By Joseph Oindo
For Eversiste Hakizimana, August 19, 2016, came as a blessing. Having schooled at Kanyove Primary School from 2007 to 2010, from where he qualified to join secondary school, this date was a stark reminder of where he has come from and his optimism that his children are not going to lead the same life he went through while schooling.
“During our days,” he told Travel News Rwanda, “the only thing we could be proud of was that we had a roof over our head to study, but all the classes were derelict and the floors were so dusty that many of us reported ill at alarming levels. But things have changed now.”
The change Hakizimana is proudly talking about is an initiative of the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) to give back to communities neighbouring national parks — stimulus projects that make them feel that they are part and parcel of conserving Rwanda’s rich heritage. This project was funded by the tourism revenue sharing scheme that was adopted by the government in 2005.
The unveiling of seven new modern classrooms that was held at Kanyove Primary School on August 19 drew a lot of praise from local leaders, parents and students.
The project, according to Belise Kariza, the chief tourism officer at RDB, cost Rwf55,846,613. It not only included the classrooms, but also some 10 pit latrines and a giant water tank from where rain water is tapped.
Speaking to the press during the official unveiling of the project, Kariza said that locals are allowed to identify their urgent needs in which they want the tourism revenues to be injected.
“The people around this area told us that their immediate need was constructing modern classrooms that their children can go to and compete fairly with their counterparts from other areas of the country. And this is what we gave them,” she said.
Kanyove Primary School is a community-based school in Nyabihu district that serves over 400 pupils. To reach the school from the main Kigali-Gisenyi highway, some 10km from Musanze town, you have to drive through rough terrain of a rocky road and dusty footpaths. Though the school is accessible by car, the 3km or so journey from the main road takes over one hour to complete.
The school also serves a big swathe of the local community, and pupils have to trek many kilometres daily to reach it.
Eriq Masengesho is a Primary Five pupil at the school. He says before the rehabilitation project, which started last year, they had to fetch water from the local river, some three kilometres away from the school, to sanitise the toilets and pour some water onto the classroom floors.
“The classroom floors were not cemented. When we failed to pour there water, many of us would complain of different illnesses and sanitation was also not up to standard. But thanks to the water tank and the new toilets, we can now go to school and concentrate on our studies without experiencing the problems we had before,” he says.
Patrice Mucyo, a community leader, said such a project is a good reason for the local community to work together with the tourism industry players so that sustainable development can be felt by those living around the national parks.
“Before we used to have cases of human-animal conflict but now such cases are no longer the norm since RDB has put in place measures to ensure that such cases don’t arise,” he says.
According to RDB’s Kariza, in order to stem human-animal conflicts, her organisation has embarked on different initiatives such as fencing off national parks and educating the local community about the value of preserving wildlife.
However, it’s projects like the rehabilitation of Kanyove Primary School that will make the local community appreciate conservation efforts since the money from tourism eventually goes back to them to identify significant projects that not only help them but also their offsprings.