After hundreds of emails exchanged and long hours of phone calls, yesterday I had a privilege to meet physically Ephrème Hategeka Bwishe, star 350 organiser based in Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (at the same time Sauti candidate for central Africa region currently visiting Bujumbura). We had a long conversation till late in the evening where he shared his passion and commitment towards the restoration of natural ecosystems in his home area through reforestation.

Ephrème Hategeka Bwisha was born in 1965. After economics studies at university, he settled in Idjwi near Bukavu, eastern DR Congo where he works. Following the high deforestation caused by the Rwandan refugees between 1994 and 1996, Ephrème founded Voluntariat Action Mobility (VAM), a local CBO involved not only in restoring the destroyed ecosystems but also in food security and health. Last year, VAM adopted climate change as a priority. Ephrème then joined the 350 movement as an organizer and worked tirelessly to mobilize the community and local authorities to save the forests of Congo, starting from Idjwi.

Ephrem Hategeka Bwishe

The danger of deforestation in eastern Congo is very sensitive. The long stay of thousands of Rwandan refugees in the region and the outbreak of wars in the eastern DRC has led Idjwi to lose its splendor. In addition, thousands of trees are cut down each month to meet different needs. These trees are used in particular for baking bricks, building structures, furniture making and canoes. The Nyamusisi forest for instance in the middle of Idjwi was subdivided by the two chiefs; the trees have given way to fields and houses. “We can not put everything on the back of Rwandan refugees, we must recognize that there is a responsibility Congolese significant in what happened, “says Ephrème.

Facing this challenge, VAM has undertaken a restoration work of this ecosystem. Despite a challenging environment characterized mainly by the lack of environmental awareness by the people and the authorities and inadequate human and financial resources of the group, VAM is pioneering a vibrant local and international advocacy and mobilization of authorities and communities for the safeguard and restoration of forests in eastern Congo.

Since 1999, VAM has planted an average of 9,000 seedlings per year, an activity that culminates with the Global Days of Action organized by “We collect seeds of native trees from May and conserve them for germination up to August. Other seeds such as eucalyptus, grivelia, acacia and cedrela are purchased from Nyabihu, near Gisenyi in Rwanda. On the Global Work Party in 2010, we planted 8,000 seedlings and 6,000 plants per planted on Moving Planet on September 24, “tells Ephrème adding that collecting species is hard and expensive work. The price of a kilo of seeds is estimated at $ 12 and monitoring of plants for good growth is another phase that requires lots of care.

Members of VAM before tree-planting on Global Work Party in October 2010

The impact that VAM’s action is having on communities is certain and environmental awareness growing “What makes us happy is that local people are asking us where to find the seeds to duplicate the model. Sometimes, the trees planted on the roads are stolen, not as an act of destruction but to be transplanted within households” testifies Ephrème before pointing out that the administrative authority is increasingly becoming more sensitive to this issue. “Today if you want to cut a tree even in your property, you need permission from the Inspector of the environment and this is a result of VAM’s advocacy” says proudly Ephrème.

Idjwi is the largest island of Lake Kivu surrounded by a group of very small islands located in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It has an area of 310 square kilometers with an estimated population of 230,000 inhabitants. The island of Idjwi is the largest island of the country and also has the highest density compared to other regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo.


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