Green Riders by Heritage Tours India

Top 3 Winner of the 2012 ‘Inspiring Stories from Destinations’ Competition

Barefoot is a team of volunteers from a different field of life who spare their free time to work in the field of Empowerment, Education, Energy and Environment. We use Tourism as a tool to empower the local community by training, motivation and technical support.

Green Rider is an  unique effort by the Barefoot team that have transformed the lives of 75 rickshaw pullers who were under tremendous poverty due to lack of work as the motor auto rickshaws took their position on the growing tourism scenario at Puri- a holy pilgrimage centre in east India. We decided to revive this non polluting mode of transport in Puri as a ‘Propoor Tourism Initiative’ that not only benefits the environment but also provides a form of livelihood for poor locals.

The challenge was to unite these rickshaw pullers under one banner, to create a motivation and self respect among themselves for their work and to fight against the alcoholism. Continuous training for one year on various subjects like knowledge about the history and mythology of the destination, body language, health related tips including family planning and HIV awareness, traffic and safety rules, and yoga practice helped them gained a new dignity and self-respect. We named them as “Green Riders” and got them special uniforms, an identity card, green-coloured rickshaws and tour brochures. This made them stand out and economically, they grew as tourists preferred the Green Riders because of their honesty and innovative rickshaw tours in the holy city.

The project started on 27 September, 2009. We started with 40 Green Riders on World Tourism Day in 2009 and now we have 75 Green Riders on the streets of Puri. We financed 24 new rickshaws with a soft loan by the State Bank of India and donations from Tourists. We developed a community fund from their own contributions with matching grants from our volunteers to look after the emergency needs of member of in the Barefoot team.

Their earnings from less than one dollar a day have gone up to three dollars a day because of their approach and honesty.

Before they were not having any respect for themselves nor does the society respect them. Now they get a good respect from the society as they are also involved in community service like cleaning the beach or bus station or free ride for elderly people on festive days. Their earnings from less than one dollar a day have gone up to three dollars a day because of their approach and honesty. This project is financed by the contribution from the volunteers of Barefoot and various stakeholders especially Heritage Tours India whose director, Yugabrata Kar is the founder of the Barefoot team. This project has really created an example of community benefit for this section of service providers in the tourism industry.

We also motivate them to clean these age-old sites such as old tanks, bus stands at pilgrimage sites and the beach as a part of their social responsibility. They feel very involved to render their services to preserve the cultural destinations as it brings more respect for them in the community.

We have designed various tour packages using these traditional rickshaws to the small lanes, old temples and other less known but interesting destination in this pilgrim’s town with fixed prices which brings a decent earning for the Green Rider. Before they were not able to communicate with tourists about the different tours which can be done by rickshaw only. This brand of Green Rider with uniform, rickshaw with flowers, typical green colour rickshaw with nice painting draws the attention of tourists. Before they spent most of their earnings on cheap alcohol, after this training and motivation for one year, most of them have stopped their alcohol habits and due to this designed tours their income as gone up. Also 24 of them have gained financial freedom from their boss who rent them the rickshaw and take more than half of their earnings as rent. We have managed to finance from the bank and donations from our known tourists by providing 24 new Rickshaw and making them the owner. They are now paying back to the bank regularly and it has improved their economic condition. We are going to add another 15 rickshaws this month.

We celebrate World Tourism Day in a big way where we invite the stakeholders, media and important politicians from the locality. On this day we highlight our Green Riders team and their work as they participate in the event with their family and share their experience. Also we organize rickshaw relays on the streets of the city to create awareness about the Green Riders and also the importance of tourism among the grass root people. Nevertheless, Green Rider always gets good media attention. The Barefoot team was awarded best community based project for the promotion of pro-poor tourism by Department of Tourism in the Government of Orissa this year. It encourages other rickshaw pullers in the city to join this movement to provide better and honest service to the pilgrims and tourists.

