Crystal Browne

1 year of the Global Community Tourism Network

One year after launching the Global Community Tourism Network, Planeterra announces recipients of Global Community Tourism Fund.

It has been one year since we publicly launched the Global Community Tourism Network.  We started with 200 community tourism enterprises in the Network in 68 countries and have grown to over 387 communities across 76 countries in just one year. 

Through countless webinars, mentorship sessions, and peer to peer learning, we knew that we wanted to take our support one step further. 

In March 2022, we launched the Global Community Tourism Fund, a grant program that supports growth and recovery for community tourism enterprises within the Global Community Tourism Network (GCTN) through small grants and mentorship. We received many applications  from our community partners around the world and are excited to announce the recipients.

Each recipient will receive a flexible grant to support initiatives such as infrastructure upgrades, equipment purchases, marketing, training and more. Read more about the first projects supported by the fund below:

Lavender Jeep Siem Reap – Cambodia

Lavender Jeep is an adventure tour company providing curated tours of Siem Reap, Cambodia, in a 1975 A2 American Jeep. Lavender Jeep was founded to create employment opportunities for women and fund educational programming that primarily benefits young women and families. The staff members are shareholders in the company earning 30% of the profits on the tour.

A change in vehicle registration laws in Cambodia meant that funds were now required to register their jeeps. Without funds to cover this cost, Lavender Jeep had to decline tour bookings over the past months. Lavender Jeeps hasn’t had travellers since March 2020 and requested a grant to help get their drivers back on the road! With this grant, they are able to register and be able to receive travel bookings again!

Learn more here.

The Cove- Malawi

The Cove Ecolodge is a social enterprise in Chitende, Malawi. Their mission is to utilize money from tourism revenue to support community-driven development projects. They believe in fostering sustainable solutions through building relationships, working and learning together, and valuing their interactions with each other and the environment. A few of their development projects include road construction, water solutions, as well as community grants to young single mothers.

Chitende is a rural village in northern Malawi that is isolated from the government grid system for water and power. The ecolodge does not have access to water for their showers. Planeterra has distributed a grant to support the building of a piped water source in a central location in the community that will allow for 15 households to have access to cleaner, closer portable water. This piped water system will also allow the lodge to have water which will enable them to increase their customer base. 

Learn more here. 

Girls Empowered by Travel- Nepal

Girls Empowered by Travel – Nepal (GET-Nepal) is a non-profit organization that provides safe opportunities for women to travel and get involved in community work in a welcoming and safe environment. Through travel and tourism, GET-Nepal aims to empower women, especially those from marginalized backgrounds, by engaging them in leadership building workshops, creating female change-makers, and providing opportunities for economic participation.

Throughout the last two years, the hiking trails in the local village have fallen into disrepair.  This hiking trail is needed in order to receive travellers as they will trek from the bus stop to the community. Through the Global Community Tourism Fund, we have sent a grant to support the community to re-open these trails in order to safely receive travellers in the coming months.

Learn more here. 

Red Rocks Intercultural Exchange Center- Rwanda

Red Rocks brings under-served communities into the tourism supply chain and supports community development projects through their initiatives of cultural heritage conservation, visual and plastic arts (painting, drawing, sculpture, modeling, etc.), and graphic arts (painting, drawing, design, and other forms expressed on flat surfaces). Red Rocks also provides budget accommodation including a hostel room, an ample tranquil campsite in Red Rocks Intercultural Center, and Red Rocks Guest House to host visiting travellers. 

As a result of the pandemic and the lack of tourists visiting the area, many artisans and weavers have no markets to sell their crafts. Unfortunately, this has impacted women and youth more significantly.  Red Rocks requested funding to develop and implement a marketing plan to increase the number of visitors to seven local communities. The funds will support new audiovisual and promotional material, update their website, and train local leaders on marketing in the area. 

Learn more here.

Osmose- Cambodia 

Osmose is a non-governmental organization dedicated to the environmental preservation and the socio-economic development of the Prek Toal area, located in the Tonle Sap UNESCO Biosphere reserve. Osmose facilitates both the conservation of the Tonle Sap environment and the sustainable livelihoods of the floating village communities. The projects are based on income-generating activities, mainly visitor services including meal experience, homestay experience, guide service, peddle boat ride, and water hyacinth handicrafts. For this purpose, Osmose trains specialist guides to conduct eco-tours and created a community restaurant and some homestay services. Women in the community are trained in water hyacinth weaving and can sell their products for additional livelihoods. All these services are managed by a local cooperative supported by Osmose.

