In the picturesque town of Bigodi, located within the bounds of Kamwenge District, a remarkable change has taken root, and its source can be traced to community-based tourism initiatives. Over the past two decades, as travelers seeking the serenity of the neighboring Kibale National Park poured into the area, new avenues of enterprise emerged for the local populace.
A Humble Beginning, A Resounding Impact
Take Agnes Kobusinge, a 57-year-old from Bigodi Trading Centre, as an example. In 2007, she began with a craft shop and an initial investment of Shs430,000. Today, that venture has exponentially grown with a capital now surpassing Shs10 million.
“I’ve witnessed tremendous growth in my business. Not only did the returns aid in financing my children’s university education, but it also facilitated the expansion of my retail enterprise,” Agnes recounts with pride.
Indeed, over 200 women from the Bigodi region have been inspired by Ms. Kobusinge’s tale of success and determination.
A Diverse Tourism Experience
Instead of confining their experience to the park’s rich wildlife, visitors have been introduced to the neighboring villages, their traditions, and their day-to-day life. Tourists partake in a variety of community activities, from village walks to mastering local arts like cooking and basket weaving, and even learning how local brews are concocted.
Alex Kakuru, from Kikusya Village, who crafts local brew for tourists, relays his transformative journey, “My life has metamorphosed. Tourists are inquisitive about our local brew-making techniques. In peak seasons, my abode becomes a bustling center, entertaining up to 30 tourists a week.”
For their immersion in local life, visitors often leave behind monetary tokens, apparel, and other goods. Thanks to this, Alex has not only managed to elevate his life by joining village savings groups, purchasing livestock, and building a home, but he’s also been able to establish a poultry farm.
A Community Thriving Together
Adolf Magoba, chairperson of the Bigodi Town Council, proudly declares the unprecedented growth the town has seen, attributing it to the increased revenue from tourism. He states, “Not only have the locals benefited, but the town council has seen a boost in revenue, allowing for the construction of schools. These schools were not government initiatives but were built from community-collected tourism funds.”
In 1992, KAFRED (Kibale Association for Rural and Environmental Development) came into existence. Their pioneering venture? The Bigodi Secondary School. By 2018, the government had taken over the school, but its presence still echoes the strength of a united community.
John Tinka, KAFRED’s programme manager, sheds light on their work, “A staggering 90% of our revenue is channeled back into the community. The Secondary School’s foundation was laid with over Shs30 million, addressing the earlier issue where children had to journey over 30 kilometers for education.”
1993 witnessed Bigodi women coming together to form an association. By 1995, they had launched the Bigodi Women’s Progressive Nursery and Primary School, bankrolled by handicraft sales. From a humble start under a tree at the Bigodi Health Centre III with a mere 13 children, the school has come a long way, recalls Sarah Night, a member of the women’s group.
Community-driven tourism has sparked an upward trend in the local economy. The rise of hotels, lodges, and tour companies has not only enhanced the district’s tourism appeal but has also significantly raised the land value.
In essence, the Bigodi community stands as a testament to the transformative power of collective effort, and their success story showcases the vast potential of community-based tourism.