Falls Church and Sister City Support People and Environment in Congo

Rainforest at Kokolopori, Democratic Republic of Congo.  Photo courtesy of Bonobo Conservation Initiative.

Rainforest at Kokolopori, Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo courtesy of Bonobo Conservation Initiative.

Falls Church’s sister city partnership with Kokolopori in the Democratic Republic of Congo, founded only three years ago, is making a significant contribution to the people and environment in an essential rainforest area of Africa.

Located in the heart of Africa’s Congo Basin rainforest, Kokolopori has been Falls Church’s sister city since February 2006.  Residents of Falls Church have initiated a cultural exchange program with Kokolopori and contributed to the well being of Kokolopori residents in a number of ways.

Nurse with patient in Kokopori

Nurse with patient in Kokolopori

Falls Church citizens are paying the salary of Kokolopori’s first doctor for two years ($5,000 annually) and a trained nurse for one year ($1,800), have sent more than $5,000 worth of medicines and medical supplies, and have paid for midwife training and a survey to determine the prevalence of malnutrition in Kokolopori.

The Falls Church Lions Club donated 400 pairs of used prescription eyeglasses, and the Victorian Society at Falls Church donated a non-electric device for testing vision.  Other ongoing projects of the sister city partnership include installation of solar lighting and a rainwater collection system for the clinic.

Falls Church residents and others also raised $13,000 in 2007 to establish a microcredit fund for Kokolopori entrepreneurs.  Nine women’s cooperatives have received microloans so far to start or expand businesses in palm oil extraction, soap making, sewing, goat rearing and other small enterprises.

A teacher instructs students in Kokopori

A Kokolopori teacher instructs students

Donations from residents of Falls Church and elsewhere have paid for $10,000 worth of school supplies for Kokolopori’s ten schools, and the sister city partnership has utilized the Global Giving Foundation website to raise $6,000 for Djolu Technical College, which offers the only higher education opportunities available for most Kokolopori area students.

Most recently, the sister-city partnership’s community development activities were instrumental in the establishment of a rainforest reserve harboring one of the world’s largest known populations of the endangered bonobo ape.

The Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve, a community managed rainforest reserve covering 1,847 square miles, recently won legal recognition by the Congolese government following years of advocacy by the Bonobo Conservation Initiative, the Kokolopori-Falls Church Sister City Partnership, and local Congolese organizations.  The reserve is home to more than 1000 bonobos.

“We are immensely proud of this successful trans-Atlantic collaboration to help our sister city protect their traditional lands for future generations,” says Ingrid Schulze, director and cofounder of the Kokolopori Falls Church partnership. “People in Falls Church benefit from tropical rainforests such as Kokolopori’s, and we are in the unique position of being able to help our sister city secure legal rights over their traditional lands, improve the lives of their families, and fully participate in the stewardship of their forest for all of humanity.”

According to Schulze, the Kokolopori reserve helps sustain essential ecosystem services, including biodiversity protection and carbon sequestration.  Kokolopori residents benefit from the training, employment and community development programs associated with the reserve.

And more ambitious goals await:  the Kokolopori reserve is the pilot site for the planned Bonobo Peace Forest, a constellation of locally managed nature reserves in the bonobo habitat, supported by sustainable community development.

The Kokolopori Reserve is one of the only sites where wild bonobos are habituated to human presence and can be viewed on a daily basis.  In danger of extinction, bonobos (Pan paniscus) were the last great ape to be discovered and are the least known great ape species.  Found only in the Democratic Republic of Congo, bonobos are distinguished by their peaceful, cooperative, matriarchal society, their sexual nature and their intelligence.

The Kokolopori-Falls Church Sister City Partnership (www.kokolopori-partnership.org ) is a  subsidiary of the Bonobo Conservation Initiative (www.bonobo.org), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in the United States and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

June 16, 2009 


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