Osmose has created several floating structures: a Saray water hyacinth handicraft workshop, an environmental education school, and a community restaurant all connected by a floating bridge. Some of the bridges are currently in a poor condition. Income from ecotourism saved in the community box supported the maintenance, however, because of the COVID-19 crisis and the lack of visitors for nearly two years, there weren’t funds to support the repairs. Planeterra has sent a grant to support the renovation of the various platforms so that it is safer for staff and visitors to the area!

Learn more here.

Asociación de Turismo Rural Solidario ASTURS PERÚ- Perú

Asociación de Turismo Rural Solidario ASTURS PERÚ is a community-led and owned organization representing 14 Indigenous families and impacting 70 community members. The association provides homestay experiences on Lake Titicaca, Perú. The experience benefits community members through capacity building and training on community tourism, and offering an alternative source of livelihood. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, community tourism activities have been hit hard, many local families lost income from tourism which was their major economic activity. 

Today tourism is restarting slowly, but the homestays need improvements to guarantee health and safety for travellers. Previously, homestay hosts used only piped water both for their consumption and to prepare food for travellers, however, new domestic health and safety restrictions require filtered water for guests.  Planeterra is helping support a new piped water system that will allow for 12 Indigenous households to have access to cleaner and potable water. This implementation will not only guarantee a quality service for travellers but also improve the health of the local community. 

Learn more here.

Red de Turismo comunitario Jipijapa Wankavilka- RED TCJW- Ecuador

Red de Turismo comunitario Jipijapa Wankavilka is a community tourism network that is represented by 7 communities of the Manabí province, on the coast of Ecuador.  The organization works to empower their community through tourism, specifically women,  as well as to preserve local traditions, and protect their natural resources.

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in significant loss of income for the communities, despite having the infrastructure and tourist attractions in the area. Currently, the lack of internet access, digital tools, and traveller awareness has been a significant barrier to the community. Planeterra is providing a grant to support the development of a marketing plan, including funding new audiovisual and promotional material, website support,  and training for local leaders on marketing initiatives. We hope this grant allows them to connect with travellers once again to support these communities. 

Learn more here.

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Making tourism more accessible with the Planeterra’s Learning Hub

Written by Rhea Simms – Director of Global Programs

Learn why Planeterra has made all of the Planeterra Learning Hub free for all community tourism enterprises

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Planeterra made the decision to upload all our training materials and best practices online so they could be freely accessed by our (at the time) 85 community tourism enterprise partners. We did this so that our team could continue to mentor, support and provide training to the enterprises we work with, even if we could not physically be there. The impacts of the pandemic left our community partners in a transition phase of rebuilding their business models, developing new tours for the domestic market, and navigating online sales and experiences – some for the first time. Having access to our tools and training meant they could more easily set prices, create new experiences, and navigate the world of online marketing.

The compilation of our resources, which we call the Learning Hub, became the basis for the Global Community Tourism Network which was launched in April 2021. With this new program we expanded benefits beyond the online learning tool, to also creating spaces for peer to peer learning, and developing a network of engaged community tourism enterprises that we could support with market connections as tourism returns. We opened up the platform and the benefits not just to our original 85 community tourism partners, but to all community tourism enterprises who met our criteria and could stand to benefit from the program. And we decided to still keep all benefits free for communities. 

