Aisha Kemigisha, one of the beneficiaries of Boomu Women’s Group, cleans one of the bandas before guests occupy it. The group sponsors her education and in return, Kemigisha helps around the accommodation and guides tourists through the village during school holidays.
Tourism is not only about safari vehicles and visits to national parks, but also visits which educate visitors and residents about community lifestyle.
Barely 200 metres from the Kichumbanyobo Gate at Murchison Falls National Park, a cluster of traditional bandas on a lush serene plot has attracted tourists from Europe and North America. The women running the accommodations discovered, although the prospect of sleeping in a mud hut is unexciting for many Ugandans, visitors to the country find the opportunity novel.
“Each season, we get people,” says Ednah Byabali, the managing director, Boomu Women’s Group. “They are interested in taking a village walk, others say the food we prepare is tasty, while some just like sleeping in bandas.”
The unique bandas
Boomu’s hotel-style bandas are located in the village of Kigaragara, a 35-minute drive from Masindi Town, and steps away from game drives and chimp tracking. Taking advantage of the well-established ecotourism industry, the accommodation has developed cultural tourism in the area with the goal of helping the community.
The bandas can host about 30 people, and Byabali says they have received requests from larger groups, which they unfortunately do not have the space to house.
These hut-like structures are furnished with single or double beds. The site has four open air showers and latrines.
Meals consist of modern dishes such as eggplant stew and brown rice, and also traditional dishes of matoke, beans and sweet potatoes.
Visitors can opt for a “cooking tour” where the staff showcase how vegetables are grown, harvested and prepared for meals. It is an opportunity to learn about Ugandan cooking techniques and traditions.
Boomu also offers village tours where tourists can meet residents and learn about their lifestyle. Byabali says it even allows residents to meet tourists rather than see them passing by in safari vehicles.
Benefits to the community
When Boomu was formed in 1998, the group provided skills training and income generation for local women by organising them to make and sell crafts to tourists. Ten members of the groupe still make baskets and other hand-made Baskets and other handmade souvenirs, which are sold at the accommodation’s reception office.
“They are educating their children, and helping their families,” Byabali says of the benefits of the income for her fellow group members.
The group dreamt of doing more than craft-making and saved up to buy land, build bandas and open a hotel. With additional seed funding from the Uganda Community Tourism Association, they were able to finish the construction of the bandas and furnish the facility.
The establishment of the accommodation in 2006, has increased Boomu’s ability to help the community. Proceeds from the accommodation now fund the Boomu Nursery and Primary School, only three miles from the site in Kihaguzi village. With public schools in the area overflowing with pupils, Byabali says the community needed an alternative.
“We wanted to develop a place for a private school since we don’t have private schools in our area,” she explains.
There are now 128 children enrolled at Boomu school in five classes. A sixth class needs to be established but with limited funds, expanding the facility is still a challenge.
In addition to funds, Boomu also provides breakfast (porridge) and lunch for the children. The idea is to keep children at school, rather than walk home at lunch, so that they can return to afternoon classes rejuvenated. Orphans in the area can also attend the school for free.
Despite the incredible impact on the community, Byabali is humble about the accomplishments of the women’s group. “I always feel the urge to keep helping the community,” Byabali says of her motivations.
While the group does not fund a high school, it has provided support to Aisha Kemigisha, a Senior Six student. Kemigisha turned to Boomu four years ago when she could no longer continue her studies due to the cost of school fees. The group not only helped her with the fees, but also trained her as a chef, host and tour guide for their village tours.
During school holidays, Kemigisha helps around the accommodation and guides tourists through the village.
“You can’t just forget about people who have helped you,” Kemigisha says.
With only a year to join university, Kemigisha, who dreamt of studying law, is now considering a career in tourism.
“Despite the fact that it is still a developing sector, tourism here is getting better. They are developing more places, constructing roads, very soon they are going to construct a new airstrip near the gate,” Kemigisha says of the growing industry.
Did you know?
Boomu offers accommodation, including two meals at Sh55,000 per person per night. They also facilitate hiring game drivers or booking chimp tracking at nearby sites.