Nature-based enterprises in the Rwenzori landscape are helping community groups earn from sustainable tourism. This is with the help of World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), French Facility for Global Environment (FFEM), and the European Union (EU).
Kyanjuki Handcraft Women’s Association is a story of resilience and strength, boldness and character. Ruth Ochan speaks in a low-toned voice. Gentle but firm, her voice expresses an unusual command that invokes confidence.
Ruth is the coordinator of Kyanjuki Handcraft Women’s Association, a registered women’s group in Kasese District, Western Uganda. The group specializes in making handmade woven baskets, beaded jewellery and other crafts for a living. The shop sells crafts to both local and international tourists that visit the Rwenzori Landscape. Ruth is a gracious host and offers us a place to sit. Our eyes are immediately struck by various colourful, stunning art pieces that hang on the walls and shelves.
Sitting outside the display shelter, other women who also belong to the Association are busy at what they now call their favourite pass time, weaving and beading while conversing in their native tongue. Even though Ruth and her group are now doing well, this was not the case a few years back.
In 2013, a massive flood swept away several villages at the foothills of Rwenzori Mountains, leaving a wide plain of mud and debris. Here lies the town of Kasese. The floods knocked over Kasese’s main hospital from its foundation, meaning inpatients had to be evacuated and disaster victims had to be taken to small medical centres which were understaffed and lacked sufficient medical equipment. The floods led to loss of lives, houses and property. “It was bad.” Ruth recalls. From her lost gaze and the tremble in her voice, it is easy to tell that it was a difficult experience.
Consequently, many people fled the town having lost their loved ones, livelihoods and houses. Among them, were some of Ruth’s immediate neighbours who she had known for most of her adult life. As the town struggled to reposition itself, so did the Association. However, it was not as easy as was projected. Of the 36 members their Association had registered by 2012, only 17 remained. This extensively affected their business.
Business was at an all-time low and getting new members to register became a great challenge. It was until WWF and its partners intervened that Ruth and her team finally got their big break. Ruth however admits to not taking the business potential from their work seriously earlier on. “We had been doing this for years but it was until WWF came in that we were able to see that we could make money from creating these items. That is when we became serious.”
WWF has provided training in bookkeeping, basket weaving and natural dye production. As a result, the women feel more empowered as they are now able to run a successful business by sourcing materials locally and creating items from scratch. According to Ruth, the training has greatly benefited her “I used to take two months to make one basket. Today I make one basket per week.”
The group is now looking into registering more members and training them on the work. Currently the group has 50 registered members. 3 are men and Ruth says she encourages more to join the group.