Uplifting Communities Through Tourism

Uplifting Communities Through Tourism; People, Nature and Economy

A community by definition implies individuals with some kind of collective responsibility, and the ability to make decisions by representative bodies. 

While majority visitors who come to Uganda want to spend time on the wild safaris, there is a section of visitors who want to spend their time with local people in their community, to experience daily life of local people, learn from them, but also make bonds with communities they visit through participation and service. Some come as tourists while others come as community volunteers. Several Ugandan communities have gained a lot of economic and social developments from these visitors. Most of the Ugandan hosts for Community Tourists and those that host volunteers from abroad are NGOs and CBOs that work to improve livelihoods of people in rural communities.

The Government of Uganda is developing a framework to train local people to engage in community tourism; The aim is to develop the capacity of the people to start using what they have locally to attract tourists to their communities who in the end will contribute to the development of these communities.

Uganda has got one of the richest and most unique cultures in the world, but we still are trying to find ways of making the most of it. Community tourism is one of the most viable ways of marketing our country and its people’s needs.”

Community tourism is not yet a widely understood concept in Uganda, perhaps “because our people do not have the skills to package products in a way that can attract the attention of international tourists.”

Community tourism is where people within their communities use the materials available to them; things like food, culture, housing, environment as tourism resources for foreign visitors.

At Kitara Foundation we recognize the service and dedication of key people from around the world who have significantly influenced world tourism and the exploration of the global places of African culture and heritage.

Community Tourists and Community Volunteers- the Relationship;

In both cases our visitors have an opportunity for complete immersion into the African culture and local environment, support the communities while learning a wide range of lessons. The small difference is explained below;

Community Volunteers need to have the specific qualification that match with the program and the needs of the communities they are going to work with. On the other hand, the Community Tourism doesn’t need any specific qualifications; the guests are moved by the desire and willingness to learn while supporting communities.

Community Volunteers must be at least 18 years of age; those below this age are only accepted in groups of adults. On the other hand, Community Tourism accepts guests irrespective of age.

Community Volunteers are hosted in specific professional programs such as teaching in a school, serving in a health facility, supporting a youth group or women group, working with a research team and other specialized Community empowerment programs, while guests on Community Tourism can engage in none professional projects such as painting a school, work alongside technicians, work on agriculture, environmental conservation projects, worker with sports groups and others.

Community Tourism

The Community Tourism Projects at Kitara Foundation are aimed at empowering Local Communities in sustainable development through small-scale tourism and local enterprises, also known as community tourism. The projects put emphasis on utilizing local resources, indigenous knowledge and traditional skills that have been passed down for generations to produce authentic products and experiences.

Through training, local people have come to appreciate their culture, way of life and rural environment as valuable assets in tourism development. In all our work we involves local people in planning, decision-making and implementation of tourism products. This form of tourism assures that the benefits stay as much as possible in the local community.

Community Based Tourism

A community by definition implies individuals with some kind of collective responsibility, and the ability to make decisions by representative bodies. 

Community Based Tourism is a form of sustainable tourism that allows visitors to connect closely with the communities they visit. This emerging form of travel gives guests authentic experiences, while allowing revenue generated to remain in the often rural, poor, or economically marginalized community.

The communities run these tourism enterprises that provide services such as village tours, nature walks, cultural performances, and meals on their own initiatives. Community ecotourism is a particular facet of community based tourism, where at least some of the experiences are natural resource-based. Community ecotourism benefits both environmental conservation and local communities, the former generating financing for the management of the natural resource area.

Community tourism not only encourages cross-cultural understanding between host and visitor but also embraces the bottom line of environmental protection, cultural conservation, social responsibility, economic health, and the enhancement of livelihoods. Because communities are the owners of these tourism enterprises, they have the incentive to establish standards for international tourists and invest in a quality tourism product. As such, Community Tourism is promoted as a means of development where the social, economic, and environmental needs of local communities are met through the offering of a tourism product. 

Community based tourism is tourism in which local residents (often rural, poor and economically marginalized) invite tourists to visit their communities with the provision of overnight accommodation, feeding and laundry services within accredited host families. 

The residents earn income as land managers, entrepreneurs and service providers and employees. At least part of the tourist income is set aside for projects which provide benefits to the community as a whole. 

