Every once in a while, the team at Rainforest and community tours reaches out to the community tourism enterprises that we support. We do this to keep our office team and guides updated on the new tourism activities and community development taking place in the local areas. In June 2021, we asked one of the communities to share with our team and they shared a story about the evolvement of their community tourism enterprise; the elephant home. We felt this story was inspiring and decided to share it with our online community, as raw as it was given. It goes as follows;
Thank you for reaching out to us during this time that seems to be the end of everything. We felt the terrible moments of the COVID-19 pandemic are a good time to share our story. As we are almost running out of gas, reminding ourselves of where we have come from, gives us a reason to move on during this trying time.
Today we will share with you a story of how the elephant home has evolved over the few years of our existence. The elephant home started operations in 2016. It started after more than five years of pondering, inspiration, networking, and knowledge exchange with other communities in other destinations of Uganda; Kibale forest, Rwenzori Mountains, Bwindi Mgahinga, and others. After we finally decided that we would establish a tourism business in Kikorongo, the first stage was to acquisition a plot of land and increasing it to a reasonable size. This was done by the community members’ contributions by donating from their household plots.
We had the land in good time and we finally opened our doors to tourism in 2016. At the opening, we had a small house serving as reception, bar, and dining area. Outside the house were a camping ground and a compost toilet alongside the road, just opposite the park, on a one-acre property. In the first three months, we used to get one camper per month. Then the numbers increased steadily. Seeing a few camping guests helped to increase our energy and motivation to seek our purpose.
At that time, the community was too conservative and unaware of community tourism. We had to spend all our energies on changing the community attitudes, no matter the poverty and neediness we were facing. Two years later, we were able to complete our three self-contained guestrooms. This was a big leap. The number of guests and income considerably increased.
With some more business, we then had the ability to inspire the local community more. We thought this was the time to give back to the community as a way to motivate them and further change their attitudes. Our goal was to convert them from poaching and a negative mindset about the park, to turn them into advocates and participants of conservation and community tourism. This worked well and our followers increased in the end.
With the increased community involvement and visitor numbers, we had to establish six community experiences in the village. These interventions brought the guests closer to the community and changed their mindset rapidly. Some of these activities include three village tours, a handicrafts workshop, a traditional dance, and a boda-boda safari.
Then we started responding to guest/ market feedback demands and expectations, to improve the lodge standards. This was a sure way to be sustainable, make more income, and give back to nature and the communities. At this time, we were set to expand our property, double our accommodation capacity, improve the internal facilities and services implement clean energy and rainwater harvesting, or drilling a well to cut the exorbitant costs of these two inputs.
In the Kikorongo community, water costs more than food for the household and it is sold in the market after being collected 15km away. The price for water makes everything expensive, from cooking to building and housekeeping. We don’t have power so the lodge relied on solar options that couldn’t even charge the guest gadgets sufficiently, power a fridge, or provide sufficient lighting; all of which are necessities of the present-day traveler. From the trend of our income and progress, however, we were determined to address these in a few years. Then COVID-19 set in.
Looking back, it has taken The elephant home almost five years to be on the current status. the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic has certainly made this journey longer. As a good stage of community sensitization, we have finally managed to facilitate the formation of a community institution of young people that holds the candle of its own empowerment. This is the Kikorongo youth group. This youth group now has a stake in the tourism proceeds on behalf of the entire village as members of the elephant home community group
As we were planning to get off the ground, with full involvement of the community, covid-19 set in. By the time covid set in, we had finished a few things on improvements; a generator for alternative powering, pathway lighting, and setting up the crafts shop for the community. We had successfully established up to five community own tourism products, an active youth group linked to the elephant home lodge, registered as UCOTA members, seen a huge tree-planting partnership go through the elephant home to the communities in the hills, and had sponsored the planting of ten thousand trees in the region. We felt we had given a good portion of our earnings back to nature and her people.
Close to two years of no business during the pandemic has drawn the elephant home backward. However, we are proud that we have moved this dirk period safely, along with the entire community. This period again helped to bring us together as a community and reminded us of the need to live closely together during hard times in life. With our last coins and the great support from friends and well-wishers, we shared the love by providing food, water, and other inessentials to the community during the lockdowns.
We can’t manage to say it all through this short writing. Every word of this story is a summary of over one hundred pages. We can only share more with you when you visit. We hope to welcome you soon, on your next trip to Queen Elizabeth national park!
Most important to know is that the Elephant home is currently fully operational after the covid19 lockdown has been lifted. We are working hard and smart to market as the tourism industry opens up. The numbers are still very low but we are at work, in the recovery phase. We are almost finishing the recovery business plan, setting the crafts shop, and working on the visibility of the lodge and other tourism products. Other activities we are planning to work on during the recovery phase are; community mobilization, training and capacity building, rainwater harvesting, reliable and clean power sources, marketing enhancement, and increasing accommodation capacity to be able to attend to the local tourists who are more sustainable and tend to travel in large groups.
End of the story!
At Rainforest and community tours, we continue to believe that the future is bright and we are determined to carry on. We are more hopeful when we read inspiring stories from our destination communities. Thank you, to all the travelers who have stayed at the elephant home, for helping to change lives and supporting conservation. Everyone’s choice to stay at the Elephant home contributes to this big success story.