Who We Are
Art of Conservation, a US-registered non-profit organization, began in Africa's Virunga Massif region in 2006, where the ideas of local communities were incorporated to develop
innovative educational programming and community conservation initiatives.
From 2006 to 2013, Art of Conservation successfully delivered its education programs and community initiatives led by founder Julie Ghrist. Then after seven years, Julie relinquished responsibility to her Rwandan team. She carried Art of Conservation’s programming to the Caribbean region of Mexico working with local Mayan communities. Julie now lives in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico leading the Save the Gorillas Curriculum Project. Today, the former Art of Conservation team continues in promoting One Health conservation in Rwanda under their own local non-governmental organization called Conservation Heritage-Turambe.
To help children and local communities develop a stronger awareness of their responsibility towards biodiversity conservation through an integrated art, science, and personal health curriculum
Our Save the Gorillas Team
Director, Save the Gorillas Curriculum Project (2020 to present)
Julie’s passion for art, animals, and nature all came together when she started Art of Conservation in 2006. This multi-layered approach to education starts, at the core, with an understanding of gorillas and includes a healthy environment, caring communities, and young, emerging leaders. Julie imagined a community where youth leaders could emerge as keen stewards of their environment while expressing themselves through art.
Julie studied Art at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, USA. She practiced illustration and design before opening her own art studio in New York City. At the same time, her efforts in conservation evolved as she volunteered for a variety of conservation organizations. Moving to Africa in 2005, Julie volunteered in Kenya, Cameroon, and Zambia before founding her organization and settling down in Musanze, Rwanda.
After seven successful years in Rwanda, Julie was proud to relinquish responsibility to her Rwandan team. She carried Art of Conservation’s programming to the Caribbean region of Mexico working with local Mayan communities. Julie now lives in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico leading the Save the Gorillas Curriculum Project.
Luke is a specialist elementary school science teacher in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. His pathway towards education had stops in aviation technology at Centennial College before completing his undergrad in Ethics Philosophy and his Bachelor of Education at York University. He started his classroom teaching in 2008 and he became the science lead at two different schools while coaching a variety of extracurricular sports teams and music programs. He became a K-8 STEM Coach, and then a K-12 Learning Coach for several years in a consultant role with the Toronto District School Board, and will be returning to the classroom in 2021 after his current secondment comes to term. As a curriculum advisor, Luke brings an educator and policy lens to this project. Outside of education, Luke continues to volunteer for a variety of STEM organizations, including FIRST Robotics and Skills Ontario. He is also a Level 1 Certified volleyball coach and coaches youth volleyball in the Ontario Volleyball Association.
Sue Avery Lewis
Sue Lewis’s art and passion for the preservation of our environment was funded from her childhood ventures at her family’s lake home at Lake Okoboji, Iowa. A typical childhood day consisted of studying a warty frog sunning beside the elegant water lilies as a dragonfly landed on the old brown duck boat. And still she is equally in awe of this beautiful world and even more committed to its preservation. Today Sue is a mixed media painter and a silversmith with a B.A. in English and Art Education and an M.A. in Metals and Painting. Sue taught English prior to her graduate work and then spent the remainder of her 30-year teaching career as an art teacher with the Des Moines Public Schools, Drake University, and a teacher and docent at the Des Moines Art Center. Her work has been in galleries in Iowa, Colorado, and Arizona. Sue has always been a cheerleader for life in general, for nature and the arts and specifically for the role art can play in building self-confidence in all who are willing to explore the creative process.
Over the years, Dale has been a teacher, lecturer, writer, and chef. The majority of his professional life was spent in the Department of Neuropsychology in a major hospital rehabilitation unit with a focus on the cognitive and emotional issues of Brain Injured and Stroke patients. He is now retired in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico where he is delighted to make a contribution to the Art of Conservation curriculum.
We are proud to be associated with the following alumni employees and partners.
While they are no longer employed by Art of Conservation we are grateful for their energy and talents and always consider them to be a part of our successful team.
Executive Assistant, Teacher & Translator, Art of Conservation (2006-2013)
Valerie started out as a professional translator after receiving her Bachelor of Translation and Interpreting from Ruhengeri Institute of Higher Education-INES. In 2006, she worked closely with Julie Ghrist, founder of Art of Conservation, to perform a wide range of responsibilities including: teaching, translation, health education course development, and administration. In 2013, she co-founded Conservation Heritage-Turambe and now serves as Program Director.
Valerie was selected to participate in Leadership Training for African Women Conservation Leaders in Nairobi, Kenya so that she could showcase AoC and CHT’s innovative and progressive programming. She has also been selected as Disney Conservation Hero (2015) and received the Houston Zoo Wildlife Warrior Award (2016).
Valerie grew up in Gakenke District in the Northern Province of Rwanda.
Studio Artist & Conservation Educator, Art of Conservation (2006-2013)
Eric, a creative and experienced professional graphic artist, brings a wide range of artistic talent to this collaboration. Known for his monumental sculptures around Musanze District, he is among the most-talented, well-established working artists in Rwanda. As a graphic artist, he has produced signage and logos for a range of conservation organizations including International Gorilla Conservation Programme, The Gorilla Docs, The Gorilla Organization, etc. Eric teaches art classes not only in drawing and painting but in color theory and the use of light. His iconic papier-mâché masks are favorite tools that teachers use in the classroom and students wear in community skits and family days.