Community based tourism enables the guest to discover local habitats and wildlife, and celebrates traditional cultures, rituals and wisdom. The community will be aware of the commercial and social value placed on their natural and cultural heritage through tourism, and this will foster community based conservation of Natural resources. 

The guests’ accommodation and facilities have to be of sufficient standard for Western visitors, albeit those expecting simple rural accommodation.

In community tourism project implementers partner with the community and other local partners to provide clients foods, marketing, accommodation or other expertise. Subject to agreement to the ideals of supporting community development and conservation, and to planning the development in partnership with the community; this community tourism has two goals to achieve;

Goal 1: Community Tourism benefits local people

Community tourism which is community-based is a form of tourism which aims to include and benefit local communities, particularly indigenous peoples and villagers in the rural communities. For instance, community people might host tourists in their village, managing the scheme communally and sharing the profits. In this community tourism project, the ‘community’ works with the implementer (the host organization), ensuring that all community tourism projects give local people a fair share of the benefits/profits and a say in deciding how incoming tourism is managed.

Goal 2: Community Tourism benefits visitors

These community tours open up a world of adventure and opportunity. Sometimes guests take the opportunity to visit the National Parks at some days, trek through the mountains; experience the magic of the Uganda’s hot springs, enjoy happy moments with local art and music while learning a great deal of Ugandan tradition and cultures.

Good community-based tours take visitors beyond mainstream tourism. Tourists meet people from different cultures and learn far more about them and their culture than on conventional tours. Tourists feel better knowing that their visit is genuinely helping their hosts. And if they want to simply lie on a beach…. well, there are tours here that feature some of the best beaches on the planet.

Community tourism ensures that it….

  1. Is run with the involvement and consent of local communities. (Local people participate in planning and managing the tour).
  2. Gives a fair share of profits back to the local community. (Ideally this includes community projects (health, schools, women groups, child care centres, refugee settlements etc).
  3. Involves communities rather than individuals. (Working with individuals can disrupt social structures.)
  4. Is environmentally sustainable. (Local people are involved if conservation projects.)
  5. Respects traditional culture and social structures.
  6. Briefs guests before the trip on appropriate behaviour.
  7. Doesn’t make local people perform inappropriate ceremonies and events
  8. Gives communities the right to accept or to reject tourism activities. 
Community Tourism Development Strategy Most institutions in Community Tourism Use Community-based Tourism development strategy to mobilize communities into action to participate in broadening the scope of offerings in the tourism industry. The goal is socio-economic empowerment and a value-added experience for local and foreign visitors. This process opens new niches for Destination Uganda, most notably for the nature, culture, and adventure traveler. Most hosting organizations encourage local entrepreneurs to reap the benefits of the tourism industry. This concept gives visitors an opportunity of a ‘home away from home’ with Ugandan families – participating in, and learning about the Ugandan way of life while experiencing warm Ugandan hospitality. This fosters greater interactivity, build cross cultural bonds, respect and understanding, and gives authenticity to Ugandan lifestyles, while creating a source of income for the host community. Tourism-based development is being formalized as a developmental tool for building not only the tourism industry, but the entire region, by opening up communities as attractions with definable modus operand with achievable goals. The process is guided by industry standards of health, safety and regard for the environment.  Community-based tourism development empowers people to be more aware of the value of their community assets – their culture, heritage, cuisine and lifestyle. Communities are mobilized to convert these into income generating projects while offering a more diverse and worthwhile experience to visitors. Every citizen is a potential business partner to be trained in small business management, environmental awareness, product development and marketing. This type of ‘people-centered’ tourism promotes a sense of ‘ownership’ which augurs well for the industry’s sustainability. Benefits of community based tourism are in two-fold: Benefits to the Community Brings recognition and attention to the community Adds value to a community’s economy Diversifies economic activity in a community Provides an alternative to unsustainable forms of income such as poaching or logging, thus helping safeguard the livelihoods and well being of both locals and indigenous peoples Natural resource-based conservation, where the main product is wildlife or natural-resource related Cultural conservation Tourism income is more likely to remain in the community Encourages community pride and protection of community resources Involves and encourages the participation of women and youths e.g. Women in tourism associations, Youths in tourism associations, Association of PWD in tourism etc. Benefits to the Guests: Receives an authentic experience and learns first-hand about the community from   a local guide Has an opportunity to create a deeper connection to the community Knows exactly where the money will go and can feel good about it In the case of ecotourism, achieves a win-win benefit for supporting natural heritage conservation Gets a unique look at a particular destination of choice Receives personal tour, individualized service, and attention Opportunity to make a long lasting impact in the hosting community

In this case, the host institution markets community based tourism destinations and enterprises in their location. When we speak of community-based tourism, the most popular image tends to be a rural village far from the beaten path, and for good reason, most are. Examples include Kigezi and communities in the Rwenzori region.

