By Anna Webb
Gorongosa, a brief history
Gorongosa National Park, covering 1,500 square miles, lies at the southern end of the Great African Rift Valley in the heart of central Mozambique. Historically, the region supported some of the densest wildlife populations in Africa. A private company established Gorongosa as a hunting reserve in 1920. The Mozambican government declared Gorongosa a national park in 1960. Civil conflict that lasted from 1977 to 1992 decimated the park and reduced its number of large mammals by 95%. In 2008, the Carr Foundation, headed by Idaho-born entrepreneur, philanthropist, and recipient of a Boise State Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, Greg Carr, launched the Gorongosa Restoration Project. In 2015, the university and Carr began a research collaboration. The park has received extensive media coverage for the success of its work restoring wildlife populations. The Gorongosa Restoration Project has created unique opportunities for Boise State students and faculty and for the greater Boise community.
Tromp shared more of her thoughts about the international partnership.
Q: Why is Boise State’s partnership with Gorongosa such a natural fit?
Tromp: We might not have said it was if it hadn’t been for Idaho’s existing engagement with the park (Zoo Boise opened its Gorongosa National Park exhibit in 2019. Conservation funds from the zoo have helped improve the Gorongosa animal preserve and local communities). But the other piece is that Mozambique is a largely rural country. Part of what’s exciting is imagining our students getting the chance to be in a small Idaho town, then to experience a rural community in Mozambique, to be able to reflect and think through those different landscapes.
Q: How does our presence in Gorongosa align with Boise State’s strategic plan?
Tromp: In so many ways. It’s partly about innovation, which is so fundamental to us. Gorongosa is a place where innovation comes to life. Just one example, when the park started to restore its elephant population, the elephants began moving into the villages, eating crops. Villagers were angry and wanted the park to find a solution. Park officials worked with scientists and animal behaviorists. They learned that elephants are afraid of bees. Villagers strung fences with bee boxes. If the elephants disturbed the fences, the bees would come out and the elephants would leave. Not only that, but villagers were able to harvest and sell the honey. The solution created a new source of income. Being able to see creative innovation in a place where it’s critical because resources are scarce, is profound.
The park also is a stimulus for research and creative activity. Think about how someone might become a better thinker and leader in their own rural community because they’ve experienced multiple kinds of rurality in their educational process. Studying at Gorongosa can help our students become better teachers, public health nurses, businesses leaders and they will bring those talents back to Idaho.
Q: How does the presence of our students benefit the park?
Tromp: Our students can introduce ideas, new research, and use their hands and minds. Right now, most of the teachers in Gorongosa-area schools are not trained as teachers. Imagine how it would be to have our students who are training as teachers work in Gorongosa classrooms.
Or I think of the Gorongosa coffee plantation (Our Gorongosa). Farmers are launching a new project to grow cashews. Our students could be part of those experiments, helping farmers find better processes. Our business students could have a role there, too, marketing and helping farmers expand their businesses.
Q: What inspired you the most during the journey?
Tromp: If I were to distill it down to one word, it would be possibility. It’s amazing what the leaders at Gorongosa have done. Think of the girls’ education programs that have reduced child marriage significantly. It’s about teaching girls that if they get educated and wait to marry until they’re a little older they will be able to contribute to their communities in ways they couldn’t otherwise. The park is improving people’s lives in this material and dramatic way. The opportunities for our students, faculty, and researchers to be a part of that are so rich.
We talk about how small the world has become because of social media, but it’s so rare that the world becomes small because of interpersonal human connections – shaking someone’s hand, or planting a tree with them, or teaching children with them, or doing health screenings with them. If you can get people who come from different backgrounds to work together, that’s where you make a difference.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
Tromp: I would like them to know about one of our Mozambican students, Gaby Curtiz. Her story is extraordinary. She grew up in a small village near the Gorongosa coffee plantation. She learned Portuguese to be able to go to school (Mozambique won independence from Portugal in the 1970s. Portuguese remains the country’s official language). She had the opportunity to
work in park operations. That job inspired her to stay in school, even when it was very difficult because of her family responsibilities (Curtiz’s mother, a primary school teacher, raised Curtiz and her four siblings on her own). Gaby taught herself English to take the exam to become certified as a safari guide. These are highly technical exams that cover botany, earth science, geology, large animal biology, entomology, and more. Gaby became the park’s first female guide.
Now she’s at Boise State studying for her degree in business. She plans to return to Africa and use her new skills at the park while continuing to serve as a guide.
I think of how similar Gaby’s story is in many ways to those of the young people in this state who come from rural communities. They may work on a family farm, may have to keep working, or caring for people in their extended family. These challenges could keep them from accessing their education. But they do come to school while keeping that tight connection to home. What a kinship there is between someone like Gaby and so many of our students. I would love for them to know each other.