Being inspired by the success story of Green Riders, now we are working with 240 Nolias (traditional fishermen) who earn their livelihood as lifeguard on the sea for safe bathing of the pilgrims and tourists as more than 90 people have lost their life during sea bath at Puri beach. We are providing them training on behavior, life-saving skills and trying to improve their visibility on the beach by bright tent and uniforms. This project will be called ‘Sea Rider’ and they will not only prevent tourists from drowning but can also improve the livelihood of traditional fishermen. We have launched project Sea Rider on World Tourism Day 2012 with a model beach that is safe, clean and community friendly.

The most important aspect of our project is to improve the inner value of these uneducated service providers who come in direct contact with easy money from Tourists. We have motivated the team of Green Rider to live a life with dignity, honesty, respecting work, self and tourists. We teach them leadership by making community team to clean up the locality where they live. To protest when there is an unwanted situation .To stand by each other’s good and bad days, by contributing physical presence and financial help from their community fund made from their own contribution on each weekly meeting.

They motivate and identify other poor rickshaw pullers who like to join this Green Rider team for a better and meaning full life. They are the true leaders in their community and we are proud of them. They also motivate their children to go to school and inspire their wives to form self-help groups that are supported by our volunteers. This story of Green Rider is now recommended in the Lonely Planet guide book in the page about Puri.

Reality Gives by Reality Tours

Reality Tours & Travel (RTT) is dedicated to raising social awareness about the strengths and challenges of the Dharavi Community and to raise funds for our social impact programs implemented in the the slum, Reality Tours and Travels started operating tours in February 2006. RTT’s famous Dharavi tour highlights the strength of the industry found in the slum and the vibrancy of the community. However it also discusses the daily realities of slum living such as pollution, poor working conditions, water and sanitation problems, and the lack of quality education.

In addition to the Dharavi slum tour, RTT also offers unique experiential tours such as Bicycle, Market, Night and Public Transport Tours in Mumbai and also a village tour. Eighty percent of the profits or approximately 30% of the revenues from the tours go to support the operations of Reality Gives, RTT’s sister NGO. Tours in Dharavi are happening every day in the morning and afternoon and the prices range from Rs500 onwards. The ethical tour company was founded by UK national Chris Way and Krishna from Mangalore who came to Mumbai 18 years ago working as a waiter for Rs275 a week.

Reality Gives

Reality Gives‘ mission is to create change and improve the quality of life in Dharavi’s vibrant community by supporting and connecting social entrepreneurship projects and mobilizing resources. The NGO runs English language Support Programs in vernacular schools with the aim to strengthen their curricula by creating a truly bilingual educational experience in a supportive environment. It has a community center where we run a Youth Empowerment Program for teenagers and young adults who have been unable to complete their formal education. The goal is for them to gain confidence, learn valuable skills such as facility with computer use and speaking English that will help them explore various career opportunities that might not have been previously open to them.

In addition, Reality Gives runs youth programs in art, sports, music, and computers so that young children can explore their world and gain confidence in expressing themselves. These programs were set up in partnership with other NGOs like Bombay Underground, YUWA, Under the Mango Tree and RUR.

The most recent project is the Girl’s Football Program in cooperation with Yuwa, an organization that implemented a successful girls empowerment program in Jharkhand, a state in North central India. 20 girls are visiting the training every day and their skills improve step by step.

Some of the major key achievements so far are:

  1. Educating 142 students using an English curriculum developed with the assistance of Malvern House in the UK.
  2. Training 17 teachers from Dharavi based on the Muktangan method and with the support of Educo. This has impacted the lives of 131 students.
  3. Supporting 2 local schools in English language support and a total of 250 students using our child-centred teaching methods.

The NGO is funded by Reality Tours and Travel and individual donations. To find out more about both, Reality Tours and Travel and Reality Gives, visit the websites www.realitytoursandtravel.com and www.realitygives.org as well as www.facebook.com/realitygives .

Wakatobi Dive Resort

Divers often envision having the chance to discover pristine reefs in a remote, idyllic setting. This was certainly true for Swiss-born Lorenz Mäeder, who turned a childhood love of snorkeling the Mediterranean into a career as a dive instruction and resort director. For two decades, he pursued his passion for underwater adventure, exploring the Red Sea and Indian Ocean in search of the perfect place to create a world-class diving resort. His quest eventually brought him to southeastern Sulawesi, and a small island within the Wakatobi group known to local people as Onemobaa – the place of the long, white beach.

