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A trip home to Rwanda: The international effort to protect endangered gorillas

A trip home to Rwanda: The international effort to protect endangered gorillas
A trip home to Rwanda: The international effort to protect endangered gorillas 02:55

WJZ'S Nicky Zizaza was invited by the Rwandan Embassy to return to her home country for the 2023 Kwita Izina naming ceremony, a widely attended event highlighting the country's commitment to protecting its endangered gorilla population. 

BALTIMORE -- Under a giant silverback gorilla made of bamboo, I sat among thousands gathered for the 2023 Kwita Izina ceremony at the foothills of the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.

Kwita Izina means 'to give a name' in the national language Kinyarwanda. The conservation event is inspired by the centuries-old tradition in which Rwandans name their children in a ceremony before family and friends. However, this new modern-day ceremony now dedicated to naming and protecting the endangered baby mountain gorilla species born the previous year.

The now annual event gains global recognition and attracts notable celebrities like Idris Elba, Kevin Hart, athletes, philanthropists and, last year, King Charles. They were all chosen to name one of the baby gorillas to help identify and monitor the primates.

The landlocked east African country roughly the size of Maryland and once recognized as a war zone during the 1994 Genocide against Tutsis is proving a country can rise again. 

I toured a genocide memorial where I reflected on the loss of more than 100 of my relatives brutally slaughtered by their neighbors and community members.

But I also saw firsthand that Rwanda has since transformed into a thriving nation. 

Nearly 30 years later the wounds are slowly healing as the country continues to move forward on a journey of reconciliation and unity. The country serves as the technological hub of east Africa and is recognized by the World Bank as the third best place to start a business in Africa. I also got a glimpse of how they are maintaining their status as the cleanest country in the continent.

Before I returned to Charm City I went gorilla trekking, and it was an experience like no other. It is a moment now etched in my mind of the majestic gorillas the country is fighting to protect.

374 gorillas have been named since the start of the naming ceremony. The last time I visited Rwanda where my parents live, and work was 12 years ago.

Go behind the lens with Nicky on this assignment:

Behind the Lens: Nicky Zizaza discusses her special trip home to Rwanda 02:57
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