Why?
  1. Many communities lost their main source of income overnight – During a global pandemic our partners lost a large portion of their income overnight. Adding a cost to the platform would create a barrier that some could not overcome, meaning they would not be able to access the resources and community that could help them become more financially sustainable long term. We are committed to making the most impact which means making our resources as accessible as possible. Not to mention, many of our community partners lead and fund community development activities in their communities, and we want them to continue to use their resources in this way. 
  2. We want to change the status quo for community tourism tools and resourcesCommunity-based tourism materials have historically been developed with academics and consultants as a key stakeholder, not necessarily with and for the communities themselves. Planeterra does want to develop tourism experiences that we hope travellers will someday visit. We want to make sure our partners have the tools and network to reach the market to achieve their goals.
  3. There is a huge need for ongoing support and mentorship for community tourism enterprises– For years Planeterra has seen a huge gap in ongoing support and mentorship for community tourism enterprises. In order to compete with larger companies, community tourism enterprises often need ongoing support, mentorship and advocacy with large private sector partners. Ongoing mentorship has always been a key part of our model and success, and we continue to make it so with our growing network.
  4. Our model works, and we want to share it –  Planeterra has developed a proven model for community tourism enterprise development, and we want others to learn and join us in the mission to keep communities at the heart of tourism. The more our proven method for tourism development is adapted, the more we can see communities receiving more benefits from the tourism industry.

The Global Community Tourism Network exists today thanks to the generous donations of individual travellers. Our work continues to grow and be stewarded by our community enterprise partners, Strategic partners and Corporate partners that all believe that communities should be at the heart of tourism and its benefits. 

We are grateful to all who have joined us in this mission.

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Planeterra and Socialbnb Announce Partnership

“We’re excited to be expanding our work to include the accommodations on socialbnb’s platform,”

Planeterra is excited to announce that we have partnered with the social impact startup socialbnb to support community tourism enterprises around the world, while bringing meaningful accommodations to travellers wanting to give back on their next adventure abroad. 

Founded by Nils Lohmann and Alexander Haufschild in Cologne, Germany, socialbnb is an online platform that connects travellers with social and environmental projects or social businesses around the world for overnight accomodation. By choosing to stay at an accommodation on the socialbnb platform, travellers know that their travel dollars are having an impact locally. There are plenty of spaces to choose from, as the socialbnb platform currently hosts 190 projects in 45 countries. 

With socialbnb’s help, Planeterra plans to provide access to training and resources via the Global Community Tourism Network, to as many of the accommodations on the socialbnb platform as possible. 

“We’re excited to be expanding our work to include the accommodations on socialbnb’s platform,” says Planeterra’s Director of Global Programs, Rhea Simms. “We are also going to be working with the socialbnb team to introduce them to community tourism enterprises that we are already connected to – providing our community partners with access to more travellers in the future, while helping socialbnb expand their important platform.” 

By staying overnight at an accommodation booked on the Socialbnb platform, the projects receive a sustainable source of income apart from donations and can thus finance their valuable work. This supports projects in the field of environment and animal welfare, as well as education, equality, or health. Meanwhile, travelers can have an authentic and local travel experience, to immerse themselves in local life and to learn more about the respective project.

Planeterra and socialbnb are looking forward to a long partnership, helping to bring more community tourism enterprises to the market, and changing the face of the travel industry by providing travellers with access to meaningful experiences that give back and empower local people, while protecting the environment.

 

Learn more about socialbnb here. 

Mr. Thy in Pang Na - Kambodscha

About Planeterra

Planeterra is committed to turning travel into impact by helping local communities earn an income from tourism. It is a non-profit organization created in 2003 by G Adventures’ founder, Bruce Poon Tip and was started with the purpose of connecting underserved communities to opportunities in the travel industry. Planeterra helps local organizations and communities use tourism as a catalyst to improve people’s lives, protect their natural environments, and celebrate their culture. For more information please visit www.planeterra.org

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CFLI SOUTH AFRICA & GOOD WORK FOUNDATION

By Evie Ndhlovu, Program Manager Europe, Middle East, Africa

In late 2019, I set out on my very first research trip for a new Planeterra partner in Kruger National Park (KNP), South Africa. It had only taken a few months to narrow down leads, through phone calls and favours from old friends, but one name stood out, the Good Work Foundation (GWF), a campus where youth were receiving digital skills and more recently Tourism and Hospitality training. Once there, I got to experience first hand the drive, the organization, and the excitement that filled the Hazyview campus. The training that was offered was done so for free, to young people whose villages surrounded the famed Kruger National Park. In their villages, young people did not have many opportunities, and the easiest way to succeed to them was leaving the villages for the big cities, menial occupations in the richer surrounding neighbourhoods, or a life of crime.

