I am lucky to have had a varied, interesting - and very exciting professional life! One in which I have changed my career path each decade since 1964 when I first started as a teacher. After three year training (1961-1964) at what is now the University of Chichester in West Sussex, UK, I qualified with a Certificate in Education at both Primary and Secondary level to teach Science and Physical Education - and had passed with Credit.
Whilst teaching for three years on Merseyside (home of the Beatles) with my wife Margaret - who I had met at college - it became obvious I could not get promotion without a university degree. So I applied for and was accepted to read Life Sciences at Liverpool University. There I gained an Ordinary B.Sc with Distinction in 1969, an Honours B.Sc in 1970 and a Ph.D in 1974.
For my doctoral research I was fortunate to compare the behaviour ecology of two sub species of rare mountain gorillas living in Central Africa. I first started (in 1970) with the late Dian Fossey at what later became know as Karisoke Research Centre. This was located at 3,000m on Mount Visoke in the Rwandan section of the beautiful Virunga volcanoes. Dian’s research had been initiated by Dr Louis Leakey and was funded by the National Geographic Society - while mine was funded by my NATO Scholarship.
Unfortunately (or perhaps with hindsight - fortunately) - after my first period at Karisoke, Dian Fossey insisted that in order to return to complete my research I had to sign her Letter of Agreement. Among other things this agreement would enable Dian to have complete control over when I would be able to publish my research - and so it was impossible for me to sign. In fact this letter seemed to have been construed to ensure that I would not return!
Luckily for me this apparent disaster in my research plans were rescued by Dr Peter Kunkel - Director of IRSAC (Institute pour la Research Scientifique en Afrique Centrale) in Bukavu, Zaire (now Congo) - who allowed me to move my project to his institute. Peter had a deep understanding of Central Africa and showed a totally different attitude to his research staff than Dian. I learned a great deal from his wide experience. From my new base in IRSAC I was able to study the mountain gorillas in the nearby Kahuzi-Biega National Park - which had been partially habituated by the remarkable Conservator Adrien Deschryver. This was the first time this population had been studied and I found many interesting differences with the Virunga gorillas - who, until then, had been taken as 'the' model for all gorilla behavior. Thankfully, I also saw many things differently, especially through the eyes of my pygmy tracker - Patrice Wazi Wazi - and this allowed me to develop a better understanding of the wider issues of 'Conservation Management.' My research findings were described in my doctoral thesis, various scientific publications, several popular articles and a book - 'The Wandering Gorillas' - first published by Wm. Collins in 1979.
n.b. Recently, the Kahuzi population has ben re-classified as (Gorilla beringei graueri) and the Virunga population as (Gorilla beringei beringei)
My later years - after Liverpool University.
After completing my research and obtaining my Ph.D in 1974 - I became a Lecturer in Environmental Biology at the University of the West of Scotland - until 1990. During this period I realized that the emerging digital media technology would have an important role to play in education. So, during 1982-1984 I studied part-time for a Diploma in Educational Technology at Jordanhill College in Glasgow and was awarded a CNNA Diploma (Dip.Ed.Tech). However, this great course was not just about tech - but the whole 'Systems approach' to designing, producing, using and evaluating teaching and learning material - from print to multimedia and later digital media.
Since my first visits in 1970 - 1972, I have been back to Zaire and Rwanda on a number of occasions - and became Director of Karisoke Research Centre after the murder of Dian Fossey (1987-1989, on leave of absence from my University). In July 1994, one week after the end of the terrible war and Genocide that swept through Rwanda, I was one of the first westerners to return and check on the gorillas and especially on the whereabouts of Karisoke staff and their families. I travelled to Rwanda on an aid flight with a group of journalists covering the visit of UK Minister Baroness Linda Chalker. In Rwanda The UNAMIR Force Commander - Major General Romeo Dallaire, gave me a great deal of support and offered the assistance of one of his staff - Major Charlie Braune. We drove from Kigali to Ruhengeri - then on foot through the volcanoes, past Karisoke, and into Zaire - where we found all the Rwandan staff safe with their families in a refugee camp at Bukima in the Congo. I was able to bring the news to them, from my meetings with minsters of the new government, that it was safe to come back into Rwanda - and many did so in the following days. On my return to Kigali I gave reports to the Rwandan Government, to the Digit Fund and also briefly assisted the UNAMIR Force Commander Major General Romeo Dallaire during post war field operations in Ruhengeri and Akagera.
Unfortunately, when I finally returned to Scotland in late August 1994, none of my suggested projects for aid to Rwanda were taken up. At this time, almost the whole world feared that Rwanda was 'a failed state' and almost impossible to rebuild. That is - everyone except the new Rwandan Government! (See later)
During this period, from 1990 - 1999, I was Director of AV Media Services at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. The AV Media Services department had over thirty staff and was one of the largest of its kind in the UK. It designs and produces high quality material for teaching, research and promotional activities in all media - from full colour DTP to video, CD ROMs, DVD’s, Virtual Reality and via on-line delivery over intra and internets. The department is very well equipped with the latest design and production technology - including non-linear digital editing for audio, video and multimedia production. AV Media Services has won numerous awards in national and international competitions for its programmes.
