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Endowed Conservation Program at Fernbank Elementary School

From the proceeds of the sold-out book Majii and the Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda, FNT is establishing an endowed program at Fernbank Elementary School to promote conservational projects initiated by the students. Such projects could be a "Conservation Fair" showcasing and rewarding the most practical projects that can be implemented and make an impact in our community efforts to protect our environment. The purpose of the program is to empower children, demonstrate that they can contribute to social change, and make a difference through their ideas and projects.

Funded by the Atlanta 1996 Centennial Foundation and Matching Funds (Atlanta, GA)

Majii and the Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda project at Fernbank Elementary School

Major world events may seem far away from Fernbank Elementary, but sometimes an unexpected event or person can bridge the distance.

Rwanda is an African country 7,700 miles away from Fernbank. It suffered a civil war a decade ago in which a million people died over 100 days. One Fernbank family built a literary bridge to Rwanda that helped students here and in many other places understand that country better.

In 1998, Marc-Daniel GUTEKUNST, father of Naomie (Ms. BECKMAN, 2nd grade) and former Fernbank student Malaïka (now at Shamrock), sparked a project to have Fernbank students illustrate his children's book, "Majii and the Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda."

Stan MULLINS, an Athens-based artist and friend of GUTEKUNST traveled to Rwanda in 1993 and 1994 to observe the mountain gorillas and illustrate the book. GUTEKUNST, an epidemiologist, was then in Rwanda working on a governmental Post-War Rehabilitation & Development Program. In the fall of 1999, MULLINS served as an artist-in-residence, teaching all the Fernbank students how to draw gorillas, and escorting a group of students to Zoo Atlanta on a weekend field trip to study them. In doing so, the students learned about conservation of the earth, the effect war has on children and how to draw animals.

Of the over 700 drawings submitted, the five members of the jury selected 37 drawings to be featured on the inside and dust covers of the book. In addition 20 drawings were selected to be on display at the international concourse of the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson airport.

Sally SEARS, a then-Fernbank parent and TV journalist led a group of Druid Hills High School students to create a video, “The Making of Majii.” The video depicts the classroom interactions between MULLINS and the students.

A few of the artists are still attending Fernbank, such as Raianna BROWN (Mrs. WILSON, 4th grade) and Parker CILIAX (Mrs. PITT, 5th grade).

A copy of the Majii book is displayed in the lobby, and a poster, with the signatures of all the artists and the Fernbank student’s drawings featured in the book, is hanging in the lobby by the front office.

The sold-out book continues its legacy today. Soon, GUTEKUNST expects to announce a fund of $1,000 from the book's proceeds to be given to Fernbank. “It's what stays in the school besides the book, a poster and the Majii prize," said Gutekunst. The Majii prize will award a school that promotes environmental issues and respect for human diversity.

"[Having] a strong conservation program and other activities promoting respect for human diversity is extremely important. We hope that parents will match this small endowment. Other schools should learn to take part in a process like this," said GUTEKUNST.

"Majii" means water in Swahili, and is the name of the main character in the book. Majii is a raindrop who falls to earth and lands on the leader of a family of mountain gorillas in Rwanda. The leader explains how the gorillas are endangered, and among other characters, Majii meets a Rwandan boy who escaped the men who took away his family.

Most of the book's proceeds went to The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, to support Rwandans study zoology.

A sequel is in the pipeline. GUTEKUNST hopes to use the model of Fernbank to connect children with a different endangered primate.

By Michelle HISKEY,
January 2005

Click here for the Majii web site

Majii and the Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda

The publication of Majii and the Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda is source of great pride to us at the Atlanta 1996 Centennial Foundation. This project represents the outcome of a unique educational and creative collaboration between Marc-Daniel GUTEKUNST and Stan MULLINS (two founding members of the ATL96 Foundation), the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI), deeply committed educators, passionate parents and, most importantly, several hundred inspired and inspiring elementary students from Fernbank Elementary School, and Druid Hills high school students. We hope that the involvement of the children in the making of the book, educating them about the gorillas, their natural habitat and their interaction with people, as well as providing them with creative means of, individually and collectively, making a difference, shall inspire others to use the professional and personal concerns of parents and local institutions to complement the public school curriculum in its endeavor to introduce children to a diverse, complex and exciting world beyond the classroom.

Most of the proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fun International to provide scholarships to Rwandan students committed to the conservation of wildlife in Rwanda and $ 1,000 will be used to establish an endowed Conservation Program at Fernbank Elementary School.

A children's book written by: Marc-Daniel GUTEKUNST
Illustrated by: Stan MULLINS & The Students of Fernbank Elementary School (DeKalb County, Atlanta, USA).
Project Coordinator at Fernbank Elementary School: Becky EVANS.
Project duration at Fernbank: Fall 1998 - Spring 2000
Total project duration
: Summer 1979 - Spring 2000
Published: March 2000 by FNT International Press (Atlanta, USA)

Funding: ADRA Rwanda, CMDP (Crédit Mutuel, France), Camping Gaz International (Paris), Centre Culturel Français de Kigali/Kigali French Cultural Center (Rwanda), Emory Federal Credit Union (USA), Emory University Institute of African Studies (USA), FNAC Strasbourg (France), FR3 Alsace (France), Guilde du Raid (France), KODAK France, LAFUMA (France), Ministère de la Jeunesse et des Sports (France), Musée Royal de l'Afrique Centrale de Tervuren/Tervuren Royal Museum of Central Africa (Belgium), Office Rwandais du Tourisme et des Parcs Nationaux (ORTPN) - Rwanda Office of Tourism and National Parks, Parc du Kahuzi-Biega (Democratic Republic of Congo), SABENA Airlines (Belgium), Ville de Bischwiller (France), Zoo de Bâle (Switzerland), Zoo Atlanta (USA)