The Good Work Foundation was working to change this, by offering 25 opportunities for training in tourism and hospitality every year. This meant that 25 young people would receive the knowledge needed for them to find occupations in the lodges located in KNP and also entry level positions in these lodges after they completed their training. Out of hundreds of applicants, only 25 could receive this life-changing education, and this was not enough. It was not until Mr T, a former student and now facilitator at GWF, offered me a cup of coffee, that a light bulb lit up in my head. Coffee! What if a cup of coffee could bring more opportunities to youth and women in the villages around the Kruger? Coffee was going to be the link that would bring together two organizations to use tourism to increase impact in the villages around the KNP. 

CREATING A TOURISM EXPERIENCE

The Good Work Foundation’s main campus is located in Hazyview, right on the road leading to the popular Phabeni and Paul Kruger entrance gates of KNP. It’s a location where hundreds of travellers pass by daily headed into the famous park to sightsee and game view. And through a partnership with Planeterra, an express breakfast service could be developed to offer travellers a hot, or cold beverage on their way into the park. The ripple effects of this express service would be endless. The income could be used to grow class sizes and include more local youth to receive the tourism and hospitality training. The breakfast service could generate income that could be used as stipends to the students who are often breadwinners in their homes. It could also be an opportunity for employment to the alumni of the academy who chose to stay. Moreover, this could be a practical training center for the students where they receive hands-on experience in the tourism industry. With all set in place, the pandemic came and without travel, the idea of the breakfast service was put on the back burner, until the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI) opportunity of 2021 came be.

The CFLI is a prestigious Canadian funding opportunity that sees many organizations yearly seeking to achieve key projects in their missions. When the call for South Africa proposals came in June of 2021, our first thought was our partners in Kruger. With a tough year behind us due to COVID-19, we asked GWF if this opportunity would be one to jointly pursue, and without hesitation, they got up and got to work on a proposal. 

In order to continue and expand their mission without large donor dependency, GWF was ready to pick up the conversation on the breakfast service. This service was to be managed and beneficial to their Tourism and Hospitality Academy, as it would provide hands on training and a stipend to the students, allow GWF to grow their class sizes without donor dependency and finally bring to the tourism industry of the Kruger, a fresh innovative service with purpose. And just like that, the proposal was deemed successful and we got right to work. 

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International non-profit Planeterra expands Board of Directors

“This expanded board of directors reflects an exciting new era, as well as Planeterra’s ambitious goals to see more travellers, travel companies, and destinations prioritising community tourism..."

Non-profit organisation Planeterra has appointed five women as members of its international board of directors.

They were chosen for their commitment to community tourism and experience in the fields of international development, conservation, and tourism.

Planterra said they also reflect the organisation’s commitment to “embracing and amplifying diverse voices, including those of women and indigenous people”.

The new board members are Gloria Fluxà Thienemann, vice-chair and chief sustainability officer of Iberostar Hotels & Resorts; Deirdre Shurland, a policy consultant with many years of experience with various United Nations bodies; Karen Ziffer, chief development officer at the non-profit RARE; Seleni Matus, executive director of the International Institute of Tourism Studies at George Washington University; and Meenu Vadera, founder of Azad Foundation, based in India, and representing Planeterra’s Women With Wheels partnership.

Jamie Sweeting, Planeterra president, said: “Planeterra’s work has grown exponentially over the last 20 months, to the point where we are working with a diverse portfolio of corporate partners and destinations, and have expanded our work to impact more than 800 community tourism enterprises through the Global Community Tourism Network.

“This expanded board of directors reflects an exciting new era, as well as Planeterra’s ambitious goals to see more travellers, travel companies, and destinations prioritising community tourism

“We consciously prioritised the appointment of female directors for this expanded board, for a number of reasons – not least of all because Planeterra aims to improve the lives of more than two million women by 2030, and we want our board of directors to understand and amplify our vision for women’s empowerment worldwide.”

The new appointments join current members: Zeina Gedeon, Jody Hamade, Jamie Sweeting, and Roula Poon Tip, plus board chair and Planeterra founder, Bruce Poon Tip, who is also the founder of G Adventures.