Eric grew up in Musanze District, Northern Province, Rwanda
Volunteer, Art of Conservation (2013-2014)
Mukuma comes to Conservation Heritage-Turambe having started as a volunteer with Art of Conservation in 2013/2014. He was inspired by the work of AoC – educating local communities about conservation and health – and is excited to be applying his passion for both science and education to projects at CHT.
Makuma studied Zoology and Conservation at the University of Rwanda where his senior thesis was conducted at Volcanoes National Park (VNP) with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International / KARISOKE Research Center. He studied “Mother-infant behavior in Golden monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis kandti).”
Makuma hails from the Gicumbi District in Rwanda’s Northern Province.
‘Coach Rashid’ Nsanzimana
Teacher, Translator & Project Manager, Art of Conservation (2009-2013)
Innocent studied Translation at the Ruhengeri Institute of Higher Education-INES and taught English for one year before joining Art of Conservation where he was a Teacher, Translator, and Project Manager. As a co-founding member of Conservation Heritage-Turambe, Innocent served as Conservation Educator, Field Work Manager, and Translator.
In April 2014, Innocent became a Standards Editor for the federal Rwanda Standards Board (RSB) which protects consumers and the environment. Now an expert in the field of standards, he is instrumental in Rwanda’s development of national standards for products and services while facilitating regional, national, and international trade. Innocent continues to support CHT because he was recently re-elected to the General Assembly as the President/Legal Representative for CHT.
Innocent is originally from Rutsiro District in the Western Province of Rwanda.
Studio Artist & Conservation Educator, Art of Conservation (2010-2013)
Eusebe started out as a graphic artist, impressing managers at Impremerie Nouvell du Rwanda, a printing company in Kigali. His impressive clients include the United Nations Populations Fund and the Rwanda Ministry of Youth and Culture. As part of the artistic team at Art of Conservation, he was instrumental in ensuring that the classroom was filled with art and art training. He created paper-mache animal masks, teaching materials while teaching art classes.
Eusebe moved to China and began studies in Genetics. He received his Masters and is currently working in a medical research lab.
Eusebe was born in the Musanze District in the Northern Province of Rwanda.
Project Staff Manager & Educator, Art of Conservation (2010-2013)
Olivier attended the National University of Rwanda where he studied Education. Upon graduation, he not only taught secondary school but he was selected to support a nation-wide effort to training primary and secondary school teachers in English.
Olivier was born in Nyabihu District in the Western Province of Rwanda.
Phocas work as a gardener with the International Red Cross and Doctors without Borders was an ideal background for his work at the Art of Conservation. His practical skills and interest in the world around him allowed him to play a vital role in the Art of Conservation’s planting programs. Phocas understood that planting trees and shrubs would prevent soil erosion, create natural habitat for animals, and beautify each school.
Since leaving AoC, Phocas has become a full-time farmer and grower.
Phocas was born in Cyuve, Musanze District, the Northern Province of Rwanda.
Mugabe completed his secondary studies in Human Sciences at the Mitiana Secondary School. He started working with AoC in September 2009 as a House Manager. In this role, Mugabe gained valuable experiences and skills including managing house staff and strong English language skills.
Since leaving AoC, Abbas is working in the tourist industry.
Mugabe hails from Kampala, Uganda.
‘Muzehe’ Donat Byibesho
Muzehe brought a wide range of skills and experiences with him to AoC. From working in the mines in Rwanda and Uganda to working on cattle ranches, he had experience as a guard in Kigali and then Musanze when he was hired by AoC.
Muzehe was always eager to pitch in to the work of AoC when needed and, as a native of the Musanze District, he was thrilled to be able to visit the mountain gorillas at the Volcanoes National Park.
We were saddened to learn that Muzehe died in 2016.
‘Coach Tony’ Musengimana
Antoine Musengimana, commonly known as Coach Tony, received his tennis coaching in France. Not only did he win Rwanda’s national championship but he was victorious in competitions throughout Africa.
Coach Tony imagined a role for tennis in the Art of Conservation – and helped create AoC’s Youth Sports activities – including tennis clinics and tournaments. Thanks to him, the club is now legally recognized at the district, province, and national levels.
Coach Tony is originally from Kigali.
Cecile Nyirabahutu, the head of a community living outside of the park, led our Save The Forests Briquette Initiative from 2010 to 2013. Originally born into a hunter-gatherer family, she used to cook and sell charcoal. She is now a conservation steward and model citizen in her community, as well as a true entrepreneur working hard to build her business and share her lessons learned. Cecile received first prize including an award statue and cash reward in Rwanda’s Northern Province competition for being top innovator for her briquette initiative. The ceremony was held at Musanze’s Ubworoherane Stadium and was attended by government leaders. Cecile provided demonstrations and trainings on how to make briquettes and use briquette stoves.