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AWF and MASS Design Group Open New Conservation School in Ilima, Democratic Republic of Congo

  • Monday, September 22, 2014
  • New York
Students at Ilima Primary School

Students at Ilima Primary School begin a new school year in a new type of classroom. Photo credit: Antoine Tabou

Today, at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, the African Wildlife Foundation and MASS Design Group announce the opening of the Ilima Primary School in Equateur Province, Democratic Republic of Congo.   

“Because resource constrained communities are often forced to exploit nearby natural resources in order to survive, loss of wildlife and habitat are often linked to poverty and a lack of education, ”says Dr. Patrick Bergin, CEO of African Wildlife Foundation. “Investing in education gives us an opportunity to disrupt the cycle of poverty and the resulting environmental degradation that goes with it.”

Ilima Primary School in DRC is the first in a series of conservation-linked schools to be built in key conservation landscapes across sub-Saharan Africa, including in Ethiopia, Zambia, and Tanzania.

“It’s evident that for conservation to work, there has to be an investment in the local communities,” says Michael Murphy, co-founder and CEO of MASS Design Group. “Part of that is investing in dignified infrastructure to improve lives.”

Why conservation and education? 

  • Children living in Africa’s rural areas often face two divergent paths: Those without education are often forced to exploit the natural resources around them to survive—cutting trees for charcoal, for example, or hunting wildlife for food—while those with access to education will have more opportunities to secure employment in the formal economy and no longer need to degrade their surrounding resources to build prosperous lives. 
  • Education is a powerful social investment for disrupting the cycle of poverty and the resulting environmental degradation that goes with it.
  • In exchange for the primary school and access to other services, the Ilima community has adopted a formal land-use plan, which, taken together with other land-use plans AWF has entered into with communities, is protecting more than 600,000 acres of permanent forest.

What is unique about Ilima Primary School? 

  • Ilima Primary School also serves as a community center and is built entirely from local labor and materials, and designed based on in-depth immersive research MASS conducted on-site and in collaboration with the local community.
  • The building features a brand new, earthquake-safe, resilient brick mixture to ensure the building’s safety and longevity, as well as roof shingles fashioned from local trees. 
  • Classrooms open to the forest, and landscaping around the school includes nature discovery trails, connecting students and the community to their environment. 
  • A suspended roof allows for better ventilation in the hot, humid tropical forest and strategically placed windows and openings allow natural light to illumine the school interior.

Editor’s Note: African Wildlife Foundation announced a “commitment to action” at last year’s Annual Meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) to build a number of conservation-linked primary schools across sub-Saharan Africa. In addition to Ilima in DR Congo, schools in Ethiopia, Zambia and Tanzania are slated next. AWF’s CEO Patrick Bergin and MASS Design Group co-founder and executive director Michael Murphy are both attending this year’s CGI meeting, which began on Sunday, September 21. For more information or to schedule an interview, please contact Kathleen Garrigan: (c) +1 912 661 4962 or (w) +1 202 939 3326. Visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7Ml01Q8jVc to see the school's evolution. Read more about Ilima Primary School on CNN.com

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