In order to protect gorillas, we must also protect the communities that live around the park.
Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge is Rwanda’s first community owned lodge. The idea for such a unique lodge was conceived in partnership with the African Wildlife Foundation (“AWF”) and the International Gorilla Conservation Program (“IGCP”). The lodge is managed and operated by Governors’ Camp Collection, however, its ownership lies in a community trust; SACOLA (Sabyinyo Community Livelihood Association). Special thanks must go to Tayside Associates LLC and the Rwanda Development Board who were also instrumental in getting this landmark project off the ground.
The trust was set up specifically to receive lease fees, and community development levies (paid by every guest each night), and to use these funds to drive socio-economic development and conservation initiatives in the Kinigi area, which is adjacent to the Volcanoes National Park in North-Western Rwanda.
These income streams have had a most positive impact on the lives of local people and gorilla conservation; they are both the driving force behind many local businesses and have enabled the construction of homes for needy families in the area. This special revenue-sharing model which sees the community directly benefiting from wildlife tourism has now been copied across many parts of Africa.
Total revenue earned by SACOLA from the lodge is over US$4 million and has directly benefited some 6,000 households in the Kinigi District. In the 13 years since its inception, SACOLA’s programs have contributed in a meaningful way to the conservation and preservation of the endangered mountain gorilla population and its fragile habitat.
The SACOLA projects, after many years of successful operation, are now too multitudinous to list. They include numerous construction projects providing homes and villages for genocide survivors and facilities for the community such as electricity supply, schools (including 77 classrooms and assistance for school fees, construction and equipping schools with computer labs), distribution of water tanks in order to collect rain water from the roofs, water supply projects and the construction of roads, bridges and drainage systems.
Agricultural projects include the establishment of pig farming, poultry rearing projects, sheep farming, avocado and tree-tomato farming and support for the national ‘One Cow Per Family’ program commonly known as ‘Girinka’ with the donation of hundreds of cows to poor families.
Micro financing, the creation and support for Sacco’s (local banking), help for beekeepers, local guides and the construction of a Community Cultural Centre and the introduction of numerous handicraft projects are but a few of the projects for assistance and development of the community.
Conservation is assisted by the planting of anti-erosion bamboo along natural waterways, the maintenance and reconstruction of the park boundary stone wall and guided walks. The construction of a health center and payment of health insurance for poor and vulnerable village members continue. Single mothers are assisted with sewing projects and Early Childhood Development programs have been constructed in two villages.