Over Rwf2.6 billion has been invested in 480 projects in the entire country under the tourism revenue sharing scheme and contributing to the welfare of communities surrounding national parks.
Of those projects, 121 are for communities surrounding the Volcanoes National Park and cost about Rwf1 billion, according to RDB’s Chief Tourism Officer, Belise Kaliza.
The conservation strategy started in 2005, when Rwanda Development Board (RDB) established an innovative scheme whereby 5% of all tourism revenues goes back to the communities surrounding parks.
Through this mechanism, RDB supports projects that benefit development and welfare of communities living around the national parks and involve those communities in conservation activities, including being park rangers and guides of the parks.
The scheme has helped build schools, hospitals, community centres and other development projects. This year, RDB inaugurated classrooms in the areas neighbouring Akagera, Nyungwe and Volcanoes parks.
For Nyabihu residents in the Western Province, the fruits from the conservation of wildlife in the Volcanoes National Park have started being tasted thanks to that scheme.
On Friday seven classrooms constructed at Kanyove Primary School in Mukamira Sector, Nyabihu District were inaugurated at the cost of Rwf55.8 million..
During the opening, RDB’s Kaliza said support for the construction was done in line with promoting education around the parks in particular ahead of the 12th edition of Kwita Izina (Gorilla naming) ceremony due on September 2 in Musanze District.
According to RDB, 22 baby gorillas will be named at the event.
“We value education very much because it equips people with knowledge that can be used to develop tourism. By fighting ignorance, we open doors for Rwandans anywhere they want to do business,” she noted, adding that it was one of the 41 schools that supported through the project.
She said Kwita Izina plays a big role in marketing the country and celebrating its achievements through conservation of wildlife as well as a means to promote tourism sector.
Centred on people’s welfare
Kaliza said “we have invested in projects that change the lives of inhabitants near the parks such that they do not rely on poaching or cutting trees in parks for survival.”
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education (MINEDUC), Dr. Celestin Ntivuguruzwa, said education was important in the development and welfare of the people through skills empowerment.
“The old classrooms were in poor condition as they had dusty and uneven floor such that students learn uncomfortably. They were also crowded in classes because they were small, not meeting standards,” he noted.
“But, as these new classrooms are large enough, clean and solid, we have hope that the learning of students will go smoothly”.
Prosper Uwingeli, Chief Park Warden for Volcanoes National Park said that before, conflicts were rife between parks and the people because of poaching and illegal logging.
“The conflicts were created because people had not understood or seen the importance of the park and need to be protected,’’ he said.
Since the inception of the revenue sharing programme, conflicts have considerably reduced. People no longer cut trees in the park and those who set snares to catch antelopes are very few,’’ he said.
“The government shares tourism revenues with the people and sits with them to determine profitable projects for them such as schools. They also work with cooperatives in development activities such as art crafts needed by tourists, which make people to view the park not as a problem, but a solution,” he said.
“I used to cut bamboo in the park. People even used to hunt animals there, but now, those activities have ceased,” said Aloys Munyenganizi, 54, resident of Mukamira Sector, Kanyove Cell.
“Before, people would trespass the park and damage the wildlife. But, there has been systematic measures to protect the park coupled with the benefits that the nearby residents get from tourism revenue sharing scheme,” Munyenganizi noted.
“Now, thanks to tourism, we have water near us and our children are getting enough time to study because they no longer spend long hours fetching water, something that made them delay getting to school” said Beatrice Mukandekezi, a resident of Gasizi Cell in Mukamira Sector, whose three children study at Kanyove School.
Speaking on behalf of parents, Jean Marie Vianney Munyentwali, thanked RDB’s contribution in the education of their children.
He however, noted that they also need a twelve-year basic education programme at the school, because after completing primary, their children have to make a four-hour trek on foot to study at Groupe Scolaire Rwinzovu or a two-hour walk to Groupe Scolaire Mukamira.
He added that they also needed their children to have access the One-Laptop-Per-Child project to benefit from ICT in education.
RDB and MINEDUC pledged support in this regard, in partnership with Nyabihu District.
Kaliza said that in 2015, tourism earned Rwanda $318 million (about Rwf251 billion) revenues, a 4% increase compared to 2014, adding that this year they expects earnings to increase by 5 or 6%.
A total of 216 baby gorillas have been named since the introduction of the naming ceremony for baby mountain gorillas in 2005.
There are over 300 mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park.
The mountain gorilla population is estimated to be around 786 according to the World Wildlife Fund.