In 2014 Akagera initiated the Community Freelance Guides programme to recruit and train members of the local community to become tourism guides in Akagera. Almost two years later, the guides have accumulated extensive experience in the park, had training, both internal and external, in conservation in Akagera and field guiding techniques, some have completed first aid certificates and others have passed their driving tests. All are on their way to becoming skilled professionals and respected guides.
In addition to their work guiding tourists inside the park, the Community Freelance Guides Cooperative have been working on developing authentic cultural experiences to share with park visitors outside of the park. Their knowledge of the communities in which they live and participate in, as well as their experience guiding tourists and identifying their interests, make them well-placed to connect the two. The guides have put together some options for tourist looking for engagement with the local community and a greater understanding of Rwandan culture and tradition.
HERITAGE takes you to a cattle farm to try your hand at milking a cow and learn about the rituals around milk. You will visit the farmers home and see how milk was traditionally kept, preserved or treated, turning it into ghee. Special vessels are still sometimes used to store and drink milk from, and herbs smoked to flavour the amata. If you are interested in LOCAL PRODUCTION, another activity takes you to a honey cooperative to learn both traditional and modern methods of bee-keeping. In the same tour you visit a family producing urwagwa, or banana beer, and can sample the wares at a bar across the road.
The ARTS AND CRAFTS activity will show you how local artisans create their products; imigongo is an iconic Rwandan art and native to the Eastern province, a family of blacksmiths demonstrate their creative talents and traditional dancers express Rwanda culture through music and movement.
In addition to these cultural activities, the guides have developed a 7-km moderate to difficult walk along a section of the boundary fence line. The entire fence line is walked daily by a team of fence attendants, walk in their shoes for a small section of the 120km boundary fence which plays an essential role in the conservation of Akagera; allowing for the recent re-introduction of lions, reducing human-wildlife conflicts on the park boundary and, in turn, creating community support for the park.
These activities provide opportunities to engage with people going about their daily lives and eager to share their stories. Since the income from these activities is shared with the participating community members it provides additional revenue, directly through tourism, to families living on the boundary of the park, demonstrating the benefits of tourism and creating long-term support for the conservation of Akagera National Park. It doesn’t get more authentic than that!