While in this post I travelled extensively worldwide, and especially throughout SE Asia, and was asked to advise several universities, government departments and industrial developers in Malaysia on the role of the new interactive media. In October 1997 I was invited to give a keynote address at The Sixth National Conference on Multimedia (NCMT'97) held at Xi'an, Peoples Republic of China - and was the only westerner present. I was invited back to China in 1988 to give a keynote address on Virtual Reality at their Seventh National Conference. This was held at the National University for Defence Technology in Changsha, and again I was the only westerner invited. I gave another keynote address at China’s 15th NCMT, held in October 2006 at Kunming - and was one of three invited westerners. I worked a great deal with the U.K’s British Council – especially in China and Malaysia, and also with Apple China.
I was invited to give the 1998 Christmas lecture on behalf of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society in conjunction with the University of Strathclyde. The lecture was entitled "Among Mountain Gorillas – A Virtually Real Safari." It showed how the new interactive technologies can be used to enhance our experiences and included videoconferencing, Web information searches, virtual reality and full stereo surround sound. Subsequently the lecture has been ‘on-tour’ to four major cities in Scotland and was well received.
In 1999 I was awarded a prestigious Winston Churchill Fellowship. This enabled me to travel the world - especially USA, China, Malaysia, Japan and Australia - to research into the role of 'Virtual Reality Technology in Education and Training.' I was also selected by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust to become the Lord Beaverbrook Award Fellow of 1999.
In November 2000 I was invited to give a keynote presentation at the 2nd Arabian Gulf Medical Associations Conference on ‘ Medicine, the State of the Art’. I also gave the Christmas lecture at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow in December 2000 entitled - “Medicine in Cyberspace – educating tomorrow’s digital doctors”.
After a request in 1999 from the Rwandan Ambassador in London to help with the rebuilding program I was appointed the Honorary Consul for Rwanda in Scotland in March 2001 - this was recognised by the U.K. Foreign & Commonwealth Office. The Rwandan Government of National Unity invited me back on a months familiarisation visit in July 2001. I also spent three months in Rwanda during 2002 – working especially with Kigali Institute of Science, Technology & Management (KIST) producing a promotional video (Realising our Potential), and advising other institutions such as Kigali Health Institute, Kigali Institute of Education, National University of Rwanda and the Rwandan government on the use of ICT in education. In October 2007 I attended the ‘Connect Africa Summit‘ - hosted by the International Telecommunications Union - and held in Kigali, Rwanda. Alan was one of the team from RITA (Rwanda Information and Technology Authority) where he was advising on the role of the emerging digital technologies in education, business and training - as part of their enlightened 'Vision 2020' program.
Alan now lives in the Southern French Alps, but he continues his International work in forging educational links between Scotland, China and Rwanda using the new Information and Communication Technologies - to help in capacity building.
He is also now using the new media technologies to publish from his extensive data base of legacy material re text, photos and video material. It is his goal that this can further help in education worldwide - to give a better understanding of Rwanda and the Congo - and the challenges they face in trying to protect their unique National Park environments and rare animals such as the mountain gorilla.
Alan and Margaret have two daughters - Fiona and Marisa - both of who have been lucky enough to get very close to the mountain gorillas. Fiona especially when she was first just four months old!
Our story of these years in Africa was first told in my Book ‘The Wandering Gorillas’ published by Wm.Collins in 1979. This has now been completely re-edited and updated in eBook format and is available as an iBook via Apple iBooks in their iTunes stores worldwide - and an Amazon Kindle version is on their web site in USA, UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy. So far there is only an English version - but I hope to have other translations in the near future.
Click the link to iBooks below to read our early life in 'The Wandering Gorillas' This is a full 'multimedia' (Enhanced Publication) with two videos and hundreds of photos. (Also available on 32 other iTunes Stores worldwide)
The remarkable work of Ros Carr's orphanage is told in the web link below. Rwanda quite rightly sees education as their way to overcome poverty - and Imbabazi gives these orphans the opportunity to grow up and play an active part in this rebuilding process. As you will see Imbabazi means “a place where you will receive all the love and care a mother would give.” In her own life Ros never had children - then, at the age of 82 she suddenly became the mother of forty after the war and Genocide racked Rwanda. Since then over four hundred have been helped by this wonderful organization - which is carrying on her work after she died in 2006 at the age of 94.
Margaret and I found her a great inspiration when we first met her in 1970. Now Ros has left a wonderful legacy in Rwanda - which needs your help to continue - please do all you can.