There is a story from one of Uganda’s vibrant tourists attractions, not only the attraction Sipi Falls but the very people who depend on it.
Manna from tourists’ pockets
Yeko says she lost her husband three years ago to an unidentified disease leaving her with four children aged 15, 12, nine and four. Having been a stay-at-home mother when her husband was alive, Yeko did not have any skill or investment to fall back on.
Her only option was to share her story with tourists who came to enjoy the sipi water falls and gave her handouts in form of money or clothes for herself and her family.
“I was so poor and did not have anything to eat or dress my children; I approached one of the tourists from Canada. When I told him about the struggles I was going through, he was very generous, he gave me money to buy something to eat,” she narrates.
Through the generosity of tourists, Yeko has been able to educate her children and construct the semi-permanent house which has relieved her of the wooden structure, which she says had been infested by bedbugs and would allow in a lot of cold air.
“One of my children was diagonised with pneumonia because of the coldness. This place can get very chilly,” she says. Yeko, however, is not the only native who has taken advantage of the tourism boom because according to the Uganda Bureau of Standards, Kapchorwa has about 113,500 people and many of them are directly or indirectly benefiting from the region’s biggest natural resource.
Other players in the game
According to Naminya, many youths are employed as tour guides and carry out many other odds jobs, from which they earn a living.
“Some of the boys and girls are always interested in working and they work as and when they can. We have many of them working in different capacities,” he says.
Little wonder, as I am moving back to the main road from the valley, having feared to get involved in the abseiling activity, a small voice calls me from behind. I turn to see a 13-year-old boy who identifies himself as Peter Chebet trotting and panting. He is clad in a pair of trousers, which was formally white but has now lost its colour and an equally faded blue t-shirt. He wears a charming smile and sounded confident.
“Is this your first time here?” he asked candidly. Blown away by this bold approach, I answer in the affirmative. Assuming the tone of a seasoned tour guide, Chebet tells me he pays his fees of Sh47,000 and fends for his livelihood with the money he gets from showing tourists around. He does not have a standard pay for the service.
“You pay me as you will. I have to buy scholastic materials, some clothes for Christmas and buy food for myself. I live with my uncle since my parents are not around and life is all about me. My uncle does not have a formal job,” the Primary Four lad at Sipi Falls Primary School narrates.
Steven Asiimwe, the Executive Director of Uganda Tourism Board says there is sensitisation going on to help members of the community get basic knowledge on how to handle tourists and be hospitable.
“These people have been handling tourists without any basic knowledge and we are trying to help them. We are also making sure that the people who own lodges in this place do not import food. We have encouraged the natives to grow vegetables and other things used so that they provide readily available supply,” he says.
More to Sipi Falls
The people who live around Sipi falls comprise a cocktail of tribes especially the Bagisu on the eastern part and Sebei on the western. The main valley if occupied by different tribes like Itesots,