Bisate Community Support during COVID-19 – May 2020

With tourists still unable to travel to Rwanda, community members are feeling the impact through the decline in available jobs in the lodges surrounding Volcanoes National Park, including, for example, casual work as a porter for gorilla trekking, sales in arts and crafts, and produce supplied to lodges.

With donations from guests who have previously visited Bisate Lodge we are thankful to be able to support our surrounding communities with essential supplies during this time. The first distribution took place in April, and we are grateful to be able to continue the support in May.

The five villages surrounding Bisate Lodge are Gahura, Nyarusizi, Myase, Ruginga and Nyondo, which together are often referred to as Bisate village. This month the leaders of the five villages and the Executive Secretary of Kinigi provided us with a list of 156 families, consisting of 620 people, who are currently struggling to provide for their daily needs.

On Thursday the 21st of May the distribution of over 3.5 tons of dry goods, with a value of more than USD 2 000, took place at Bisate Primary School. On the day before a team of volunteers divided the goods into allotments for each family, with quantities depending on the family size. The five villages each had a certain time-slot during which they could collect their supplies, in order to avoid too many people on the school grounds at the same time. Before entering the school grounds everybody washed their hands at the Tippy Taps, and the villagers adhered to instructions by remaining one metre apart and all wore a mandatory face mask.

Our heartfelt thanks go to our Bisate guests who donated funds so that we can make projects like this become a reality. We are committed to doing whatever we can to assist the communities that we work with.

Besides the distribution of the goods during this challenging time, Bisate supports the community via different projects throughout the year. A consistent means of support is employment and upskilling of villagers, and more than 60% of the permanent staff employed at Bisate come from these surrounding villages. Although Bisate Lodge is not hosting guests at the moment, these employees still receive a monthly salary, including their secondary benefits like insurance; this helps them, their families and, by extension, the greater community. Having employment and many training possibilities at Bisate Lodge has changed their lives, and their futures look bright. All these employees have amazing stories to share.

Under the management of Aline Umutoni, CITW and Community Co-ordinator for Wilderness Safaris, our Bisate employees were more than happy to volunteer to help with the packing and distribution of the supplies, and in this way assist the less advantaged people in their own community.

Two of these employees are Louise Muhawenimana and Innocent Nshimiyimana, both of whom have an inspirational story of how their lives were changed thanks to Bisate Lodge.

Louise Muhawenimana is the oldest daughter of Maria. Many of our Bisate guests will have met Maria, or know the story of Maria and Joseph! During the construction of Bisate Lodge in 2017 we heard about Maria, who lived in a very basic house that the Bisate community had built to support her. Maria is a single mother of three children, who was struggling to provide a daily meal for her family since she had no job and no land to farm on. The surrounding community supported her with food so her family could survive. Together with the community we came up with the idea to assist her with a sewing machine, and we found a teacher by the name of Joseph who would teach her basic sewing techniques. This was the start of the Bisate Sewing Project, and to this day Maria, Joseph and other community members cater for all Bisate’s sewing needs for the lodge, and now earn a decent living.

Because of this Maria has been able to buy plots of land for farming, send her children to school and is the proud owner of several heads of livestock. When her oldest daughter Louise finished school, she applied for an internship at Bisate. She did so well, it did not take long for her to receive a job offer. Last year she started in the Housekeeping and Laundry Department, and we are so happy that Louise is now part of the Bisate team. She is very smart, hardworking and gentle.

Innocent Nshimiyimana also volunteered to help distribute the supplies. As a very clever boy in Bisate village he was granted a scholarship to go to university in the city to study languages. He graduated and returned to the community, helping the people in the village to improve their English, but was still looking for a job. He started his career with Wilderness safaris as an English teacher, giving daily lessons to all the Bisate staff, part of the training pre-opening the lodge. His enthusiasm was contagious, and soon his Bisate colleagues started to improve their English skills.

When Bisate Lodge opened for guests in June 2017, Innocent informed management that the daily lessons were no longer needed but that he would love a job in the kitchen. Working as a teacher at Bisate made him realise that his passion was in hospitality, and his dream was to become a chef. Innocent started as a scullery assistant in the Bisate kitchen and soon worked his way up to the position of trainee chef. He was further promoted to assistant chef, and is currently working as chef. Don’t be surprised if he becomes a head chef in one of the Wilderness Safaris kitchens in years to come!

These are challenging times indeed, but the Bisate team is looking forward to the day when we can welcome you back to our beautiful lodge and conservation area.

Report by Ingrid Baas.

Photos by Simon Stobbs, Jean Pierre Kwizera, Jason Glanville.