She is enthusiastic when debating subjects related to culture. Leah Wangeci, in her 30s, has taken a path ignored by many.
Yet, the tours and travels professional is solidly determined to achieve her goal. She has invested in cultural tourism in Kirinyaga county and operates Thingira Multicultural Village.
After training as a tour operator 13 years ago, Wangeci set out to seal gaps in the tourism industry; she didn’t just want to find employment. So, she thought about establishing a cultural centre.
“I noticed that little attention was paid to foster and preserve culture and history. This is what I set my determination on. I was prepared to turn every challenge into opportunity,” she says.
Armed with her knowledge in tourism and willpower to succeed, Wangeci set out on a long journey to remind people of their forgotten cultural practices.
In 2007, she began to actualise her vision by doing something unique.
“I decided to build a multicultural village. Here, traditional and modern lifestyles of people from Central and Eastern Kenya would be demonstrated. In this centre, we also gather information and artifacts that would be preserved for teaching future generations,” Wangeci explains.
Her aim when establishing the cultural centre was to ensure that available historical information is well preserved. She also wanted to develop a tourist site, where foreigners and locals would engage directly on cultural history.
While the centre is now up and running, she had to get over hurdles such as lack of capital and resources such as land to start the project.
Luck smiled on here when she shared her vision with her father, who assisted by donating a 20-acre piece of land for the project.
Thingira Multicultural Village is located in the bushy and rocky hills on River Sagana, and features cultural artifacts of communities such as Embu, Meru, Kikuyu, Mbeere and Kamba.
“The cultural center has become a resource centre in Kirinyaga county. Students from local and international institutions come to conduct their research here. This is what motivates me,” she says.
Communities around the centre have also started appreciating after visiting it, she says. Wangeci believes her idea can be replicated countrywide and hopes all communities will take it up.
Five people are now employed at Thingira Multicultural Village on permanent basis, while more than 100 benefit indirectly from its existence, including dancers and actors oacassionally invited to perform for guests.
Finding historical information has been one of the obstacles she faces in running the village, barring securing funds for projects. Nonetheless, Wangeci hopes to one day set up a museum where her collection of artifacts will be preserved.
One of the concepts she hopes will be implemented by tourism promoters is a ‘Mau Mau tour circuit’.
This would be designed such that tourists will visit all historical sites in the region, starting from Kirinyaga, through Embu, Meru, Nanyuki, Nyeri, Nyandarua, Thika, Murang’a and end in Nairobi.
Wangeci estimates that completing the circuit would take about 30 days. As such, it will not only ensure that historical sites are revived, but will also draw revenue to the region.
She plans to tour the whole country to advocate cultural revival, and possibly shoot a movie to honour Mau Mau veterans. It will be her fulfillment when Kenyans finally turn to their cultural practices, she says.