Stephanie Hanes, for the Pulitzer Center
What changes have you noticed since the start for the project until the present time?
Well, I didn't see the park at the very beginning of the project. But I can talk about some of the differences between April/May last year and when Steve and I were up there a couple of weeks ago.
I'd say there's a lot more going on now. There's more staff, more construction, more community projects. They've done a lot of renovation in the main camp, called Chitengo. (Actually, Steve thought I was a total wimp because I had been telling him that it could be a rough place to stay, and then he walked into this freshly painted bungalow with a pretty bedspread and things like that.) They're building a new kitchen, they've got some offices set up, they're building new chalets, etc.
When I was in Gorongosa last year, I remember Greg Carr standing up in front of a bunch of villagers in this community called Vinho, promising them a new health clinic and school. And sure enough, this trip we saw that those buildings under construction.
So there are a bunch of physical changes, at least right around the main camp. But you know, I also got the sense (and if anyone in Gorongosa is reading this and disagrees, feel free to correct me!) that the magnitude of the project is really setting in – there are just an awful lot of challenges, in a very complex part of the world.
Steve and I got the sense that the communities around the park realize now that something big is going on in Gorongosa – I think how people feel depends on the individual, and also on which village a person lives in. (Because of time and logistics, the park has worked more closely with some communities than with others.)
But it will probably be years before you see any long-lasting social change, or before you see much of anything different, really, in the villages around the park. That's one of the reasons why the whole 30-year commitment is so important. A lot of NGO projects in Africa are funded for 2 or 3 years, and donors want to see results right away. So groups tend to do a lot of superficial stuff that you can show in pictures – you know, all those images of little African kids getting free teddy bears or something. Ok, that's a little sarcastic. But the truth is that change here takes time, and a lot of the shorter-term projects don't – can't – change things on any deep level.