Imagining communities and conservation in Rwanda – part 2
A HUB FOR THE COMMUNITIES
Three physical centres have been built consecutively since 2017 under the guidance of the Red Rocks, representing, first and foremost, hubs for the communities.
The first and main centre is the one in Muzanze district, near Nyakinama village.
Here community events are performed, like the Igitarambo Fiesta nights organised – in normal times – during the weekends, or the cultural festival organised in conjunction with Kwita Izina – the well-known baby gorilla naming ceremony – where music and performing arts happens and the neighbour communities come together to celebrate. Tourists are allowed too.
Since the beginning of transforming his dreams into reality, Greg has been scouting local artists and artisans, showing them the path to the hub; like Bertha, who Greg met in 2010 when she was selling her baskets at the local market. Since then, she has started to attend the Red Rocks Cultural Centre in the Muzanze district, and to sell her art to the tourists as well, which has considerably increased her income. Women like Bertha come to the centre not only to sell their products but also to meet other women and their kids.
They can also end up teaching other local women, as happened with Polina, who has now launched her own business and proudly call herself an entrepreneur. She also sells her homemade products in the shop located in the centre, but has assured me that she makes these for her house too, using them to store food and fruits for her kids and for friends that come to visit her.
Bertha was Polina’s mentor and tutor, and introduced her to me as her best student ever – ‘the most curious one that always wanted to learn more’.
By coming to the hub and meeting and teaching other locals, they have gained the opportunity to gather and start working together. Today five cooperatives exist for the women, reuniting more than two hundred women that work with weaving and the production of seed bags and offer not only their own products for sale, but also several hands-on workshops for the visitors through the RRR social enterprise.
Other associations for women have been established in the premises of the RRI, including the local artists of the nearby village. Among these are Patrice, Kasswa, Fabrice and Melissa. They have continued to benefit from having the opportunity to display their work, not only at the Art Centre in Kinigi, but also on the walls of the restaurants and local areas in the campsite.
Working together on communal projects has, once again, led to and facilitated the creation of associations – in this case for female artists. But art also offers opportunities for the youth: many young artists improve their natural skills by watching and practising with other more experienced artists like Zulu, and they also have many chances to learn from each other in a supportive environment. At the end, if they want, they can also offer their own pieces for sale.
TOURISTS ARE WELCOMED TOO
The Red Rocks Cultural Centre and Campsite is almost 100 km from Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, and is located in the Northern province, close to Nyakinama, a village of 300 inhabitants. It is so far the only place, together with a recently installed guest house near the of Kigali, to offer a range of accommodation options – from family size tents to traditionally built bungalows, and many communal areas, indoors and outdoors – but activities with community members can be carried out in any of the three centres.
These hubs create a physical space in which opportunities for enriching encounters are established for tourists and locals as well.
These are the natural benefits of CBT’s experiential activities. However, in all the hubs the benefits go beyond the home stay or the local walking tours and the visit to the local market. Here there is more time and space for those valuable unplanned encounters.
In the vast campsite, tourists are completely immersed in a vibrant local atmosphere of familiarity and closeness. Social boundaries disappear, and the act of learning together brings up the humanity of the process to the people involved.
So, it is not strange that while drinking a locally brewed banana beer, some drums start playing, a voice starts singing, and bodies start moving.
Here’s an example of the unplanned and freely enjoyed family-friendly activities that can happen in the two acres of safe area in Muzanze, where Red Rocks has established its cultural community-led headquarters.
There are also many planned activities that the tourists can choose from. They can decide to get their hands dirty while modelling pottery or create some tribal music while learning drumming, or even learn how to grind the sorghum.
Birdwatching and cycling tours are also extremely popular activities that allow the traveller to explore the area in a different way.
There currently are 350 community members involved in tourism, from four different local villages, but the plan is to expand the centres over the territory of Rwanda to reach more local communities and create more social, cultural and financial opportunities for the locals.
One activity that really carries the symbolic spirit of RRI is the Turi Kumwe Red Rocks housing scheme, where the guests are involved in helping single parents and vulnerable families in Nyakinama village to build low-cost houses.
In the spirit of togetherness, tourists are building a house for vulnerable local people, along with different community members.