KYANINGA LODGE, WHERE CONSERVATION, COMMUNITY & OPPORTUNITY MEET
- KYANINGA LODGE, WHERE CONSERVATION, COMMUNITY & OPPORTUNITY MEET
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A cornerstone of Nziza Hospitality is to travel responsibly. One of the ways we do this is to be very discerning when we select our partners. When we affiliate ourselves with ventures whose very existence brightens life in a community, it makes our hearts sing. There are few places that do this as comprehensively as Kyaninga Lodge, perched on the rim of an extinct crater lake in Western Uganda overlooking the magnificent Rwenzori Mountains. Kyaninga’s story is as multifaceted as it is fascinating…
UPSKILLING FOR A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
When a young Steve Williams hiked through this part of Uganda, he knew he’d found his home. The setting is superb. It’s on the crest of the steep rim surrounding Lake Kyaninga, a 220-metre-deep volcanic lake with the cleanest, clearest water imaginable, with long views towards the Rwenzori Mountains and just a short drive from Kibale National Park. But, being Steve, he had a vision for how he wanted to construct the lodge, and integral to this was the meaningful transfer of skills to the surrounding community.
He trained the local workforce for a full two years before the four-year build started, using experts from the UK and Europe to upskill the builders in carpentry, masonry, thatching, welding, electrics and plumbing. The 130-strong building team even moved every one of the thousand timbers into place by hand as no cranes were used.
The result is remarkable. The two-storey central lodge on stilts, with its inviting lounge and bar, dining room and terraces – and views for days – is relaxed and thoroughly comfortable. The nine expansive guest cottages are spread out along the undulating wooden walkway. Each cottage features the same hand-hewn logs, volcanic rock pillars and roofs thatched with Semliki grass as the central lodge area.
Ongoing training and employment in Kyaninga Lodge and its expansive grounds and gardens provides a consistent source of income for the members of the community, who are as invested in the success of the lodge as the owners themselves.
GIVING DISABLED CHILDREN HOPE
But this is just a tiny part of the ‘Kyaninga Lodge effect’ on this rural community. When owners Steve and Asha Williams’ son, Sidney, was born with severe epilepsy resulting in developmental delay, they struggled to find appropriate care. They discovered that approximately 13% of Ugandan children live with a disability, with extremely limited access to healthcare. Widespread cultural beliefs that disabilities are untreatable often results in families being excluded from their communities. Steve and Asha felt compelled to act.
Together with Fiona Beckerlegge, a paediatric physiotherapist, they established the Kyaninga Child Development Centre (KCDC) in 2013. KCDC focuses on rehabilitation and therapy, inclusive educational support for disabled children, assistive mobility technology and disability advocacy. The range of projects includes community epilepsy clinics, mobile health clinics, a street business school, a community nutrition programme, the Kyaninga Education Hub and Kyaninga Inclusive Model School, parent education and peer support groups, and Kyaninga Mobility.
The intention is to enable children who were previously unable to do simple tasks – such as sitting, walking or communicating – to reach their full potential and lead fulfilling lives. Today, KCDC provides monthly therapeutic care for over 700 children with a wide range of physical, intellectual and communication disabilities via their innovative community-based rehabilitation programme.
MOVING ON UP
The mobility technology under development by KCDC is inspired! Of the people in Uganda who require a wheelchair, only 0,5% will have one. Many of the 700-plus children seen by KCDC each month need wheelchairs or standing or seating apparatuses so they can leave home, attend school or even sit up while their caregivers go to work. Add to that the fact that local terrain requires a wheelchair that can endure a rural environment and be modified to fit the unique needs of the wheelchair user, as improperly designed and poorly fitted wheelchairs can be life-threatening to the user.
Using bamboo and locally available materials, the expertly designed devices – from wheelchairs to walkers, elbow and axillary crutches, balance bikes and prosthetics – are developed, tested and manufactured at Kyaninga Mobility. The materials are widely available, practical and affordable – for example, the standard bike tyres used can be repaired at any bike shop. The wheelchair range includes a standard wheelchair as well as one designed for playing basketball and another for dancing. What could be more life-affirming than that?
REFORESTING AND REWILDING
Initially set up to deal with the ever-increasing demand for natural resources such as firewood, the Kyaninga Forest Foundation (KFF) aims to restore and manage forest in the area around Kyaninga Lodge and the wider Kabarole District in Western Uganda. To date, KFF has planted over 40 000 indigenous trees – resulting in a dramatic increase in the abundance and biodiversity of many birds, primates, insects and lizards in the Kyaninga Forest.
Although the focal point of KFF’s work is mainly in forestry, projects are also underway to conserve and protect other important ecosystems, such as rivers, swamps and lakes, where trees play an integral part in soil stabilisation. Such interventions help to prevent siltation of these ecosystems and ensure that water quality remains high, but they also help to prevent the loss of agricultural land through erosion.
At Kyaninga Lodge itself, much of the 50-acre property has been reforested with a mix of fast-growing indigenous species as well as slow-growing and extremely rare hardwoods. On the advice of tree expert, Chris Kaija, a large number of the medicinal trees that are rapidly disappearing from their natural environment due to overharvesting and improper cultivation have been planted. The Kyaninga Forest Foundation has also contributed to the construction of an arboretum on a neighbouring tea estate and pioneering research into – and growing of – the extremely rare Elgon Olive tree.
International botanists and academics work with Kyaninga Lodge to develop programmes to encourage local farmers and community members to plant trees themselves. The Kyaninga Forest Foundation’s multifaceted approach aims to meet the needs of individual community members, farmers’ collectives, or an entire ecosystem such as a river bank, swamp or forest remnant. Just one small example is their partnership with local farmers. Annually, they supply each small-scale farmer with 50 indigenous saplings, and then teach them how to plant and sustain these saplings – including coppicing them and harvesting the tips for firewood without chopping down the trees themselves. This has greatly helped reduce the pressure on the remaining forest.
THE VALUE OF TRAVEL
This is just a tiny glimpse into the incredible work the team at Kyaninga Lodge does every day. A percentage of every stay goes directly towards funding the Kyaninga Child Development Centre, which means that by staying at Kyaninga Lodge you are making a difference. For us at Nziza Hospitality, the real luxury of meaningful travel is coming face to face with visionary projects like those at Kyaninga Lodge – where life is reimagined, the cycle of generational poverty is broken, and every opportunity for empowerment is seized.
TALK TO US…
For an extraordinary journey through the wild beauty and rich biodiversity of Uganda – not to mention once-in-a-lifetime gorilla trekking and chimpanzee tracking opportunities – talk to us. Our team at Nziza Hospitality will ensure you have a magical experience.