The 1988 film Gorillas in the Mist was my introduction to Uganda’s mountain gorillas, as I’m sure is the case for many fellow Americans. Dian Fossey’s work with the gorillas from 1963 until her unsolved murder in 1985 was humbling, inspiring, even heroic. I never expected to meet someone in person whose life’s work was so similar.
When I saw wildlife veterinarian Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka speak at an event in Washington, D.C. several years ago, I was awestruck. Gladys founded the organization Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) in 2003 in her native Uganda, and has become a leader in the One Health Initiative to unite human and veterinarian medicine and environmental science. Driven by a desire to protect the health of the mountain gorillas that she’s worked with since 1996, she also started working with the people who live on the forest’s outskirts and who were transmitting diseases to the apes that sometimes proved fatal. Addressing human and wildlife health has made both groups healthier, and bringing family planning education and services to the people bordering the park has slowed human population growth and wildlife habitat destruction.
We were fortunate to be able to bring Gladys to Washington, D.C. to be our keynote speaker at Capitol Hill Days 2015. And we admire the work of CTPH so much that after Gladys spoke at our event, Population Connection offered to fund a position at CTPH for another employee, so that they could expand their programmatic and advocacy work. Dr. Dianah Nalwanga-Wabwire has since become the organization’s program manager. Before starting at CTPH in March, Dianah worked for Nature Uganda for ten years. She has a masters degree in conservation biology from the University of Cape Town and a PhD in the same subject from Makerere University, Uganda’s largest university. She will use her expertise to connect the dots between CTPH’s conservation and public health efforts.
Rebecca Harrington, our National Field Director, took advantage of this newfound partnership and visited the CTPH headquarters and field sites in Uganda in June. An account of her incredible trip is featured in this issue, beginning on page 14. Rounding out the international exchange, Dianah will be joining us in the spring for Capitol Hill Days 2017 and for some additional East Coast grassroots events.
We’ve formed another valuable partnership with Lisa Shannon, a writer and human rights activist with a decade of experience collecting women’s stories in conflict-torn settings around the world. Lisa says, “My work has always been driven by a few core principles: stepping up for human beings who have been essentially written off, and encouraging regular folks to discover their own power by doing the same, despite discomfort and fear. The ‘secret sauce’ is always empathy, and the route to empathy is story.”
Storytelling is, indeed, an extremely influential component of effective advocacy work, so we are indebted to Gladys, Dianah, and Lisa for sharing their stories and their work with Population Connection members and supporters. Most of us don’t know what it’s like to live life among gorillas or to bear witness to people suffering in the most precarious situations, but through the storytelling of those who do know, we can all become more empathetic in our own lives, stepping up to support the most vulnerable: those who’ve been essentially written off.