By Elias Hakizimana.
It’s about 1 pm, Saturday, May 5, 2018. I’m ushered into an arts gallery structure with sculptures, and traditional objects repository, which is an eye-catching and worthy experience everyone can desire to have.
After entering the beautiful premises surrounded by traditionally made compounds, with green and attractive garden inside, I observed a wide space hosting a reminiscence of a number of traditional human activities.
Such a splendid representation of the Rwandan culture and practices of old days are found at Red Rocks Initiatives for Sustainable Development, in the Northern Province, Rwanda; about two hour drive from Rwanda’s capital – Kigali.
Red Rocks is one of Africa’s specialised companies in cultural and community tourism services located in Musanze District.
Indeed, a number of people worldwide need to see the beauty of their traditional culture, community works and smell the aroma offered by the nature but unfortunately fail to do so due to lack of biodiversity conservation.
Red Rocks is offering opportunities that help address such a concern.
With enthusiasm and inquisitiveness, I felt interested to ask for a visiting permission to explore more.
Red Rocks Initiatives for Sustainable Development, one of Africa’s specialized companies in cultural tourism — located in Musanze District of Rwanda — which established various strategies to preserve and promote Rwanda’s nature and beauty as well as community’s lives.
This project was initiated by Greg Bakunzi, Chairman and Founder of Red Rocks Initiatives with his Colleague Harriet Ingabire, Managing Director and co-founder of Red Rocks Initiatives (Act of Hope Foundation) five years ago when they created Red Rocks Cultural Center, based in Nyakinama village in Musanze with a solid reputation in championing for intercultural tourism, conservation and community development efforts that have had a major impact on the local community around the Volcano National Park.
A heartfelt welcome by a smart gentle man Greg Bakunzi and Harriet Ingabire grabbed my attention to know about present activities and pose questions as a journalist.
After taking me through a brief history and current initiatives, Bakunzi who was a bit to move for other responsibilities allowed me to talk with Ingabire and Theophile Kamana, the in-charge of Culture Conservation at Red Rocks. This sounded better and Kamana first took me through a visit of all community programmes and conservation memories inside the compound and I felt really motivated to stay and enjoy as I captured real images of Rwanda’s tradition through Red Rocks conservation.
A brief History
Harriet Ingabire, the Managing Director and Co-founder of Red Rocks Initiatives told The Inspirer that they started the initiative within their Non-Governmental Organisation dubbed “Act of Hope Foundation” as a social enterprise which works in such a way that the community benefits from hard work that helps people to depend on themselves rather than depending on charities.
Red Rocks Initiatives targets vulnerable women, women living with AIDS and Diabetes, Single mothers, widows and just poor women in the communities.
“We realized that most of them did not have education but they knew about how to weave baskets and they knew the culture very well. So, we started selling culture to Tourists. Like here Greg Bakunzi had a tour company which is owned first 17 Years Amahoro Tours and targeted clients through different traditional culture. So, we put all the cultures together including basket weaving, banana beer making, bee keeping, potteries, storytelling, drumming, homestays where guests stay in the homes of communities,” Ingabire noted.
Red rocks initiatives started cooperatives of women to get easy to help them and started all these activities and get the money for their social and economic development.
“We save the money because we are looking at sustainability and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and with those, we decided to start doing all these activities and get the money that all goes to them,” said Ingabire.
“When people stay here, 24% of what they pay goes to the communities, so, with the money they make, because tourism is not sustainable, we have high season and low season, during the low season they can suffer more, within this money they make from the high season they invest, they start projects aside where they make more money and even if the tourists are not here they are able to survive,” she added.
Most of these first beneficiaries of Red Rocks Initiatives’ activities are in farming and some sell the yield on local markets and others go to Uganda to bring products for sale to strengthen their self-reliance.
Ingabire said that some products made by citizens are exported to USA, Norvege, Belgium, London and Canada and make much money.
“We also tell them to conserve what surround them, it is not just about making money only, but also getting knowledge about what surround us,” said Ingabire.
The “IGIHOHO Project”
Igihoho project is one of Red Rocks conservation’s programmes. Igihoho is a banana fiber bag that acts in place of plastic bag for tree nursery. This is good for environment protection according to Ingabire.
“So, we started a new project called Igihoho where we plant trees and we give to the citizens to plant in their homes,” Ingabire said.
“We have another project “Kitchen gardens”, each family has a kitchen garden in their homes and there they grow medicine herbs and vegetables and those one we buy them from the citizens as here we have a restaurant. We buy from them potatoes and all food they make, and we also give them animals; pigs, goats, chicken and cows so that they make organic fertilizer that they put in the crops,” she said.
