Sipi Waterfalls, a Place Where Children Guide Tourists

Child tour guides in Eastern Uganda take care of the visitors at Sipi waterfalls in kapchorwa district. Sipi falls are a series of three waterfalls located on the northern ridge of Mt. Elgon national park eastern Uganda.

Perhaps, meeting your Ugandan child tour guide is safe and interesting to share stories. Some of the eco tourism managers from the established camps, lodges and Uganda Wildlife Authority work with parents of those children. Depending on visitor’s experience and suggestions, kids must not skip school for the income generating opportunity.

Visiting all the three waterfalls involves hiking 7 km loop trail and visitors usually catch up with child tour guides in the rock cliffs. Though it’s a tourist trail and starting point for hikers to Wagagai summut, lots of mud and steep cliffs, you must walk carefully.

But a 13 year old James Chemonges is as quick as a mountain dog, and as visitors scramble with difficulty hiking over sharp ascents and rocks. James has been guiding visitors on Sipi falls since he was 10 years old. With the money he earns as a visitor guide at Sipi waterfalls, James has been paying for his own primary schooling without the help from his grandparents who live with him in the village of Kapwirwok, Kapchorwa district.

Sadly, Chemonges lost his father and mother at the age of three years, which seemingly put his life into miserable conditions. He explains the grievances of not attending to school and not having his own pocket money. James focused on guiding and took a chance of the tourists who visit Sipi waterfalls. He quickly looked into other ways of making money from tourists apart from guiding. He started learning how to use a camera looking into photography opportunities given the magnificent scenery around the area, Sipi falls, hot springs, caves, coffee farms and of course the wildlife such as birds and primates.

He is serious and focused on guiding visitors, hiking or walking in villages past coffee plantations, rock cliffs, along the famous Sipi River. Tourists have enjoyed his guiding skills and James has inspired other children around Sipi falls to take up the livelihood.

One year of savings has even allowed him to pay for his school fees, buying scholastic materials such as books and uniform as well as paying for food, clothing at home with his grandparents. Being envy of his peers who were schooling but less financially independent, now most of his friends deep in their heart want to be like him.

Supplementary income

James Chemonges is a perfect guide, who uses his earnings smartly, but his grandparents are farmers and it has been an added lucrative employment, helping the family for survival.

One of James’s friends Peter Kiplomo lives with both parents who provide for him including paying school dues and food. However, peter’s parents are farmers earning less a month and their condition does not allow paying for all basic school requirements and peter’s personal needs. Peter agreed with Chemonges to start guiding services at Sipi falls. It’s understandable why children want guiding as their work. It pays well as well as allowing them to help their families. For the case of Chemonges and his friend peter, guiding visitor is a source of income and pride to be financially independent at an early age.

They charge visitors on a guided trail at Sipi falls between 20,000 UGX to 10,000 UGX per tourist. On one hand, child tour guiding is an acceptable employment in Kapchorwa district and Uganda at large children are doing it because they want to help their families. On the other hand, there are risks, those parents and local people have raised concern about children being scammed by tourists or guiding is likely to distract children from attending their school.

However, guides like Chemonges and Peter often does not have the time to choose what kind of a visitor they will guide, after all, they trust the tour operators who bring visitors to Sipi falls. For the visitors enjoying what the world has to offer for James and his fellow children aspiring to be tour guides, suggestions are welcome, may be regulations should be set for children like him to guide in certain parts of the community around Sipi falls. Visitors can take a local tour that supports local farmer’s business including crafts, cultural dances, folklore, and Arabic coffee and local markets.

Mount Elgon national park

Mount Elgon on the borders of Uganda and Kenya, the 4th tallest in Africa (4,232 meters above sea level), has some of its peak ranges spilling over eastern rift valley in Kenya. It’s one of the oldest and largest calderas in the world.

The park is famous for mountain and rock climbing and wildlife viewing. Are you planning to take one of Uganda’s Tours?  Hiking safaris combine one of the most scenic wonders of Karamoja plains, Lake Kyoga basin, bird watching, waterfalls, hot springs, ancient cave and rock paintings exploration. Mt. Elgon is worth to visit for nature lovers and easily connect to source of the Nile Jinja including en route Mabira eco tourism site, Sezibwa falls and Kidepo Valley national park.

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