Rural community tourism in the Rwenzori region, for example, is a showcase of conservation of large tracts of virgin rainforest, reforestation work and organic agriculture. Travelers can support this work through their visits. While it’s a romantic notion to limit one’s notion of community tourism to rural settlements, the concept of ‘community’ can easily be linked to urban populations.

Successful community tourism is mutually beneficial — for the communities and for the travelers. The big question is where to go? Community-based tourism succeeds when it achieves mutual benefits for locals and visitors.

Popular Community Tourism Destinations

  • Schools (Kindergartens, Primary Schools and Secondary Schools
  • Universities and other Tertiary Institutions
  • Religious institutions (Churches and Mosques)
  • Children’s day care centres
  • Health Institutions such as hospitals and clinics
  • Refugee settlements and Displaced person’s camps
  • Community Based Organizations and groups
  • Media and Broadcasting institutions
  • Business Centres and Markets
  • Agricultural and agro-processing centres
  • Environment and Nature conservations projects
  • Herbal Medicinal Processing centres
  • Cultural and other entertainment centers
  • Natural resources and attractions
  • Home based activities
  • Sports centers and sports activities

Abroad Volunteers Programs         

Now is the golden age of volunteerism in the world; As more people especially from Western countries than ever want to find ways to give back to the communities, to offer their support to the less fortunate, volunteer work is encouraged, from small to large institutions. 

Although, embarking on a journey to offering self to serve free of charge can be quite a daunting experience. However, with the right mindset, tools and preparation, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience with many lessons along the way. That’s why most organizations have developed comprehensive volunteer programs so that volunteers have a safe, enjoyable, productive time that is helpful to the communities and rewarding to the volunteers.

African countries like Uganda are excited to see what people from abroad can do to stand up against social forces and injustices among the local communities, offer their skills, resources and valuable time to create lasting change in a poor community!

Most volunteer programs enshrine their vision towards encouraging creativity and empowers all their teams to function synergistically, and enables them to be flexible in their work, create space for learning and reflection and be responsible to the changing realities of the poor and the poverty context in which they work.

Organizations involved in hosting Abroad Volunteers put in place handy guideline on how volunteers must be sensitively responsible to the vision, principles, values and the work culture of the hosting organization. Most such organizations are community based and have a mission that works with partners, the poor women, men, boys and girls, the local civil society and other development players in the quest for Physical and social well being of all people.

Most volunteers’ destinations are the community based institutions, groups and families that most need volunteers. This is where Volunteers from abroad can offer their support and help and at the same time where they can learn valuable lessons. Therefore, like in Community Tourism, a Volunteers program is symbiotic in nature designed to benefit both the guests and their hosts.

The Volunteers Program Description:

The focus of a service-learning volunteer experience is for volunteers and interns to expand their own knowledge while at the same time helping to educate local community members in sustainable developments. Volunteers have the opportunity to become fully immersed in Ugandan culture as they live, work, learn, and play among local families, staff in both rural and semi-urban settings.

While there is a large concentration of Volunteer programs in Kampala, most good volunteer programs are in rural setting. Working on these volunteers’ projects is always challenging, but ultimately very rewarding. Also by hosting volunteers in your community on given community projects you help improve the Quality of Life for People in the rural communities.

Western Uganda is a rural community, with dirt roads that turn to sticky mud in the rainy season and dust in the dry season. Boda-Boda or taxi bikes share the road with bicycles, pedestrians and animals. As in most parts of Uganda, the community members struggle to meet their basic needs and strive to put their children in school. Main jobs include agriculture, hand craft making, brick making, selling fruits and vegetables, small-scale animal rearing and other manual labor jobs. All these make what Volunteers from abroad are looking for.

