Red Rocks Initiatives for Sustainable Development works to enhance improved standards of living for local communities living around the Virunga Massif.
Over the years, these communities have come to appreciate our tourism and environmental conservation initiatives as the best sustainable community empowerment tools and foreign exchange earners.
The gains made to this end have however come under threat from the current global Coronavirus pandemic, particularly the toll it has taken on the local tourism economy.
Against this backdrop, therefore, comes our latest campaign to mobilize support for local communities most affected by the virus outbreak.
Why Virunga Massif?
Shared by Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, this trans-boundary land mass hosts the three peaks of what has been dubbed the Virunga chain of mountains; Karisimbi (in Rwanda), Bisoke (on the Rwanda-DRC border, and Sabyinyo (on the Rwanda-DRC-Uganda border).
This forested and mountainous area is home to the endangered mountain gorillas, numbering about one thousand.
Red Rocks Initiatives, a non-profit, was launched in 2013, as a direct local response to the then Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The idea was to integrate environmental conservation and tourism as a sustainable tool for community development.
Through various sustainable tourism and conservation initiatives, we offer these communities a better alternative to their previous modes of livelihood. These modes of livelihood often involved harmful and environmentally unsustainable practices like game poaching and deforestation.
Today, these communities are able to tap directly into the local gorilla tourism economy, through trade in their talents, art, music, and cultural showcase.
Not only has this boosted household incomes among these communities, it has also instilled in them a renewed sense of purpose, pride, and belonging.
The communities we work with are located in Musanze (Rwanda), Goma (DRC), and Kisoro (Uganda).
We have managed to encourage and facilitate community members, particularly the youth and vulnerable women to use their skills to produce art and craft products which they sell to tourists visiting the parks as souvenirs. Many youths now earn a living as local tour guides, waiters, waitresses and translators.
We have established strong linkages with local visual artists, who craft conservation and tourism-inspired art pieces for sale to visiting tourists.
As the Coronavirus pandemic maintains its stranglehold on the global economy, efforts to contain it have caused tourism businesses to curb operations, unemployment to rise, and schools to close.
The virus is ravaging individuals, families and communities, casting new social and economic challenges at them.
For communities like those dwelling around the Virunga Massif, our program area, the challenge is even stiffer, because of their heavy dependence on the tourism dollar.
There are no tourists to sell souvenirs to, entertain through song and dance, host for family home stays or take around on community walks. The prospects of earning an honest income are at an all-time low.
So what next for these affected communities?
Naturally, the temptation to return to their old, destructive habits like poaching and forest clearing can only grow.
As a sustainable tourism and conservation stakeholder, Red Rocks Initiatives for Sustainable Development believes that it should not come to this. Our latest campaign to mobilize financial and material support for these affected communities is wholly premised on this belief.
Government-instituted lockdowns and the attendant loss of tourism revenues in all three countries of our operations have created new challenges for those whose task it is protect wildlife.
As entire communities lose vital income from community-based tourism initiatives, they are likely to instinctively turn to the only other option they know – hunting wildlife.
Join the Initiative
This is the time for conservation organizations, conservation-loving individuals and the corporate world to proffer a helping hand to those in critical need. And remember, with each contribution, you are saving both a human and wildlife in one go. These otherwise hardworking communities need only a temporary lease of life until the tourism sector regains its footing.