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A Letter from OELO's co-founder and Executive Director

Dear All,

This holiday season marked an anniversary for us at OELO and Tsam Tsam. Five years ago on Christmas Day I traveled to the village Tsam Tsam for the first time. After washing my face in lake waters, a local tradition to greet the lake genie, we began crossing Lake Onangue on our way to Lake Oguemoué and Tsam Tsam. As we boated across the largest lake in Gabon, I was awed by the beauty of the scattered jungled islands, the swirling clouds of terns and pelicans, and the perfect reflection of rain clouds in the glass-still waters. I knew in my gut that this was not going to be my last trip in the Lake Region.

Earlier in the year, I had started working at the Wildlife Conservation Society on an ecotourism consulting project based out of Libreville, Gabon. While at a farewell party for a colleague, I met Cyrille Mvele. Cyrille was frustrated with his job at a sawmill, sawing enormous Okoumé logs without protective gear and with little hopes for promotion within the Chinese-owned company. He felt guilty that he was contributing to deforestation of these old growth trees and that the income from the giant logs probably wasn’t benefiting much those in the village who depended on the forest for survival. Cyrille started talking with me about creating a project to give back to the region where he grew up that would create local jobs and protect resources for future generations. In the upcoming months, we began discussing a potential ecotourism project. I agreed to visit Tsam Tsam, the village of his father, to give some advice and to celebrate the holidays in 2009. While admittedly at the time I had little idea that I would still be here five years later, the moment we reached Lake Onangue I suspected that we were at the very beginning of something that would become much larger.

We began with a small team of local community members to brainstorm ideas. In 2010 we led a feasibility study with the backing of a Rufford Small Grant. In 2011, we created a Gabonese registered non-profit organization: Organisation Ecotouristique du Lac Oguemoué (OELO). By 2013, with support of the US Fish and Wildlife Service Wildlife Without Borders Program, we finished construction of the ecotourism site, Tsam Tsam, on a secluded peninsula a short boat ride away from its namesake village. We launched an environmental education program in local schools reaching over 3000 students, 70 teachers, and forming 5 nature clubs in the greater Lambaréné area. We began conducting market surveys to record changes in bushmeat availability over time and leading outreach efforts with local vendors, restaurant owners, and hunters. In 2014, we recorded that overall bushmeat for sale had declined by 70% in the market of Lambaréné since we had started monitoring in 2012! In partnership with The Nature Conservancy, we began leading a sustainable fishing initiative in 9 villages on Lake Oguemoué and we work with non governmental organization, governmental, and academic partners on research efforts to promote conservation in the Lake Region. OELO now leads programs in ecotourism, environmental education, sustainable fishing, community outreach, and biodiversity research.

To start off 2015, we are launching a website to share more information about OELO’s objectives, our programs, our activities, and to spread the word about our community-run ecotourism site, Tsam Tsam that generates income for these efforts.

We could not have accomplished these results without the support of our many partners. In addition to generous support from donor organizations outlined on our partner page, over 30% of our work is financed by private donations. Please contact us if you are interested in supporting future efforts of OELO (tsam.tsam@rocketmail.com).

“Tsam Tsam” in the local language Fang is the beginning of a coloquialism: “tsam tsam assoûgh-la tsoum tsoum.” It means something that starts small but becomes large while you’re not paying attention. We think of this each holiday season as the Cassin’s malimbes nest in the oil palm trees of Tsam Tsam village. What begins with one little stick becomes an intricately woven basket reaching up to four feet in length: the largest and most remarkable of the weaver-bird nests.

Happy New Year from Lambaréné and Tsam Tsam, Gabon!

Heather

January 2015

Co-Founder and Executive Director

OELO

 

Cassin's Malimbe with Nest

Description: 

Cassin's Malimbe with nest