From high school dropout to tourism investor

By George Katongole

At 20 years when Stephen Bukoma Wanambwa was dreaming of getting a university degree, his excitement knew no bounds.
A studious child from a poor background, Bukoma waited patiently to reach his destiny.
With months to the final A-level exams, his mother, who was paying school fees, was happy and proud of his son, while on the other hand she was worried about how she could provide him a good education with her limited means.
At the time she was bedridden with HIV/Aids and she did not have enough resources to support her son’s dreams and her hospital bills.
The family could not scrounge up enough money for even a day’s meal. So he was forced to discontinue studies in the second term of Senior Six at Busia Secondary School.
The young entrepreneur, who is the proprietor of Cul Tours and Safaris, a tour firm, said he started the business with Shs10 million.
As a result, he has ready answer for restless young people who are, however, not sure when and how to start.
“Never underestimate small beginnings and never give up on your dream. With hard work and support from people who believe in your potential, the reward is inevitable,’’ says Kibugo.

Tough journey
In 2001, his mother died. During this time he moved to Jinja, where his uncle Patrick Wanambwa had a retail shop in the Police barracks, looking for a job and a source of income. The circumstances forced him to become a shop attendant.
In 2002, he started driving lessons at Busingye Driving School and when he obtained his driving permit, he was recruited at Aryan Kindergarten as a driver.
He was not satisfied yet and in 2004, he sought employment as a driver at Tight Security where he stayed for only nine months before he moved to Blue Cruise car rentals where he also failed to get the means he was seeking.
It was around this time that he got a chance to attend a three-week training at Queen Elizabeth National Park organised by Uganda Safaris Guides Association. This came with a job at Matooke Tours in 2006 as a tourist driver. “I had finally found my dream,” Bukoma says.
“I had a dream to travel around the world and meet new people and for once I was answering my calling,” he adds.

How he started
A 2012 Tourism Expenditure and Motivational Survey (TEMS) opened his eyes wider.
The survey concluded that 30 per cent of the tourists that come to Uganda are attracted by leisure and culture.
“Uganda is a unique country with more 40 tribes and languages. Since I had been exposed to wild adventures at Matooke, I found a gap in culture and agro tourism,” he says.
In 2011, he hatched a plan of having his own company, Cul Tours and Safaris (Cul is an abbreviation of culture) which became fully operational in 2013.
It focuses on agrotourism and cultural tourism. The five-year-old company is housed in a small office at University Plaza in Wandegeya.
Rashid Wamala, the director of Sira Tours, gave him all the necessary information that he needed in his new quest.
“I was working hard and saving a lot to make sure that I would get my own company,” he says.
At the time, because he was staying so long at his work usually more than three weeks every month, he had problems with his wife.
“I could not trade anything for my financial freedom because unless you are working for yourself, if you are employed, there must come a time for you to leave,” he says.

He employs three full-time staff and four casual workers as drivers. He believes that his work is already making a positive impact since his first agrotourism trip this June on seven Ugandan farms with Danish tourists.
He partnered with Danish journalist Vibeke Rask Grøn and Hélène Kelly of Absalon University of Applied Sciences to bring students to learn about wood carving.
Vibeke mainly contacts Danish farmers who are willing to share their expertise with Ugandans.
The previous tour resulted in Titus Kasujja, a dairy farmer in Ziroobwe getting a donation of 10 milking machines.
Students from Absalon visit cultural hot spots, including Ayavu in Arua near the border with DR Congo where they learn from craft makers on how to make chairs without nails.
The community benefits by selling the chairs to the tourists at Shs20,000 without any surcharge to Cul Tours.
“We encourage tourists to visit social groups such as crafts makers, orphanages, and traditional coffee makers to promote livelihoods of the locals,” he says.

Five-star rating
He says the company is still in the gestation period although he is lucky that they are making strides.
“We are lucky to have at least two tours organised by us every month,” he says.
Bukoma has his tariffs tailor-made depending on the desires of the client and he believes this is key in business.
“I learnt a lot about this job but most of all I am an honest man and this is what most tourists demand,” he says.
There are more than 1,000 tour operators and travel companies in Uganda but Cul Tours is highly recommended by trip advisor as excellent service providers with five-stars rating.
“Tourists need a lot of pampering and as a professional tour guide I ensure they are cared for. I give every bit of information they might need to enjoy their experience. Above all I make sure their personal safety is guaranteed,” Bukoma explains.
He has the conviction that nobody should be denied a decent life even when they are not educated. Everyone must find his calling, he reasons.
Taxes notwithstanding, he enjoys his work that has given him a decent life with a house in Gayaza and farmland in Ziroobwe and Manafwa.
Since most of his business is online, he plans to start working from his home where he plans to turn his house into a guest house for the budget clients.

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