This post was submitted by Marcus Bauer, a journalist and consultant who has worked with Help Tourism in India and respect-Institute for Integrative Tourism in Vienna. Marcus is an editor of planeta.com – the global journal of practical ecotourism and a trainer for ECPAT Austria on Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Tourism. I asked him to provide his perspective about how Help Tourism is specifically helping the local communities in the East Himalaya.
Help Tourism runs community tourism projects in the East Himalaya. That I knew from their website. But it was only after I had visited some of their projects that I fully understood the power of their model, the significance for conservation, and how broad the benefits spread into the communities they work with.
The dust and noise of Calcutta slowly fades out, when the car makes its way to the vast river delta of the Ganges. Another two hours by boat to reach the Sunderbans Jungle Camp (pictured above). Decent ambiance, good accommodation in local style and friendly staff.
They are all local people, I learn from Asit. Many of them were engaging in poaching. We trained them up and provided them with alternatives.
Today the local people run the camp and the entire experience including the excursions to the village and the National Park, almost independently. And they do a good job. It earns enough not only for their livelihood but to invest into a handful of social ventures. A doctor holds a medical camp every fortnight, a school was set up for the village kids, and a clothing and a book bank was established to name but a few.
Healthcare, education, decent income: things we’d take for granted; in this area where water is still fetched from the well and electricity has to be produced with solar panels or generators, it is sheer luxury.
For the Bodo people their triumph of local autonomy did not only bring blessings. How would they live from their land? It is a fragile balance of the ecosystem in this treasure of nature on the foothills of the Himalayas stretching into Bhutan – with Manas National Park being the jewel. A local youth movement took the lead to outvote those who claimed fast revenues. And they succeeded.
Partnering with Help Tourism, slowly but steadily tourism became a tool for conservation, local employment, and rural development. Battalions of volunteers clean patrolling routes, create species checklists and safeguard the integrity of the protected area.
Only two outstanding examples of what I have seen. I have yet to explore a good dozen: The Great Indian Elephant Safari in Eastern Arunachal, the Mishmi Experience, the village trails of West-Sikkim and others.
Help Tourism runs 30 odd projects in East and Northeast of India. But enough to know: tour-ism can become a religion, preaching peace and mutual respect for humans and nature, and a powerful tool to economically and socially uplift those who love their remote areas and want to remain.