About Planeterra

Planeterra is committed to turning travel into impact by helping local communities earn an income from tourism. Planeterra is an independent, non-profit organization and registered U.S. charity using community tourism to tackle poverty. Planeterra helps local organizations and communities use tourism as a catalyst to improve people’s lives, protect their natural environments, and celebrate their culture. For more information please visit www.planeterra.org and follow on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. 

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The 2020 Impact Report is Here

THE YEAR TRAVEL WAS PAUSED

We are honoured to share Planeterra’s 2020 Impact Report. This report is filled with challenges, triumphs and stories of impact. Despite worldwide lockdowns, Planeterra, our supporters and communities were able to turn travel into impact from home.

Dear friends and supporters,

Planeterra started 2020 on a high, having set our sights on making a bigger impact with the successful launch of Project 100 and poised to be positively impacting at least 100 communities by year’s end. In January and February our team was travelling across the globe visiting community tourism enterprises in the USA, Egypt, South Africa, Argentina, Thailand, and Italy. However, other partners in places like Italy and China soon had to close their doors due to government-issued stay-at-home orders, with the spread of COVID-19 monopolizing news coverage worldwide.  

Then, the COVID-19 global pandemic was declared and within days, we were grounded in our homes under various degrees of lockdown, and our work to forge new partnerships ground to a halt. We immediately pivoted to supporting our 85 partners now facing an undetermined amount of time without an income. We deployed a needs assessment survey, and began fundraising to support emergency relief grants for the communities we work alongside. Our dedicated field team took calls with communities unsure what the pandemic meant, sent World Health Organization guidelines to keep people safe, and acted as a shoulder to lean on for countless individuals and their enterprises. Based in seven regions around the world, we became a dedicated network for sustained support and mentorship in the early days – but this would grow to mean so much more in the coming months.

We were overwhelmed by the immediate, sustained, and generous support for our Turn Travel Into Impact from Home campaign, which raised over $100,000 CAD between April and July. You helped us provide funds for medicine, food parcels, community gardens, greenhouses and other income-generating initiatives to 30 communities in 25 countries.  

The virtual support of our partners proved equally as important this year, as we channelled our efforts into publishing the Planeterra Learning Hub, an online site exclusively for our partners featuring over 50 training modules, worksheets and instructional videos in both Spanish and English. Our team planned training that partners had identified in our needs assessment survey including marketing, income diversification, and business planning. We began conducting monthly training sessions, fostering peer-to-peer learning amongst our partner communities and supporting them through strengthening their enterprises for a more sustainable future. Many focussed successfully on domestic markets, sold handmade face masks online, conducted virtual events, fundraised from their supporters, and returned to subsistence farming and other revenue sources while they awaited the return of travel. 

We watched the tourism industry struggle to survive for the majority of the year, from our community tourism partners to our travel industry allies. Many of our supporters, colleagues, and friends lost their jobs in these challenging times. Some days, the magnitude of the pandemic and the sadness we felt for individuals, their families, and communities was overwhelming. Our small team leant on each other – virtually – during these times, increasing our number of team gatherings and check-ins, reaching inward to one another for support, while relentlessly and passionately campaigning for Planeterra’s vision of a world where community tourism is put at the centre of travel’s recovery. 

The Planeterra community continued to show their support and rallied together in September, when we launched our first Planeterra Trek Challenge. Together, more than 550 participants set off to symbolically trek to Everest Base Camp, walking the 85,000 steps around their neighbourhoods in more than 30 countries while fundraising over CA$100,000 for Planeterra’s work. 

As we look back on 2020, we feel immense gratitude to all those we worked alongside, the volunteers who lent a hand, our monthly donors who gave us confidence in our work, and to all those who supported us both big and small.

We wish you all the best in 2021, and are hopeful for the return of travel. But we do not wish for a return to the status quo. We will be working tirelessly to ensure communities are put at the centre of travel’s reemergence, that travel companies, governments, and travellers all recognize the importance of community tourism as a means to empower communities, and most importantly, that communities receive the training and support they need to thrive. 

From all of us, 

Jamie, Rhea, Alanna, Crystal, Carlota, Rosselin, Joel, Laura, Evie, Tung and Priyanka 

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CFLI Project in Sri Lanka comes to a successful close

Planeterra & Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives

In June of 2020, Planeterra was awarded a grant from the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI), for a project focussed on increasing domestic demand for Sthree’s handicraft and cafe has come to a close! The CFLI is a program designed to support small-scale, high-impact projects in developing countries, which align with Global Affairs Canada’s thematic priority areas for engagement.

