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.