Raphael Tsanga graduated from a pioneering education centre aimed at protecting tropical rainforests and the rights of indigenous people in the Congo Basin after Virgin Balloon Flights funded his studies.

The 28-year-old from Yaounde, Cameroon, is one of six students who have just completed the first course at the Centre for Social Excellence (CSE) - part of TFT's The Climate Tree initiative.

Raphael, known to friends as Raph, learned about all the issues of deforestation and the implications for local and indigenous communities during the in-depth nine-month course, which included classroom and work-based training.

At Virgin Balloon Flights, we have donated £1 for every tonne of carbon our business created in 2009 to the Climate Tree, which aims to deliver significant climate change benefits through the conservation of forests. We chose to specifically support the CSE because we wanted to contribute to the well being of people as well as forests.

Raph, who previously graduated from Yaounde University in Public Law, specialising in Environmental Law, says:

“I applied to the CSE for three reasons: to improve my knowledge of tropical forest management and indigenous peoples living in the forest, to learn to develop innovative strategies to include local communities in the management of forest resources, and to master the practical aspects of social forestry.”

While at the CSE, Raph proved himself to be an excellent student, and all the teaching staff have nothing but praise for the quality of his work and his commitment. He says learning from the CSE’s well-respected trainers was an emotional experience, and he also enjoyed the Congolese cuisine.

“Under the canopy of the forests in the Congo Basin are peoples whose cultural identity and lifestyle depend on this ecosystem. To manage this forest sustainably means extracting timber while taking into account the rights of indigenous peoples to conserve their cultural identity and to benefit from the economic advantages consecutive to the exploitation of the forest resources,” he says.

“To buy wood from a forest sustainably managed means contributing to the upkeep of the ecologic and social integrity of tropical forests; the conservation of the forests of the Congo Basin will be achieved in collaboration with the indigenous populations living there, or it will not be achieved at all.”

Raph’s ambition is to become a quality assurance manager for a forest company. He says:

“In that framework, my missions will include the monitoring of management norms, the collation of information and follow-up of legal dispositions relative to social rights, respect for engagements of forest companies towards neighbouring communities or living inside forest management units."

It will include the verification of the legal origin of timber produced and exported as well as their traceability, all in the aim of production in conformity to FSC principles”, he adds.