Young Alumni Lauded for Ugandan Rain Forest Project

By schwartzsa | July 1, 2011

Rebecca Goldstone ’01 received the 2011 Young Alumni Golden Disc for Distinguished Achievement Award at the Alumni Awards Presentation on June 4. Goldstone was given the honor for her work with the Kibale Fuel Wood Project. The award is presented annually to an alumna or alumnus of the last decade for significant service, achievement, or accomplishments in business or the professions, which enhance the prestige of Arcadia University.

A Psychology major, Goldstone completed her undergraduate thesis research in Kibale National Park in Uganda. She always felt a special connection to the people of the region. So following graduation, she and her husband, Michael Stern, decided to move to the Ugandan bush to initiate the Kibale Forest Education Project. The education program is a collaboration between five local primary schools aimed at integrating biology and conservation into their students’ curriculum.

“The idea was simple, to give students the opportunity to take a field trip into the National Park,” says Goldstone. “For most villagers, visiting the park as a tourist was prohibitively expensive and, even worse, their experience with the wildlife was almost entirely negative.  Often chimpanzees, elephants, pigs, etc. would leave the park and destroy people’s farms, which was their only food and means of income. We hoped that students and teachers could experience the park in a new way. The results were overwhelmingly positive.”

After a year, the couple handed the project over to the Jane Goodall Foundation and moved to Seattle to work for the zoo and a number of small environmental non-profits. However, Goldstone found she could not stay away. They returned to Uganda in 2005 and began collaborating on a new project.

“The Kibale Wood Project was born from the foundation’s research that wood was being poached from the national park simply so that people could cook their food,” she says. “It was severely degrading this amazing rain forest and putting villagers’ safety in danger, not to mention that it was an illegal activity. We partnered with a non-profit organization called Chimp-n-Sea and again moved to Uganda to achieve our goals.”

In 2009, Goldstone and Stern also began New Nature Foundation, a non-profit striving to conserve wild animals and wild places through education, empowerment and an emphasis on creative solutions that promote people living in harmony with nature.

The Kibale Fuel Wood Project is now in its fifth year and is run entirely by Uganda staff. Though Goldsone and Stern have recently moved to Denver, Colo., they remain active in fundraising and occasional visits to provide training and expertise to those now running the project.