What if I told you that you could go on a guided walking tour for 2.5 hours with a local, be personally welcomed into their community, and get treated to a traditional buffet lunch — all for only $15? And as a bonus, by joining the tour, you also get to help provide a source of income and free education for underprivileged women and their children. Sounds too good to be true?
Well, all of that is possible in Kigali, Rwanda, thanks to the Community-Based Tourism (CBT) that was initiated by a group of local women at Nyamirambo Women’s Center.
Nyamirambo Women's Center
Nyamirambo Women’s Center (NWC) was founded in 2007 by 18 Rwandan women living in a poor neighborhood in Kigali called Nyamirambo. This project aimed to address gender-based violence, gender inequality, and discrimination faced by the local women.
Together, they have been providing free training and education to disadvantaged women, so that they may increase their chances of finding employment. Some of the classes they provide include literacy, English, basic computer skills, handicrafts and sewing, workshops on women’s rights, as well as training on community-based tourism.
By the end of 2013, NWC was not only providing training for the women, but was also employing them as seamstresses. Currently, there are over 50 seamstresses in NWC who produce a large variety of clothing, women’s accessories, and home decor products. The profits earned through the sales are used to fund NWC initiatives, in addition to providing benefits and a fair wage to the seamstresses.
How to Book
It’s always wise to book in advance even if you’re only one person, because they sometimes get booked by large tour groups. To do so, you can call them at +250 782 111 860 or e-mail them at email@example.com
You can also visit their office at:
Nyamirambo Women’s Center, House 22, KN 7 Avenue (on the corner with KN 132 Street), PO Box 1418, Kigali Rwanda.
Opening Hours: Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (except for the last Saturday of every month: 12 p.m. – 5 p.m.)
Nyamirambo Walking Tour by NWC
Pricing: RWF 15,000 (RWF 18,000 including lunch).
Available in English, French, and Kinyarwanda.
I arrived a few minutes before the tour started. But as the group that I was supposed to be joining hadn’t yet arrived, I had time to explore the NWC craft shop. The items sold there were not as cheap as what was offered in other souvenir shops in the city. Upon closer inspection, you can clearly see why. They’re of much superior quality. You can see that every piece and every stitch is carefully made, and not mass produced to maximize profit.
The tour began in the community library, which is also another one of the initiatives started by NWC. We were served with a traditional snack — warm chapatis — while the guides gave us a brief lesson on Kinyarwanda language, and an introduction to the Center and its activities.
Once all the chapatis were gone (which didn’t take long, honestly), the guides took us next door, where the sewing and basket-making took place.
There were at least 20 of them, bent over their workstations, producing their masterpieces. Because all of the items on sale are handmade, you can be sure that there’s only one of its kind in the entire world!
Then, we weaved through the neighborhood of Nyamirambo, one of Kigali’s oldest neighborhoods. Along the way, we made several stops, including:
- A hairdressing salon, where some of the more adventurous ladies got themselves free braids. I gave this one a pass because I knew what tight braids could do to my hair — make it all fall out.
- The water station, where all the villagers got their water from. None of them had water supply at their houses, so they had to go to this station and pay a small sum to get water for their daily use.
- A market selling fresh produce. I had never in my life seen this many carrots in one pile.
- Two mosques.
- A wall of street art done by local artists.
- A lookout point where we could see Kigali from above.
- A local house where we got to try our hands at pounding cassava leaves. In African cooking, cassava leaves are very often stewed, or made into soup.
- A milk bar. Milk is very prominent in Rwandan culture; it is said that Rwandan people drink more milk than water. Thus, you can find milk bars almost everywhere in the country. Just like normal cafes, you can expect to find pastries and some local snacks, but the only drink they serve is milk — either fresh or fermented.
And finally, as promised, we concluded the tour with a traditional lunch. The lunch was optional, but for only an additional $3, it was a no-brainer. Plus, it was made and served in the home of Aminatha, who is often dubbed NWC’s best cook. She’s the one who conducts cooking classes at the Center.
I found that East African food really pleased my palate. Although it was not as spicy as I would have liked it to be, it did have some familiar spices and some interesting vegetables that — though unfamiliar — tasted very good and went well with the rice.
Pricing: RWF 15,000. Available in English, French, and Kinyarwanda.
After finishing the walking tour, I decided I still hadn’t had enough for the day, so I signed up for their basket-weaving class. The basket is made of sisal, which is a type of Mexican agave with large fleshy leaves.
However, because a basket can take a whole day to complete, even for very experienced weavers, I was only to make a pair of earrings instead. It’s basically the same technique; the round earring can actually be used as the base of the basket.
The workshop began with an overview of the cultural history of sisal, followed by an in-depth explanation of the process from harvest to final products. Then, I was given a needle and a range of different colors of sisal to choose from.
My instructor spoke no English, so one of the guides from the walking tour had to be the interpreter. The basket-weaving technique was actually quite easy to learn, but required a lot of practice, otherwise you would end up with a lopsided basket. Practice also improves your speed. I was so slow that both my instructor and interpreter had to help out.
This is me versus my instructor:
And finally, the finished product! I was so proud of myself even though one of the earrings looked bigger than the other.
Whatever amount I paid at the Nyamirambo Women’s Center on that day was money well spent. Not only was the fees reasonable, the services rendered were excellent.
And don’t forget that by paying for the services and goods sold there, you are actually contributing to a good cause. The majority of the benefits remain within the local community. Therefore, you can rest assure that your patronage genuinely supports and benefits your hosts.
Have you joined any of the classes at Nyamirambo Women’s Center? Or have you joined any tour elsewhere with the same concept? Share in the comments below.