Rwanda was 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 validates the 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, is doing all that possible to promote tourism and conservation. Programs like revenue sharing and conservation of 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 shows that it is headed for a great future. Gregory 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 Red Rocks facilitated a group of local women by offering them incentives to plant thousands of trees around the Volcanoes National Park. These women showed their inventiveness 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 region wants to reclaim the forests that had been decimated through rampant cutting of trees for charcoal and firewood. Locals want animals and birds to come back to their natural habitat.
The company is also educating locals on the value of environmental conservation. The Red Rocks Art Gallery in Kinigi, outside the Volcanoes National Park, was established for talented kids and upcoming artists to receive their apprenticeships from established artists and to display and sell their art pieces to tourists.
The company has also formed a football club and, when kids take part in tournaments, they always spread conservation messages afterwards. It alsos engage women in different programmes like helping them market their skills. Everything is done with conservation in mind because, when the local communities are socially and economically empowered, they can be strategic and significant partners in conservation efforts.
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