Rwanda has once again featured on the global tourism and conservation map when Greg Bakunzi, the founder of Red Rocks Cultural Center, stepped in to claim another award during the 10th Tourism Investment and Business Forum for Africa (INVESTOUR) awards. The event was organised jointly by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), FITUR, and Casa Africa.
This award is in recognition of what Bakunzi’s Red Rocks Cultural Center and Red Rocks Initiatives for Sustainable Development have been doing to promote tourism, conservation, and community development in and around the Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda. It also confirms its mission to enhance mutual co-existence between human beings and animals and to preserve endangered plant species so that the park remains at its pristine.
The Rwandan government, together with the private sector, are doing all what is possible to promote tourism and conservation. Programs like revenue sharing and conservation of the endangered species have ensured that tourism remains the top foreign exchange earner, and the government is motivated to maintain this trend. In general, the award symbolizes the country’s commitment to preserve its natural and cultural assets for future generations.
Red Rocks Initiatives has shown it is headed for a great future. Bakunzi established it to seek ways through which tourism, conservation, and community development can be harnessed. The three cannot work in isolation since they are mutually inclusive. For instance, without conservation, tourists will not come to Rwanda since they will have nothing to see. And the local communities around the park are the main players in conservation. The company’s main mission is to partner with other organizations so that it can facilitate conservation efforts in and around the Volcanoes National Park.
Through such partnerships, early last year the company facilitated a group of local women by offering them incentives to plant thousands of trees around the Volcanoes National Park. These women showed their innovativeness by using environmentally friendly banana seed-bags that they used to plant seedlings and grow trees that they later transplanted. Most importantly, this is an ongoing reforestation programme, since the company wants to reclaim the forests that had been decimated through rampant cutting of trees for charcoal and firewood. The region wants animals and birds to come back to their natural habitat.
The company is also educating the locals on the value of environmental conservation. It established the Red Rocks Art Gallery in Kinigi, outside the Volcanoes National Park, for talented kids and upcoming artists to receive their apprenticeship from established artists and for them to display and sell their art pieces to tourists. It has also formed a football club and, when kids take part in tournaments, it always spreads conservation messages afterwards. The company also engages women in different programmes like helping them market their skills. It does all of this with conservation in mind since, when the local communities are socially and economically empowered, they can be strategic and significant partners in conservation efforts.
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