, dancing and singing as we go. The songs are all in Mende, but I’m pretty sure that they sometimes make up a song about me as I hear Hannah or pumoi (white face) mixed in with all of the local words!
When we reach the barray there’s an opportunity for the traditional dancers to perform – masked devils and leaf devils dance around the circle that has formed, moving their feet at lightning speed and shaking so hard that the leaves from their costumes start to fall to the ground. After a while we move everyone in to the shade of the barray and start the proceedings with introductions from the GRNP staff, local leaders and village elders.
We wanted the road shows to be as interactive as possible so that the community people share knowledge with each other. The first group to contribute are students who are members of the recently formed GRNP Nature Club. They have been asked to prepare some art/drama/music to present to the community and I have been so impressed with how well they have done. It seems that people out here are natural public speakers and the kids love getting on the microphone!
Other activities during the day include demonstrating how a camera trap works and showing pictures of the animals that have been snapped, a quiz, a Q&A session, and time to share stories and knowledge of the forest. In the evening, as the sun starts to set in the sky we set up a projector screen and show two short films introducing the rest of the GRNP staff and the amazing forest and wildlife they’re working to protect.
To finish off, we use the PA system to play music late into the evening so that people can dance and enjoy themselves – I’ve even had a go myself! It’s really important to give the communities a positive experience of GRNP to build on our relationship with them. It’s been a really exciting, though challenging, project and hopefully it’ll have a lasting impact.
To follow Hannah's adventures in Sierra Leone, check out her blog.
I've just got back from the Gola Rainforest National Park (GRNP) in Sierra Leone, where I had the exciting job of introducing an intrepid young explorer to the GRNP team and partners. Will Millard is planning to travel down the Mano-Moro rivers on the international border between Sierra Leone and Liberia on nothing but an inflatable raft. From the moment he found out he'd be going on the trip whilst sheltering from the worst British winter in a decade somewhere along the Pennine Way, you can follow his adventure every step of the way by heading over to his blog.
Head over to the Saving Species blog and join Simon Wotton from our Conservation Science team as he searches for the endangered malimbe in Gola Rainforest National Park. This elusive bird was thought to have disappeared from Gola, but was rediscovered there in 2007 after 30 years of no records.
Since I’ve started working with the Rainforests team here at RSPB HQ, my shopping habits have changed. I spend twice as long buying birthday cards as I’m searching the backs for the FSC logo, I’ll buy Rainforest Alliance coffee and tea wherever I can, but there’s one tricky customer that’s almost impossible to spot – palm oil. I do what I can:
I thought I was doing a pretty good job at avoiding palm oil or at least I did until Jonathan in the Rainforests team sent me this quiz from the RSPO, which gives you an idea of how many of the products in your house contain palm oil. I started in the bathroom and wasn’t surprised to see shampoo and conditioner in the shower, but then on to the sink and there was toothpaste. Toothpaste contains palm oil? Really? As I worked through the rooms one by one I was surprised to see more and more products that I had no idea contained palm oil appearing – my hairbrush, mascara, rubber gloves. But the worst one came in the kitchen cupboard. Crisps contain palm oil?? NNNNNOOOOO!!!!!!
It just goes to show how far palm oil has infiltrated into our everyday lives. According to the quiz, 64% of the products in my house contain palm oil and if I didn’t even realise half those products contained palm oil, then how am I supposed to know if it’s sustainable or not? And there was me thinking I was doing ok!
Take the quiz here and let us know how much palm oil is lurking in your cupboards...
Warring giraffes, prehistoric-looking shoebills and brave agama lizards hunting insects on sleeping lions have all helped make the BBC's new series, Africa, compulsive watching. This week's show, Congo, is all Africa's rainforests and if the amazing wildlife and incredible footage isn't reason enough to make you tune in, there's one more reason to watch - one of the stars of tonight's show is the Gola Rainforest National Park!
The park and the surrounding areas were used as a filming location for a number of sequences on tonight's show so keep your eyes peeled for the white-necked picathartes and the leaf-folding frog and you could be catching a glimpse of Gola from your living room.
Tune in from 9pm tonight on BBC 1.
Both photos by Guy Shorrock (rspb-images.com).