Red Rocks also buys meat, eggs, as main market to help them get income from what they produce.
Ingabire said that such a progress has been done since five years and currently benefiting 300 people from 100 families around Musanze District, and apart from women, some Red Rocks programmes target children (poor children and talented children) in songs, dance, etc. The Red Rocks’ studio helps them promote the talents they have.
Arts and Crafts
“They also make the art works and we sell them, we do also crafts in line with made in Rwanda. They learn them in school and in case they need anything we support them but they have to be independent and have to learn how to save money and be able to do something to make life better,” said Ingabire.
She mentioned that the whole goal is all about community development that depends on Tourism.
“We did not get any donations, everything is done from self-sufficient from the guest who stay here, from the clients who come and do all these activities and we realized that the community is growing, tourism is not sustainable, that is why we started a charity, an NGO that is Act for Hope Foundation which is under Red Rocks Initiatives,” Ingabire said.
The NGO targets to widen these activities to Musanze, around Congo, Kisoro in Uganda. In June 2018, the similar community with different name will start in Uganda doing the same things.
Bee keeping project
Bee keeping is another project that Red Rocks is starting in July 2018 to produce honey and candles.
“We have realized that throwing rest of honey away is a loss, with that we decided to make candles out from honey when there is rest of honey from the bee hives,” said Ingabire.
Red Rocks have both Traditional bee hives and modern ones. “Because we do not need to lose our culture but we do not also need to miss out of the new things in the world,” she said.
Arts and Conservation
Red Rocks also has another working place in Kinigi volcano center that hosts arts and conservation activities.
Dubbed “Connecting Tourism and Conservation for Sustainable Development Center”, the place promotes Education, Art, Research and Community programmes.
Painting and conservation artworks tell stories of Rwandans who actually do not talk much but use art work memory signs.
“Rwandese are conservative people, we can communicate a lot through different Art works we do and the youth learn and make money out of that,” said Igabire.
Conserving traditional endangered tree species
Red Rocks also decided to conserve most of the tree species Rwandans’ ancestors used which are in danger of extinction. These are like medication plants used by Rwandans to heal before medic doctors came.
“We do not need to lose that knowledge of traditional healing using these plants as many people do not grow them and young generation do not know them anymore. We want to keep such and different researchers and internees from different Universities come here to research about them like now we have two internees from Scot lands, two from Holland doing research about conservation and what kind of plants we have here and what do we use them for,” said Ingabire.
Red Rocks make money from those researchers and learn from each other according to Ingabire.
Red Rocks currently partners with Rwanda Development Board (RDB), Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) NGOs like Green Foundation, Rwanda Association for Conservation and they are looking for more partners.
Theophile Kamana, in charge of culture at Red Rocks said they manage to bring medicine herbs closer the community so that they stop poaching from the volcano park.
“One of the objectives of the garden is to preserve endangered plants Rwandans used in their life, like medicinal herbs. We also teach every one especially young generation to know these plants and we make it in a form of shared science rather than heritage to keep the knowledge that will help future generations,” Kamana said.
Some of the beneficiaries
Dative Bazubafite, 59, is a mother of five who has benefited from Red Rocks Initiatives in bakery activities after getting free skills. Inside this premises. She lives in Cyinkware village, Bikara cell, Nkotsi sector in Musanze district.
While making capati with his colleague, she said this has helped her to improve on living conditions.
“I manage to get every basic need from this occupation. Red Rocks trained us in a cooperative of over 20 women and gave us jobs. We work from this compound and Red Rocks buys most of our produce, the rest goes to outside’s markets,” said Bazubafite.
Apollinaire Sasita, 64, is the representative of historical marginalized people recently known as the “Abatwa” and was employed by Red Rocks to look after the botanic garden of environment conservation for endangered species in Nyagisenyi cell, Kinigi sector of the volcano park.
“I was employed by Greg Bakunzi to look after these medicinal plants and I earn a monthly allowance to buy food and clothes for children,” he said.
Red Rocks’ dreams
“Our dream is to get more people, and we can be independent, we will also look at how to get more places in Rwanda because all these places have different cultures and knowledge. So, one of the dreams is, if one day we can be all over in Rwanda in different communities, supporting communities in different countries, Uganda, Congo the same thing. Our dream is to use culture conservation, preservation and using Tourism to help communities. The dream is to get more people and hopefully, I think I am positive that we will do it and be able to be ambassadors of our culture and share it with other fellow Africans,” Ingabire noted.