This essay was originally published on the blog Rwanda on the Wing by Agahozo Shalom Youth Volunteer, Jared Cole. The Agahozo Shalom Youth Village is a Repair the World grantee-partner organization doing amazing work in Rwanda.

Murakaza neza ku Parike Y’Umutungo Kamere W’Agahozo! What in the world does that mean? It means that you are about to enter a brand new nature park. This will be the first of several posts about a special project: a student club has adopted a piece of land and turned it into the Parike Y’Umutungo Kamere W’Agahozo.

The name translates to Agahozo-Shalom Nature Park. At the very top of the hill we call home, which is part of ASYV’s property, the Environment Club envisioned a place where people could protect and enjoy trees. The park features a 600 meter trail that surrounds the 1.72 hectare (4.26 acres) natural area. The mix of trees, tall grasses, and wildflowers provide a glimpse of what wild Rwanda looks like.

Students of the Environment Club wanted to plant trees, teach others about nature, and help people appreciate the environment. In creating this park, the club can accomplish these aims at one beautiful place. Site selection took several months. We had to identify an area that had desired natural features (such as native trees) but that also was not slated for some other use. On the master plan of Agahozo, there is a large area behind the school listed as a future reforestation site. Much of this land is now being cultivated, but the Environment Club successfully proposed that a small section of it be set aside for a park.

Every week, students participate in “Saturday Service” to help the village by working at the farm, in the kitchen, in their yards, or on special projects. In May, June, and July, over 200 students have worked on the park as a special village project. The Environment Club members have also spent several Saturdays working on the park and studying park management on Monday nights.

The Environment Club is responsible for taking care of the park. Short-term projects include planting native trees, making interpretive signs, and completing a perimeter fence. This short wood fence lines the trail and helps protect the trees from grazing and trampling.

Long-term projects include removal of non-native invasive species (lantana, eucalyptus), monitoring the existing trees, and educating the village about the importance of conservation and native species. As students take care of the park, they will learn about botany, wildlife conservation, and eco-tourism.

We have at least 8 species of native trees inside the park, and we are still trying to assess the other non-tree native plants we have. More than 100 species of birds have been seen inside the park boundaries, including some of ASYV’s top birds, like Ross’s Turaco, African Pygmy Kingfisher, and Bateleur eagle. Lizards and toads have been spotted, but we have yet to see a snake in the park. Yellow, white, red, green, and black butterflies and moths dazzle by as you walk the trail. There are two Ichneumon mongooses that live either inside or just outside the park; they are the biggest mammal we have. Spotting the mongoose and its long tail with a fluffy tip is not easy, and we are still trying to understand their needs so we can protect them. 

If you visit Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, you can visit our park! The trail is always open. Early mornings are great for birds, but walking the trail from 4-6 pm is also good for birds and provides excellent sunset views. Students are happy to give tours; they are proud of their project. 

Check out all the great photos over at Rwanda on the Wing.