One particular section of this beach seemed perfect, and it fronted one of the finest coral reefs Mäeder had ever seen. The waters teemed with rich and diverse populations of fish and corals. He knew he had all the ingredients needed to create a spectacular dive resort. But from the beginning, he also strived for more than just commercial success.

Mäeder expected his resort to adhere to the highest standards of ecologically conscious development and operation. In addition, he hoped to create a new type of business model that would not just limit environmental impact, but would actually provide positive change for both the local economy and ecosystem.

The resort was constructed in a style that honored local architectural traditions. A variety of sustainable products and practices were incorporated, and local materials and labor were utilized whenever possible. A majority of the resort’s workforce was recruited from nearby villages, providing significant economic advantages to the surrounding communities. But for Mäeder, this was only the beginning of a far broader plan that would not just provide employment to the region, but also launch a social transformation that would ultimately lead to a newfound conservation ethos.

At the time of Wakatobi’s founding, the region’s reef had no protection from destructive fishing practices such as reef dynamiting, fish traps and over-harvesting. Mäeder knew that governmental designations often did little to actually preserve a resource if there was no budget for enforcement, and no support from those within the region. As an alternative, he created the Collaborative Community based Reef Conservation Program, which was designed to motivate the people living within the Wakatobi region to realize that besides fishing on the reefs it is possible to generate income from tourists who are just looking at fish and corals. The program channels a portion of the resort’s income to the local community in the form of lease payments in exchange for turning designated areas of reef into no-fishing sanctuaries.

Today, 17 villages near the resort derive income from the lease program, and have become active stewards of more than 20 km of reef.

The first pilot program was launched in 1998. It took years of continuous and consistent efforts to build trust and reach a point where all members of the surrounding villages respected and honored the agreement. In time, however, the economics of dive tourism replaced environmentally destructive fishing practices, providing the local population with a sustainable source of regular lease payments, and more importantly, ownership in a more valuable resource. The community began to defend their new found local marine resource against outside intruders and poachers, as well as threats that emerged from within their own communities. Based on this initial success, the sanctuary was extended, and today, 17 villages near the resort derive income from the lease program, and have become active stewards of more than 20 km of reef.

Today, Wakatobi Dive Resort is widely regarded as one of the world’s premier dive resorts, recognized not only for delivering the highest levels of customer service in a setting of ‘barefoot elegance’, but also for their core values of proactive conservation and community stewardship. Guests naturally abide by a code of conduct that minimizes impact on the underwater environment. Resort staff conduit reef monitoring and cleaning programs, and clean at least 1 km of beach each day. To minimize anchor damage, public moorings are installed and maintained both on dive sites and within local harbors.

Operational initiatives such as intensive recycling and wastewater treatment initiatives have earned Wakatobi awards within the ecotourism community, while local initiatives have won the trust and cooperation of local people. Wakatobi has sponsored waste management programs and other public works projects for 17 villages on neighboring islands, and provides electrical service to a village of 500 in exchange for their honoring a reef sanctuary located on traditional fishing grounds. Local schools are provided with educational materials and scholarships for orphans; small-scale credit programs are made available to local businesses, and up to 50 local widows are employed to produce natural roof tiles for the resort buildings.

Behind these initiatives and others not often publicized by Wakatobi is a question Mäeder has long used to gage the success of his efforts: “Is my operation improving the natural environment? Does the local community benefit directly and indirectly?” Some 16 years after the resort’s founding, the answer to those questions is “yes.”  Mäeder’s vision has created a unique destination that not only provides a shining example of how ecotourism can be conducted in an earth-friendly manner, but has also created demonstrative improvements to the reefs and seabeds of the surrounding islands, and enhanced the lifestyles of the local human community.

