Red Rocks Ecotourism Initiative — a Musanze-based social enterprise that works to preserve Rwandan cultural heritage and protect the country’s natural environment — will on December 24 celebrate its 5th anniversary.

With a humble beginning five years ago, Red Rocks Ecotourism Initiative has successfully driven its mission and today it’s one of the few social enterprises that are making a positive impact on rural communities in Rwanda.

Believing that conservation is possible only when the involvement of local communities is given well-defined emphasis, Red Rocks Ecotourism Initiative developed their programmes accordingly, hence the organisation’s tagline, “Where cultural tourism leads to community development”.

The premises of Red Rocks Ecotourism Initiative in Nyakinama, Musanze district

Situated in Nyakinama village, about seven kilometres west of Musanze town, Red Rocks offers locally-guided packages combining camping, hostel accommodation and activities with cultural aspects such as basket weaving, homestays with local host families, storytelling, community walks, art and crafts and banana beer brewing, among others.

Monthly community events
Since its inception in 2011, Red Rocks has been organising monthly events such as the Cultural Talent Show, which aims to raise cultural awareness and enhance cultural dialogue; Seed of Hope Festival, which celebrates the planting season of the year; Summer Camp Festival, which offers the local community an opportunity to learn about nature, ecology and wildlife; as well as the now very popular Christmas Village Market, which offers locals and foreign visitors alike a memorable Christmas shopping experience in a rural setting.

In fact, 2016 has been the most prosperous year for Red Rocks following successful monthly events such as the Cultural Tourism Week, which took place on September 28-October 2; the Banana Beer Festival, which took place in October; as well as the Heritage Preservation Debate, which took place in November.

When Sports and Culture Minister paid a courtesy visit
Red Rocks’ activities are so engaging that in November Julienne Uwacu, Rwanda’s sports and culture minister, was compelled to pay the facility a courtesy ministerial visit.

Julienne Uwacu, Rwanda’s sports and culture minister, went on her knees and showcased her banana beer making skills

During her visit, Ms Uwacu, who was flanked by the acting mayor of Musanze district Jean Damascene Habyarimana, went on her knees and showcased her banana beer making skills to the amazement of hordes of locals who were present.

“We really appreciate all that has been done so far, especially the spirit of working together with the local community… But as we discussed with the owner of this business, there’s a lot to improve. The conception of this village and the exhibits should be improved, and the information they give out to different visitors needs to be written and also well-explained,” Ms Uwacu told the media after her visit.

“We have promised to work closely with them to help avail some research about the social lives of Rwandans but also we can work with RDB and other government institutions to see how we can improve the level of our cultural tourism while doing it professionally.”

Greg Bakunzi, founder of Red Rocks Ecotourism Initiative, echoed the minister’s remarks.

“I would say that the programmes we have developed are successful though we still need a few partners to come on board so that we can improve our products,” said the tour operator, whose organisation is now adding the Cultural Film Festival — which will take place between June-July 2017 — to its already impressive list of cultural events.

Julienne Uwacu tours Red Rocks during her visit in November. Left is Red Rocks founder Greg Bakunzi

“The Cultural Film Festival will showcase locally-produced films that highlight the importance of preserving our culture,” Bakunzi says. “Most of the films that will be screened during the festival will be featuring local actors so this festival will help give them the exposure they need to take their acting careers to another level.”

Locals reap big
Bakunzi says that the local community has, over the years, come to understand the benefits of Red Rocks’ community events.

He says: “The locals get to sell their products such as baskets, clay pots, shirts made from local fabrics, bracelets, etc, to visiting tourists. Those who can sing also perform for tourists on weekends and get paid.”

To promote cultural music tourism more effectively, Red Rocks recently set up a recording studio from where locals can record their music at no cost. The recorded music is then sold to tourists who are interested in traditional Rwandan music.

Musanze locals get to sell their products such as baskets to tourists who visit Red Rocks

And that’s not all.

“We have also started producing cultural films featuring local actors from Musanze, some of which will be screened during the Cultural Film Festival in June 2017,” Bakunzi concludes.

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