By Joseph Ondiek
Ask any tourism industry player and they will tell you education is a critical aspect of environmental conservation. It’s in this regard that Red Rocks Cultural Center, based in Nyakinama village, Musanze district established Red Rocks Initiatives for Sustainable Development early this year, and among its key objectives is to promote conservation through education.
According to Greg Bakunzi, the founder of Red Rocks, education is a significant tool when we want to improve the long-term protection of wildlife and biodiversity.
“We must reach out to major audiences, which include teachers, students, and decision makers. We should take them on fantastic exploration journey so as to introduce them to that magic of the natural world,” says Bakunzi.
He adds that at the Red Rocks initiatives, they believe both education and community development remain keys to long-term success of conservation, adding that both share unique symbiotic relationship which can be clearly evidenced in the Virunga massif.
“It is in this regard that our community development programs are designed in such a way as to promote greater global understanding of the compelling need to protect and preserve our planet’s wildlife, environmental, and cultural diversity,” Bakunzi adds.
Among the objectives of the program is to maintain open-door policies towards the local people from both rural and urban areas, enabling them to explain major environmental and economic issues affecting them and to openly express their ideas on the ways to solve them together with any kind of assistance they might need towards this end.
“Through both cultural immersion and collaborative development efforts, our programs’ key aim is to address community needs. And we believe that teaching our students and the youth to work closely with local community members to identify, plan and ultimately implement a service project, they will mutually benefit and grow together,” Bakunzi adds.
He further says that community service experiences may be held at different locations, depending on a group focus plus other adventures one may wish to incorporate into their trip.
According to the program, every experience focuses on cultural and service-led programs. Itineraries may incorporate all, or a selection of activities like homestay immersion program, traditional dance and cooking, local values and custom, and small scale agriculture and farming.
“We closely work with schools, students, and teachers to tailor any itinerary or build a completely unique program that aligns with their education and conservation objectives,” says Bakunzi.
A number of people welcomed Red Rocks’ latest initiative, saying this is the right way to go when we have to achieve conservation around our national parks and protected areas.
“Students need to be actively engaged in conservation since they’re the ones to benefit in future. Conservation education should also be incorporated fully in the school syllabus from primary level, and students need to visit the national parks often,” says Emmanuel Tutu, a visual artist based in Kigali.
Otieno Nondoh, a researcher and lecturer at the University of Rwanda, said resources for conservation, particularly time and funding, are limited and thus making a decision on where to invest, what particular conservation tools to employ, and how we may adapt conservation programmes in response to both monitoring and evaluation, is critical so as to make sure conservation effort is both cost-effective and successful.
“Initiatives like the Red Rocks are key to unlocking our minds on how we can use education for conservation. The industry players also may benefit by prioritizing areas that are crucial to conservation,” says Nondoh.
The program, according to Bakunzi, welcomes teachers and students from both the local and international communities, tourism stakeholders, researchers, and volunteers, among other interest groups.