To learn more about Wakatobi Dive Resort, its initiatives and services, please visit www.wakatobi.com

The Mulberry Learning Center Story by Andaman Discoveries

In Southern Thailand, along the Andaman Coast in the province of Phang Nga, the majority of the local economy is comprised of fishing and tree farming.  Each year thousands of Burmese migrants come to the piers and fields of Kuraburi, Phang Nga, looking for work, bringing with them their families.  The children of these Burmese migrant workers are unable to access the Thai education system and their parents often have little or no education.  They do not have legal citizenship in Thailand, nor are they recognized as citizens of Burma.  Access to education is also difficult due to discrimination, the cost of enrollment and uniform fees, lack of transportation, language barriers, lower levels of education and fear of arrest and deportation.

“The children of these Burmese migrant workers are unable to access the Thai education system and their parents often have little or no education.”

Before the opening of the Burmese Learning Centre in 2005, by the Foundation for Education and Development (FED), there were no educational facilities that could be accessed by Burmese children in the Kuraburi area.  A small center was converted into a make shift school near the Kuraburi Pier, doing its best to provide education for children that normally would be denied this privilege.  Dedicated staff delivered lessons in Thai, Burmese and English and offered a wide range of subjects such as mathematics, geography, arts, music and sports. Doing their best to deliver interesting and engaging lessons in a challenging environment and with very limited resources, the staff conducted daily classes for up to one hundred students.

In 2009, Andaman Discoveries (AD), a community based tourism organization located in Kuraburi, Phang Nga became aware of the center’s need for volunteers.  Through their operations as a volunteering based tour provider, AD began to send interested travelers to volunteer at the center for weeks or months at a time.  Volunteers conduct lessons in English, helping the teachers to learn new methods of teaching a foreign language, to keep the students active and engaged.  The volunteers also introduce activities or special hobbies and interests and work with the children in a friendly and loving way.  This offers the children interaction with foreigners that they may never be able to have otherwise, and an opportunity to develop communication skills that could be beneficial in future employment.  Since the initial set up of the volunteering program, AD has sent over 35 volunteers to the school, to share with the children skills in art and crafts, music and English language.  Before the volunteer program was set up, children often sat in classes without a teacher, patiently waiting for their turn to be taught.  Unlike children in the west, the children sat quietly, in expectation, with often the older children taking lead and sharing some knowledge.  Since the collaboration there are teachers available for most months of the year, ensuring the children are learning and interacting with teachers and volunteer staff on a regular basis.  The children’s English skills are slowly improving, whereas their self-confidence and outlook on life has improved dramatically!  The volunteering program not only aims to teach children English, but also that opportunity is for everyone and the Burmese students grasp this with both hands.

In 2011 both AD and FED recognized a dire need for a new location for the learning center, as the conditions at the school by pier had degraded substantially.  During rainy season water would flood the classrooms, bringing water up to knee level of the children. Sewage and waste water running behind the school posed health hazards to the students and teachers.  These conditions made for an unsuitable learning environment and would cause cancellation of class for days at a time.

Andaman Discoveries began to use its extensive network to find sources of funding to help the learning center.  Through its working relationship with Planeterra, a non-profit subsidiary of the tour provider G-adventures, the two were able to secure funding from, Mulberry Marketing Communications, for the construction of a new school.  AD was also able to receive funding for the purchase of land from a private donor so the school could be moved from the pier to a nice field that was once a palm oil tree farm.  The new area and building would provide the perfect place for these children to receive a quality education.  In June of 2012, the construction was completed and the school was proud to be opened as the new Mulberry Learning Center.  The new building has capacity to provide education for up to two hundred students, offering classes according to the Burmese curriculum as well as lessons in Thai and English language.  A new playground offers the children a safe and healthy environment for play and exercise.  The completion of a small room for computers will be able to offer these children an opportunity to learn skills that are requirements for most employment in this technological time.  Future plans include an organic garden to provide healthy vegetables and fruits for the school.

Even with all of the accomplishments earned over the last year, the Mulberry Learning Center is still in need of additional funding to cover basic expenses like teachers’ salaries, a proper kitchen structure and lunch programs.  Andaman Discoveries continues to actively seek funding to assists this project for success in the future, so it can continue to provide a quality education and opportunity to this special community.