Volunteers who come on these programs experience traditional Ugandan life and participate in daily activities such as visiting elderly villagers, collecting water from a well, teaching children in and outside classrooms, assisting in the brick making programs, feeding animals as well as health outreach programs. These programs serve the most vulnerable community members in the region.

The main focus areas include providing education to hundreds of children in the surrounding villages. Village schools provide English, Math, health lessons to children 3yrs-14yrs old and high school for 15yrs-18yrs. The schools provide not only needed education but opportunities for sports activities, health talks, feeding center and meeting places for the communities, which all contribute into resources that are used in hosting volunteers.

Most community development projects including pig and poultry house construction and repairs, home repairs, health/HIV/AIDS workshops, youth education, animal rearing, water and sanitation (including well and waterway construction) and project planning and management or other skills that can help us transform communities are available for use as areas for volunteers from abroad.

The women and youths need skills for self reliance and sustainable livelihoods. They need training in the most valuable and marketable skills for employment in the market place and self employment in their homes and business. Most volunteers like working in this area.

Volunteer hosting programs allow volunteers to discover the wonders of East Africa, while doing meaningful and rewarding community work. This is a great opportunity for them to explore life in rural Africa, live and work amongst the locals and realize one person can make a difference.

It is always important for potential volunteers to understand that the culture in Uganda is quite different from what they are accustomed to. Volunteers should bring with them an easy-going, open-minded and relaxed attitude. Locals are curious, very friendly and social people. While host organizations endeavor to maintain a daily routine, volunteers should be made to understand that things move slowly in Africa (and indeed in rural communities). Volunteers should be prepared to relax and enjoy the slow pace of people they visit. Life in Africa is not as organized and predictable as life in developed countries. Although volunteer work can be very busy and active, at other times work is determined by many number of factors including weather, availability of resources, whether a relevant contact has turned up, cultural activities among others.

Potential Volunteer Destinations

Like in Community Tourism, hosting volunteers from abroad targets similar destinations. They include;

  • Schools (Kindergartens, Primary Schools and Secondary Schools
  • Universities and other Tertiary Institutions
  • Religious institutions (Churches and Mosques)
  • Children’s day care centres
  • Health Institutions such as hospitals and clinics
  • Refugee settlements and Displaced person’s camps
  • Community Based Organizations and groups
  • Media and Broadcasting institutions
  • Business Centres and Markets
  • Agricultural and agro-processing centres
  • Environment and Nature conservations centres
  • Herbal Medicinal Processing centres
  • Cultural and entertainment centres

Volunteer programs should be designed in a way that allows volunteers to discover Uganda first-hand, since most times they are living with a Ugandan host while serving as the family’s and community’s teacher and learner at the same time.

Volunteering in Western Uganda can be a fantastic opportunity for students, high school graduates as well as professionals who want to reach for a world beyond their horizon. They therefore want to experience Uganda first hand and share the experiences life has taught them, while immersing into one of the world’s oldest and richest cultures. It is an adventure, a challenge, an investment in a volunteer’s future. Western Uganda Communities are focused on the future and volunteers are interested to be a part of it.

Therefore, Volunteers who come to Western Uganda communities need to experience a wonderful new perspective of this incredible part of the country. They need to be living with Ugandan hosts, an opportunity to learn while serving. They will make an important contribution, whatever their skills, by improving standards of living, offering skills and giving confidence to local people that comes from being able to communicate with an international native.

Most volunteers leave a mark and a name in Uganda when they reach out to the young people in schools or in community and provide their practical skills for their future carriers.

Working with especially Women and Youths, volunteers can teach them handcraft, computer, carpentry, cooking, tailoring, fabrication, metal-works, mechanics and driving or gardening. These are the skills that Ugandan youths and women need most today.

In Uganda most business entrepreneurs look for great numbers of extra staff, and they should be happy to accept volunteers from abroad. Work placement for volunteers can range from hotels and catering, agro-processing, to business management. There are also opportunities available in childcare, conservation work, schools and health care. Institutions hosting volunteers from abroad need to arrange suitable accommodation and food. Most volunteers from Abroad pay good money for the services and hospitality they get from the hosting institutions and communities.

This is a new form of income for host institutions and communities. However, most of the benefits for the communities come from services and skills offered by volunteers, and chances are high that a volunteer will continue to support their host institutions and communities with many projects when they return to their country of origin. Most volunteers will always recommend their friends and colleagues to come to your community if you treat them well.