Help protect gorillas with the Pole pole foundation

Help Protect Gorillas

Pole pole foundation

HQ: Bukavu, South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo

The Pole Pole Foundation is a NGO created to conserve and protect the Eastern Lowland Grauer's Gorillas and support the sustainable development of communities in and around the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the D R Congo. "Pole pole" is kiswahili, meaning “slowly”. Our holistic approach to conservation and sustainable community development means we will grow gradually to achieve our ultimate goals. We strive for long-term changes to conserve the ecological gem which is the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, and to better the livelihoods of the communities which live on its boundary.

The Foundation was set up in 1992 and has achieved great success in spite of the conflict and poverty that has afflicted the D R Congo for the last two decades. The founder of POPOF, John Kahekwa, is an expert in gorilla conservation and winner of the 2012 Marjan-Marsh Award for an outstanding conservationist working in a region of armed conflict, the 2013 Whitley Award, and the 2016 Prince William Lifetime Award for conservation in Africa.

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The Pole Pole Foundation's mission is to work with communities to protect the critically endangered Grauer's Gorillas in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park.

Our Story

In the 1980's, John Kahekwa worked as a guide for tourists who wanted to visit the gorillas in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park. He grew tired of seeing the conflict of interests between the local communities who had historically relied on the Park for resources, and the Park Authorities who were now trying to protect it. Local people would be arrested, fined, maybe even jailed for taking wood, animals or mushrooms from the Park, but upon release had no option but to offend again. They were so poor. They had no jobs. They said "Empty Stomachs Have No Ears".

So John Kahekwa started a tree planting program which meant they had their own resources of wood for planks, poles, charcoal and carving. He also trained former poachers to carve wooden souvenirs for the tourists. Thus ending the conflict and helping the communities out of poverty.

This was the very beginning of the Pole Pole Foundation.


  • Poverty, war and conflict.

  • Illegal mining for coltan.

  • Disease.

  • Lack of infrastructure.

  • Bad reputation of region.

  • Small visitor numbers.

  • General lack of awareness of the Grauer's gorillas.

  • Lack of equipment - we need a 4x4 vehicle, cameras, boots.

The Eastern Lowland Grauer's Gorillas do not survive in captivity. Therefore, all conservation efforts MUST be in its native habitat.

Current Projects


The Pole Pole Foundation's tree planting project has planted over 4 million trees since 1992. These trees have been distributed to the communities which live on the boundaries of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park. They have provided an alternative source of wood, providing jobs and income and created a 'buffer zone' which protects the unique rainforest habitat which is the home of the Eastern Lowland Grauer's Gorillas.


We have built kindergarten, primary and secondary schools in Miti, where conservation is taught as part of the curriculum. The Pole Pole Foundation often pays the school fees of children whose families are too poor to send them to school. We also sponsor the brightest students through college and university - to study related subjects such as conservation, ecology, agro-forestry etc.


Fish ponds - to provide an alternative source of protein for local people and stop them going into the Park and setting snares - which often harm the gorillas. (Bush meat is also a potential disease source.)


Spirulina growing project - spirulina is a highly nutritious algae which has been found to be very effective in the treatment of malnutirition, particularly in children.


Mushroom growing project - to provide an alternative source of mushrooms and prevent the locals from entering the Park to pick wild ones. Providing jobs, nutritious food, and income.


we have recently managed to get 20 sewing machines to the community at Miti. We will be training the women to sew and, hopefully in the future, making the uniforms for the 150 rangers who patrol the Park, as well as clothes to wear and sell at market.


We want to build a 'Community Building' - similar to a Village Hall in the UK - which would serve as a multi-purpose building for the local people. We have the land. We just need the funds.

Contribute to Pole Pole Foundation


  • Over 4 million trees planted since 1992.

  • Hundreds of children put through primary school.

  • Dozens of university students sponsored.

  • Transforming the lives of former poachers who can now earn a living in other ways - artisan carvers, teachers, mushroom growers, seamstresses.

  • Spirulina now starting to be used to treat malnutrition in children with excellent results.

Learn more about Pole pole foundation





Field Location

We work with the communities who live on the boundaries of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, South Kivu region, Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as in the Park itself.


Snapshot of our work