Mgahinga Youth Hostel is one of a kind that has been established to boost tourism, community development and research around the Volcanoes National Parks. It also hopes to involve local community living around the parks in conservation through debates.
According to Greg Bakunzi, the founder of Red Rocks Cultural Center Rwanda, they are spreading their wings to cover the whole of Virunga massif straddling Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda as part of their strategy to link tourism, conservation and community development.
Bakunzi says the youth hostel is where volunteers, researchers, students and anybody interested in tourism development around the Virunga massif are going to stay, network and do their research, adding that the move to open the Mgahinga Youth Hostel is part of their long-term strategy to bring tourism, conservation and community development together.
The Mgahinga Youth Hostel is located in Kisoro, the family home of Harriet Ingabire the founder of Hands of Hope in Musanze as a tribute to her late mother who died last year of cancer.
“We are converting my family home to where local Kisoro women are going to benefit from tourism. We are going to market their products and generally connect them with tourism. My key objective is to see how these women can gain from vibrant tourism industry now thriving in Kisoro,” says Ingabire.
Kisoro is located under the peaks of the Mufumbiro Mountains, which are part of the Virunga Mountains and home to rare mountain gorillas. Mountain scenery, Lake Mutanda, colorful markets, and volcano trekking also are available for visitors to Kisoro. It is the nearest town to the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and is an access town for those traveling to Rwanda or the DRC for gorilla tracking in the Volcanoes National Park or the Virunga National Park.
Ingabire says it’s through her experience handling the Hands of Hope at Red Rocks Rwanda that she got the inspiration to continue with her mother’s legacy.
“Hands of Hope gave me enough experience so that when my mother, lying on her deathbed, asked me what I needed to do to continue with her legacy, the family home quickly jumped into my mind. After spending the whole years with her from my formative years, and two years when she was a victim of cancer, my mother told me what she needed us to do was to maintain her family legacy of compassion,” says Ingabire.
Hands of Hope were started in 2013 with a unique design of supporting the community through cultural heritage.
“My objective is to ensure the women of Kisoro gain from tourism. We are going to start projects from the house my mother lived in so that we I fulfill her wishes,” says Ingabire.
She says Kisoro is a prime location where her mother’s dreams can be achieved because of the attraction sites in the region that are magnet to tourists. This, she says, is going to make her live her mother’s dreams and fulfill what she wanted to achieve in her life.
Ingabire says her biggest inspiration is her late mother who taught her that each woman who has made it leaves her with a certain level of inspiration. She says that for people to follow their dreams and believe in themselves, they have to invest their all in everything they do.
Ingabire adds that her mother, Teddy Nteziryayo, was a counselor, mentor, a politician, and a community worker who died last year at the age of 67. “Our home was a home for the homeless, jobless, abused women, widows, orphans and single mothers. Basically she opened her home for all vulnerable people,” says Ingabire.
She says together with her siblings, they have ensured that all that their mother stood for are still working, and the Nteziryayo home still maintains its former self, despite the demise of her mother through long battle with cancer. This, she says, is why they have decided to turn the home into Mgahinga Youth Hostel to open more opportunities to vulnerable people through tourism.
“My mother’s passion was mostly concerned with health, education and helping local vulnerable people, and we cannot just leave these people to continue suffering just because mom is gone. We have to continue with her struggles to empower the local people, and now the tourism around Kisoro is offering us that opportunity,” says Ingabire.
She adds that they plan also to use Mgahinga Youth Hostel as a homestay to raise money that will enable them help the local community.
Ingabire adds that they are targeting the families her mother was working with, and they are going to use tourism, accommodation, cultural tours, and tours in the national parks to enable them raise money that will help them continue supporting the families.
Mgahinga Youth Hostel is located on the way to Gahinga National park, 10 minutes-drive from Kisoro town, 30 minutes to the Congo border, and 20 minutes to the Rwandan border.
“Being at the bedside with my mother who was suffering from cancer made me to see life in another perspective. I didn’t believe the cruel hand of death would snatch her away from us. But also, there are lessons she taught me when she was drifting away and I’m here to fulfill her legacy. She bequeathed the house to us and we are going to ensure her dreams lives on in Kisoro,” says Ingabire.
Ingabire,32, says they have agreed as a family consisting of 8 siblings to convert the family home as a center where local women are going to benefit from thriving tourism activities around Kisoro to achieve their mother’s dreams.
By Joseph Ondiek.