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What I Learned on My Way to See Gorillas

Insights From Kevin | November 30, 2018 

From a very early age I was curious about the world and its places. Without a question my favorite subjects in school were history and geography because they revealed stories and mysteries about humanity and what had taken place from the very beginning of time. I recall reading about the pyramids at Giza in Egypt, which they referred to as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and about the Pharaohs. These stories left me in wonder. I dreamed of one day visiting these magical places, so it was bound to happen eventually. Recently I fulfilled this dream by traveling on an exciting adventure to Africa. On this trip I visited South Africa, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Egypt. If you’ve never been to Africa, I highly recommend it. It will change your life. As you can imagine, while in Tanzania we visited the Serengeti Plains and got to see all the animals you would imagine in their natural habitat. There are no words to describe how amazing this is to experience in person.

Next on the itinerary was the country of Rwanda, where I discovered something both profound and simple at the same time. As most people know, a horrible genocide took place there in 1994. Over two million people were murdered in the span of about three months basically over tribal categories assigned by the government. What happened there is chronicled in the award winning movie “Hotel Rwanda” ~ here’s the trailer to the film where you’ll learn what happened in 1994:

I was visiting Rwanda so that I could trek into the mountains to see the mountain gorillas. It was in these mountains that Dian Fossey did her famous research on behalf of these precious mountain gorillas. A film, “Gorillas in the Mist”, ( depicts her journey and her commitment that ultimately cost her life. At the time she started her work in 1960, those gorillas were in grave danger of becoming extinct because of poaching. The population of these mountain gorillas had diminished to about 200. There are over 1000 gorillas today and poaching has been eliminated. 

Despite the tragedies in the 90’s Rwanda today is a thriving, building, and inspiring country. The President of that country, Paul Kagame, took over the country after the genocide and began to aggressively set the country back on the right track. He was able to eliminate corruption, and under his leadership he has inspired the citizens of Rwanda to rebuild and grow in a unique and extraordinary way. Kegame was able to institute some remarkable things. One of his commitments was to begin a practice of cleaning up the country and keeping it clean. He urged the citizens to take on being proud of their country and having their country be totally free of litter, garbage and waste. The citizens took this on and they instituted a practice. On every last Saturday of the month, the entire country spends the morning from 8 AM to Noon in an activity called “Cleaning Day” in which every citizen spends those 4 hours cleaning up the cities, streets, fields, and the forests. Everyone is required to do this, including the President. And if for some reason you are not participating on any given Saturday morning and are seen driving down the street, you would get pulled over and handed a shovel or a broom, along with a small fine for violating the sacred pact they have as citizens. 

When I arrived in Rwanda in the capital city of Kigali we had a three and half hour drive up to the staging hotel where we would stay before we went up to the mountain gorillas. After hearing about this cleanliness practice, I found it hard to believe so I made it my mission to find trash on the ground as we drove through the countryside. We traveled several hundred miles through the mountainous paths and brush. Now I really want you to imagine this ~ in three and a half hours over several hundred miles I could not find one piece of trash in that country. Not one piece. This was so unbelievable to me that I began wondering aloud what would happen if I did a little experiment and put a piece of trash on the road. Our driver and guide on the journey, Afrika, assured me that within 30 minutes whatever I put down would be cleaned up. He laughed at me ~ “You’d be wasting your time.” I wondered, “How do you know?” to which he replied, “Because I would pick it up!” “That’s just the way it is in our country.”

On the other hand, I would challenge anyone in the USA to conduct a similar experiment here. I think we can agree it wouldn’t go too far (we are not structured as a society or infrastructure to even seriously consider such a project. But I digress). It probably seems like a small thing, but I assure you that way of being has infiltrated the culture in many extraordinary ways, but first and foremost what’s apparent is the level of pride the citizens have. They take it very seriously. If you ever have a chance to visit the country, you will feel it immediately when you arrive. So what I learned on my way to see the gorillas is that real transformation is, indeed, possible in any circumstance or environment if you have a leader who takes a stand for the future, and provides the leadership required to bring that stand and vision to fruition.

Kevin Cullen is President of Leadera Consulting Group, specializing in producing breakthrough business results. If you want more on this conversation or the firm, contact us at Leadera Consulting Group.

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