Just like all national parks that have local community members that live around them, several villages surround the Volcanoes National park. These individuals have some community development projects which provide employment, incomes hence help them to benefit from tourism. These projects include the following;
Iby’Iwacu cultural village Tour
This village is located in Nyabigoma cell, Kinigi area in Musanze district (Northern Province) around Parc National des Volcans. Iby’Iwacu is a Rwandese word meaning “Treasure of our home or “our heritage” because through this cultural village walk, Rwandan unique historical cultures of the three main tribes (Hutu, Tutsi and Twa) are exhibited.
Besides enabling local community members around Volcanoes to benefit from tourism, this project is a way harmonizing and creating a balance between conservation and benefiting the locals through tourism, the cultural village was also started to preserve the authentic culture of the Rwandan people for generations. The cultural village has refurbished ex-poachers who later on realized that the presence of the national park and the wildlife is important for their present and future.
This cultural village tour provides so many fascinating treasures which include the Rwandese traditional lifestyles, cultural activities for example dances, livelihoods of the local people including cultivation of crops and showcasing of artifacts. Through this village tour there can be village walks, tourists meet and interact with local community members including the great Rwandan King and get a chance to listen to stories of the king, enjoy their local foods, learn about their traditional medicines, to experience the environment they live in, experience their traditions and cultures.
Also boasts of various activities which include making and showcasing of traditional artifacts like baskets, demonstration of preparation of traditional dishes like Ubugari, Igikoma among others, grinding millet and sorghum using traditional grinding stones, do not miss the traditional dances like Intore dances, Ikembe, Iningiri, Inanga, Agakenke, Ibyivugo, Ingoma and Umuduri among others to add value to the other activities participated in. After a long tiring day from gorilla trekking and mountain climbing, you can relax your evening while watching their cultural dances, local beer brewing. Also visit the traditional healer who uses the plants and other herbal medicines of their fore fathers/ancestors, the Batwa also showcase their pottery skills of making dancing pots
Visitors are advised to follow the following guidelines to ensure the conservation of the environment and preservation of the culture of the local people; Avoid littering garbage around the area but instead advised to use bins placed within the cultural village.
Respect the culture, customs and norms of the local community and conduct yourself properly to blend with the community members like avoid skimpy clothes, avoid caressing in public but feel free to share your own norms with the locals so that you can learn from eachother.Be friendly and sensitive with the community members.
Avoid giving the children money, sweets, empty bottles because it encourages begging among the children but instead a donation to the project is a good idea since it can be used to help the community members and support school going children.
Sustainable Agricultural Training Project (SATP)
Majority of the locals living around national parks depend on Agriculture for their livelihood. As the population of the country keeps growing, this creates pressure on the existing land making locals to encroach the park for farmland and this threatens the conservation of the endangered mountain gorillas. SATP was advocated by Gorilla Organization and started in 2001.The Aim of the project was to improve agricultural techniques of the communities living around Volcanoes National Park thereby minimizing poverty and pressure on the national park due to encroachment. During its inceptive stages, the Gorilla Organization provided 6 months intensive and free Agricultural training to 110 farmers who then qualified to be Key Farmer Trainers (KFT) who then each trained 20 farmers who also in turn trained 5 farmers each thereby using modern agricultural techniques like crop rotation, organic deposing and utilization of manure, and terracing hence improving Agriculture and their livelihoods. This project registered success because by 2004 the first 100 KFTs had finished their training and by 2007 they had trained over 3,000 farmers. Currently over 10,000 locals have benefited from this amazing initiative, crop yields have greatly improved and the incomes of the locals has also improved. Besides agricultural training, the project also provided 100,000 saplings to locals to reduce on over dependence on the park for firewood. Also provided energy saving (Fuel-Efficient) stoves that save 70% of charcoal and firewood reducing on strain on the park.
Support for Local Rwandan Artists
Started in 1997 as a partnership between The Gorilla Organization and Magasin Equatorial des Arts (MEA) to produce Environmentally–themed art and handcrafts. This raises awareness about mountain gorilla among the local community members while at the same time generate income for them. The main objective of the project was to reduce poverty among the communities around Volcanoes National Park and promote positive attitudes towards the environment. It involves training the youth in art and crafting making. The project registered success because to date 43 youth successfully completed the training out of which 15 are fully registered members of MEA, have produced art and handicrafts like mountain gorillas that reflect the environment and have a workshop within the Gorilla Organization’s Ruhengeri Resource Centre. This generates income and improves the standard of living of the local community members.
Similarly, there is also Supporting Indigenous Rwandan Communities. This was started in 2001and is run by the Gorilla Organization. Its main aim was to ameliorate the lives of the Batwa who were evicted from their land without compensation making them homeless following the gazzeting of the national park. These people were originally Hunter-gatherers depending on the forests for food, medicine, shelter. But following their eviction, they suffered from poverty, low education levels and discrimination. The Gorilla Organization in partnership with the African Indigenous and Minority Peoples Organization (AIMPO) have acquired over 30 acres of agricultural land for farming, trained them in organic farming techniques, provided agricultural equipments, addressed health concerns through training the locals on the importance of a balanced diet and visiting the health centers for Antenatal care, constructed houses and promoted education through building schools and adult literacy training hence improving their lives. More still, the park Management organizes training programs to enable the local community members to develop new products for example art and craft pieces solely managed by locals to enable them tap into tourism. When they sell these products to tourists, it earls them income, to improve their standard of living hence also changing their negative attitude towards tourism.
Ethno Botany Tours
Takes place in the Northern Province of Rwanda at Musanze. This involves studying the conventional knowledge of the local people concerning the use of plants for medicines. Tourists are shown and introduced to different herbal plants for various afflictions/ailments. During this tour, visitors go to the bushes/gardens with the traditional herbalist who explains to them the different plants that can heal ailments like witches, poisoning, allergies, headaches, and coughs. After that field tour, tourists can be taken to the local pharmacy to check the patients who are under treatment using those local herbs.
In conclusion, tourism has positively benefited local communities living around Volcanoes National Park through projects like the support for local Rwandan artists, Sustainable Agricultural Training Project (SATP) and supporting Indigenous Rwandan communities by the Gorilla Organization and these projects not only improve their livelihoods but also change the negative perception they have towards tourism development.