A quarter-century ago, Rwanda was in the grips of an horrific genocide that brutally snatched the lives of nearly one million people, leaving the nation utterly devastated. While the world stood by aghast, the Rwandan Patriotic Front one of the finest military campaign victories in modern warfare putting a cease to the atrocities and its Commander, Paul Kagame, began to rebuild his country.
From Rwanda in ruins mourning incomprehensible loss, Kagame today is the proud president of Africa’s shining beacon of light. His motto, ‘never forget’, is best exemplified in Kigali’s Genocide Memorial – a staple in every Banovich & Homann’s guest’s itinerary, for its profound and moving poignancy. Rather than reliving one of humanity’s darkest moments, it harnesses the positive power of learning its lessons; ‘never forget’ ensures ‘never again’.
John Banovich was drawn to Rwanda for many reasons. Not only is it an unprecedented African success story whose people embody strength, resilience and forgiveness, but it is a land of astonishing natural beauty, rich with artistic inspiration. He felt compelled to be part of its story supporting for years the Umbumwe Center. In part owing to the 1994 genocide, Rwanda has a disproportionate number of physically and mentally disabled people. Most have no option but to live as street beggars. The Ubumwe Center is a place where adults with disabilities and their children are given an alternative; where they can be educated, work and ultimately take control of their own lives. About another Rwanda based project Banovich Wildscapes supports, Banovich states, "My friend Jack Hanna had introduced me to the great work that Dr. Mike Cranfield and his staff are doing at the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project-Gorilla Doctors and having visited their facility in Rwanda, I saw first-hand that their work is absolutely essential for the long-term survival of the mountain gorillas."
Most recently , through his friends the Behring family, found another important cause that sorely needed support. At least 100 million people worldwide need a wheelchair that they cannot afford, and in Rwanda alone that number is 17,000. So, Banovich’s Wildscapes Foundation partnered with the Behrings’ Wheelchair Foundation to donate ‘hope, mobility, freedom, dignity and independence’ in the form of 240 wheelchairs to patients at HVP Gatagara, an orthopaedic and rehabilitation hospital.
This rewarding experience bound him even more closely to a country he had already fallen in love with. For John, philanthropic endeavours lead naturally to a desire to share the places and people that move him – and it is a happy corollary that promoting travel to Rwanda significantly boosts its economy.
Beguilingly beckoning, an invitation to Rwanda is not one to turn down. A recent blossoming of high-end properties befitting B&H’s calibre of client have opened up enticing possibilities. Wilderness Safaris’ Magashi Camp has just opened in Akagera National Park and with the camp’s tasteful elegance offsetting the stunning Serengeti-style savannah landscape, Rwanda’s aim to revive the park should be achieved in no time.
Then there’s One&Only’s Nyungwe House steeped in the irresistible romance of a colonial tea plantation, and perfectly appointed for chimpanzee trekking to boot. Of course, it would be remiss to speak of Rwanda without mentioning its magical drawcard: life-changing encounters with primates. Among the rarest animals on earth, this tiny country protects half of the world’s 950 remaining mountain gorillas, of which none are found anywhere in captivity, only in the Virunga mountains straddling Rwanda, Uganda and DRC.
One of John’s most spectacular masterpieces is his newly completed portrayal of the Kwitonda gorilla family. ‘I have set out to create a dramatic work that transports the viewer to the moment when you are nearly surrounded by gorillas, a moment when your heart skips a beat with excitement and you are completely absorbed in the moment.’ The Kwitonda group is a highy successful family lead by three massive silver backs named, Karevuro, Kigoma and Lisanga.
They play on a forested slope in the shadow of a giant volcano standing guard over Singita’s new Kwitonda Lodge, which sits on 178 acres bordering Volcanoes National Park. Picture lush forest and rolling mist from the elegant comfort of the lounge; warm colours, dark wood and leather conspire to exquisite effect. John’s piece hangs in the dining room and is framed to give the illusion of a window onto the Kwitonda clan – and indeed, there is no better place from which to experience these magnificent creatures.
The richness of Rwanda is multifaceted, and one cannot help but be inspired to celebrate its positivity, its progress, the authentic warm welcome of its people, the wealth of precious natural assets nestled in its endless hills… B&H have spent countless happy hours designing custom adventures that incorporate all it has to offer; there is quite simply no way to return from Rwanda unchanged, and these are just the safari savants to make that happen for you.