A restaurant in the rainforest- WCS

While business opportunities are scarce in small villages of northern Congo, determination, skill, and support from her community helped Maman Saida to open her own restaurant in Bomassa, at the entrance of Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park. An amazing story of success that deserves to be highlighted on this International Women Day....

A new sound can be heard ringing out across the Sangha River in the rainforests of northern Congo – the clinking of cups and cutlery at Saida Nola’s new restaurant. ‘Maman Saida’ as she is affectionately known in Bomassa village started her restaurant, ‘La Main de Dieu’, on the banks of the river in January 2019. At the time, it was the first real place that people could find a meal in the village outside of their homes. “I noticed that the fishermen who travel up and down the river would stop for the night in the village, but they would struggle to find something to eat – I saw an opportunity and decided to innovate”, she remembers. Two years later and people are queuing out the door to get a seat in the cozy 12-seat restaurant. “Often, I’m so busy that as soon as one customer finishes his food, another one is right there waiting to take his seat!”.

 

Maman Saida can count on loyal clients: Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park staff, who work at the Park’s headquarters, a short walk outside of the village. For the last 27 years, more and more people have been needed to contribute to the conservation of over 4,000km2 of intact tropical forest. Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012, the Park is a remarkable refuge for endangered rainforest species, such as lowland gorillas and forest elephants, in a region plagued by the threats of poaching and habitat loss.

 

“I used to bake bread, but it was hard to grow my business”, Saida recounts. “I started the restaurant slowly. At first, I just offered grilled chicken from a barbecue, with outdoor seating”. Then in mid-2020, as a member of the ‘Association of Women United for Biodiversity in Bomassa’, she was approached by the Park with a new capacity-building opportunity. The Park had just embarked on a  venture to create new sources of sustainable revenue, by starting a tourism development program. Under this program, two-weeks of hospitality training was organized at a restaurant and hotel in a nearby provincial town – improving local people’s capacity to capitalize on the future expansion of the tourism sector.

 

“The training opened my eyes to new possibilities. I thought, why can’t I do this in Bomassa? It gave me the confidence to expand and improve my restaurant”, says Saida. The Women’s Association played a key role in supporting her, especially through access to a savings scheme that released enough money to build a proper building for her customers. Her neighbors pitched in to help her with tables, chairs, and cutlery, and in August 2020 the refurbished restaurant reopened to acclaim from the village.

 

“The restaurant has become more than just somewhere to eat, people come here from all across the village to sit and talk, it’s become a real meeting place for the community”, Saida says. In a culture where women are often constrained by traditional gender roles, she is a role model for a better future, “This restaurant has given me a name. I now have status in the community.”

 

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