Ingabire: Helping communities benefit from cultural tourism

There’s a famous saying at Red Rocks Intercultural Center that says, “This place is not the same without Harriet,” and if anyone has met the petite lady with an infectious smile, excellent persona and outstanding work ethic, they’ll agree. It’s especially true for the women and children that have been touched her kindness.
Women prepare banana wine, one of the products available for sale. (Courtesy)
Women prepare banana wine, one of the products available for sale. (Courtesy)

There’s a famous saying at Red Rocks Intercultural Center that says, “This place is not the same without Harriet,” and if anyone has met the petite lady with an infectious smile, excellent persona and outstanding work ethic, they’ll agree. It’s especially true for the women and children that have been touched her kindness.

Although it is nearly impossible to talk about Red Rocks without talking about Ingabire, it is part of a bigger project that consists of a charity organisation, Hands of Hope that helps disadvantaged women and children.  

 

“Hands of Hope started in 2013 with a unique design of supporting the community through cultural heritage. When I came back in 2013, I was stunned by the level of poverty in this place yet it was so beautiful. I had always wanted to help and also to find a sense of life and this place seemed to provide one. Hands of Hope is made up of women and children,” she says.

 
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Harriet Ingabire.

Hands of Hope seeks to enable vulnerable women living with HIV/Aids as well as children from disadvantaged families, with vocational skills, such as basket weaving. The project also supports children and teenagers by enriching them with life skills, paying school fees and buying learning materials for school going children.

 

“We don’t stop at paying schools fees or giving them study materials. We visit them at school for those in boarding school and during holidays, they receive training in computer skills and design plans to conserve their cultural goods and works with tourism. Over 100 women and children have benefitted from the Hands of Hope project,” she adds.

For these students, a bright future awaits them. Ingabire says that although they haven’t started any student exchange programs, they hope to begin this year and they already have schools in Holland, Belgium and United Kingdom that would like to partner with them.

Through activities such as banana beer making, basket weaving, organic farming, bee keeping, art and craft, brick making among others, beneficiaries are able to sell their products cheaply to tourists through Red Rocks. However, Ingabire didn’t wake up on one day and decide to start a charity organisation.

She was born in Uganda, raised by a single parent, her mother, together her siblings and foster brothers, after the death of her father. With the help of her foster mother, she went to the United States of America from where she graduated with a degree in psychology from California State University of Northridge.

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When tourists visit Red Rocks, locals help them understand some aspects of our culture such as drumming. (Courtesy)

“I never thought that I would ever want to come and stay in Africa, let alone in Rwanda. I felt like my life was complete in the US where I had a good job and comfortable life. But the strong urge to reconnect with my roots, find my identity and purpose in life brought me back in 2013 during the Kwita Izina ceremony. When I came back, I met with Greg Bakunzi, my foster brother and after getting the feel of place, I decided to stay,” she says.   

After having a lengthy conversation with Bakunzi, proprietor of Amahoro tours and Red Rocks, he showed her a small piece of land he already had that is strategically next to Musanze Polytechnique and she just saw her dream of staying behind start to unravel in front of her eyes. With the purchase of another land, they embarked on creating a place that could benefit the community and also host tourists.

“The name Red Rocks came from the locals; most people did menial work of splitting rocks which produced sparks of fire, and they referred to them as red rocks. So, we decided to name this place after the rocks. We started 2 years ago and in July, we’ll make 3 years. Our main aim was and still is to support the surrounding community through their activities and to ensure sustainability. More so, we want them to also benefit from the biggest industry in Rwanda, tourism,” she says.

Through Red Rocks, Ingabire contacted Muko sector for provision of a list of poor families in the area that needed urgent help and she was given a big list. That didn’t stop her because she took all of them and tried to help. She took the initiative of getting to them on a personal level, to better understand their situation and be able to help them accordingly.

With the zeal to continue helping the community, Bakunzi and Ingabire are always making Red Rocks a better place. So far, the place attracts between 100-500 guests who are accommodated in tents or rooms. There’s also a camping site in case one has their own tent. On my last visit there, the place had employed a seasoned Chef, who has been cooking for more than 15 years.

At 32 years of age, Chef Andy is a well-travelled and renown chef who started off down on Diani Beach Mombasa.

“I trained at two top-notch institutions both in Johannesburg and Cape Town where I built my experience from scratch while enjoying the pleasure of working in hotels, restaurants and private yachts. I have travelled to the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Spain and the Caribbean Islands all courtesy of my profession,” says Chef Andy.

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They also take community walks where they engage with the locals and get to learn from each other. It's an activity that Red Rocks organises. (Courtesy)

As if the zeal to help other people runs through everyone at Red Rocks, Andy returned back to Kenya after globe-trotting to help setup a training program for aspiring chefs in Nairobi, Kisumu and later Mombasa. He says that his dream continues and in the present day stage, it continues on the shores of Lake Kivu, surrounded by volcanoes, rocky terrain, and amazing nature at Red Rocks.

However, all is not rosy in the tourism business whose first priority is to help the surrounding communities. Ingabire says that their type of tourism comes with certain difficulties and sometimes she feels like there is a mountain to climb,, especially during the low season, but she’s inspired to continue her work because whether peak or low season, the community still lives.

“When I look at what these women and children have achieved so far, I can only be proud of them and that is something so big for me to let anything put me down. This community is my family and you never tire working for your family,” she adds.

With her biggest inspiration being her mother, Ingabire says 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.

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