Grand Opening of the Ranger Widows Sewing Workshop


Virunga’s widows of Fallen Rangers gather outside the completed sewing cooperative with park staff and GEO’s Eva Danulat.

Post and photos by Kate Malone

After several years of planning and building, Virunga’s Sewing Workshop for the Widows of the Fallen Rangers has opened. The workshop was created to help widows regain a sense of control over their lives after suffering the devastating loss of their ranger husbands. These women have faced challenges that most people can’t even imagine, yet as you can see from the images that follow, they are doing so with grace and determination.

The much anticipated grand opening of the Widows Workshop was organized with the help of the Mikeno Lodge team in Rumangabo and special guests. Deputy Director and Southern Sector Warden, Innocent Mburanumwe opened the ceremony along with Eva Danulat from GEO Rainforest Conservation.


Eva Danalut of Geo Rainforest Conservation cuts the inaugural ribbon. Unfortunately, representatives from Rainforest Rescue, the other key donor, were unable to attend.

Innocent opened by thanking the widows for their role in protecting Viirunga National Park. Innocent also asked everyone in attendance to observe a minute of silence to honor all of the park’s Fallen Rangers. Although this moment brought tears to the eyes of the widows and others, sadness gave way to a deep sense of pride and appreciation.


Deputy Director and Southern Sector Warden, Innocent Mburanumwe, explains that each star represents a ranger killed in the line of duty — 153 in total.


A beautiful sampling of napkins made by the widows that are for sale at Mikeno Lodge.

The ultimate goal of the Widows Sewing Workshop is to help support these women to get beyond bare subsistence. Equally important is to foster a sense of community and strengthen their optimism for what the future holds.

Meet some of Virunga’s widows:


Fifi Sekibibi – Rumangabo (Ranger husband: Emmanuel Masira, Children: 2)


Jeannette Iyaremye – Rumangabo (Ranger husband: Bitgetsimana Gasusa, Children: 4)


Domitila Nyirahabimana – Bikenke (Ranger husband: Ngundaguhaye Mberabago, Children: 3)


Valerie Kawa Katungu – Kiwanja (Ranger husband: Michel Seminane Rafasha Imani, Children: 6)


Sakina Salambongo Masika – Kiwanja (Ranger husband: Ngomeza Kimbere, Children: 6)


Anna Zaninka – Rumangabo (Ranger husband: Habimana Bujari, Children: 4)


Marie Bendanduyuka – Rumangabo (Ranger husband: Semiteja Safari, Children: 5)


Noella Wimena – Rumangabo (Ranger husband: Habimana Ndibwami, Children: 5)

We would like to thank our partners GEO Rainforest Conservation ( and Rainforest Rescue ( who have been very supportive along the way. The realization of this project would not have been possible without their help.

If you would like to support Virunga’s widows of Fallen Rangers, you can do so here. To receive stories and news from the ground in Virunga, sign up for the park’s blog here.



  1. Christiane October 20, 2016 Reply

    Beautiful! I know your husbands are so proud of you. God bless you all.

  2. Benjamin Henderson October 21, 2016 Reply

    How can I buy a napkin? These women and their work is so touching and gorgeous.

    Ben Henderson, NYC

    • Author
      Robert Williams October 21, 2016 Reply

      Currently, the only way to buy a napkin is to visit Virunga. That makes for an expensive napkin, but after a visit to the park, I’m sure you’ll feel great about the purchase, Ben! We do hope to have an online offering in the coming year.

  3. Christine Barbini October 27, 2016 Reply

    I read about the park and the wonderful effort to bring prosperity and peace to the region in the National Geographic magazine. The work of so many devoted people is very inspiring!

  4. Nick December 20, 2016 Reply

    I just wanted to thank each and every one of these women for their sacrifice and contribution to Virunga. Your husbands represented everything that is good about humanity and they gave everything to protect the animals that cannot protect themselves,

    Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.


  5. Eunah January 11, 2017 Reply

    Are these napkins available for purchase online yet?
    I work for Gorilla Doctors at UC Davis and it amazes me every day the more I learn about the people who make their work possible ~ thank you to these amazing women, their late husbands, and to everyone at Virunga National Park! I hope to be able to visit someday.

    Thank you all,


  6. J.P. d'Huart March 15, 2017 Reply

    I think that Evelyne Malfliet, who left Rumangabo but who was instrumental to the rangers widows sewing workshop, should also be associated to this remarkable achievement!

  7. elaine March 27, 2017 Reply

    i would like to be able to get a hold of Eva Danalut the ribbon cutter at the grand opening of the widows sewing house , she is with Geo rain forest conversations can some one help ?

  8. Joanne Rowland December 25, 2017 Reply

    I have just watched your project mentioned on Operation Volcano and love the hippo’s that you make, are there any plans to sell these in the UK please?

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