This month marks the end of Planeterra’s project with the Candian Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI). We began working with CFLI in June with our partners at the Women’s Development Centre (WDC) in Sri Lanka. The goal of this project was to empower women entrepreneurs dependent on international tourism for their income, to better access the domestic markets in order to reduce the volatility of their household income to changes in the tourism market.

We are excited to share that this project has equipped 110 women entrepreneurs and 23 employees from the WDC in Sri Lanka with increased knowledge of business management, improved handicraft skills, and a better understanding of domestic market channels and trends. 

These trainings have renewed a sense of confidence within the entrepreneurs to capture new markets with the right products, and a new confidence in the WDC team to lead the entrepreneurs to success and better tap into online markets to support the sale of their products,” says Rhea Simms, Senior Programs Manager of Planeterra.

Handicraft quality training was conducted on shoe making, batik dying, candle making, crocheting, soft toy making, saree blouse making, artisanal soap making, packaging and food dehydration. All skills training activities were identified through market assessments conducted to better understand local purchasing trends. Some entrepreneurs went on to receive mentorship which allowed them to put their new skills into action and develop their very first business plans. Marketing and social media training played a large role as well, as the world becomes increasingly online. 

While COVID-19 impacted some of the sessions, the local trainers and entrepreneurs were quick to improvise using Whatsapp to communicate and participate in lessons remotely. Recordings of training sessions were completed to keep the program moving along effectively and ensure that the learnings could continue beyond the project period.

Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, the project was a success with over 160 people benefiting from the project, 149 of those being women. While it is still early to know the full impact of this project, six women entrepreneurs have developed brand new products for the domestic market – two of them related to food dehydration. Four partnerships were developed to increase sales and skills for women entrepreneurs. Lastly, three entrepreneurs were able to secure large orders through effective marketing both direct and through social media, with differentiated products based on project learnings. 

 

We are proud to have been a part of such an impactful initiative and we know that it will continue to make a difference for women entrepreneurs across Sri Lanka. 

About Planeterra

Planeterra is committed to turning travel into impact by helping local communities earn an income from tourism. It is a non-profit organization created in 2003 by G Adventures’ founder, Bruce Poon Tip and was started with the purpose of connecting underserved communities to opportunities in the travel industry. Planeterra helps local organizations and communities use tourism as a catalyst to improve people’s lives, protect their natural environments, and celebrate their culture. For more information please visit www.planeterra.org

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An Interview with Amoun, Founder of Domari Society

An Interview with Domari Society Founder, Amoun

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL- Community centre in Jerusalem supporting marginalized Domari women and children, earning income through a meal and handicraft experience for travellers.

While women represent the majority of workers, they are often in lower-level positions and are earning 14.7% less than their male counterparts. A lack of education or formal training jeopardizes women’s active participation in tourism. At Planeterra we are working to close this gap.

Meet Amoun Sleem, she founded Domari Society at the age of 16 and since then has committed her life to serve her community. For International Women’s Day we at Planeterra wanted to highlight the amazing women we work with all around the world who are continually making an impact.

We had the opportunity to interview Amoun that you can read below.  

Why did you start your organization?

The Domari Society of Gypsies in Jerusalem was established in 1999, I opened the doors of my house as a shelter and a center for my community. I wanted the Dom community, especially women and children to find a space of tolerance, acceptance, and most importantly a place where they can develop new skills, get support in continuing their education, and gain empowerment tools for a better life. 

The society was a response to the loss of cultural pride, lack of education, unemployment and poverty within the community. Our Dom history begins with us migrating from India to the Middle East. We adopted the local language (Arabic) and religion (Islam) but kept our traditions. The Dom community are seen as “different” by their Arab neighbours, but as Palestinians, they face the same unequal treatment from the Israeli state. Our mission is to improve the circumstances of the Dom community. We focus on educational development, economic empowerment, and cultural preservation.  

What impacts have you seen in your community?

Our work is focused on educational development, economic empowerment, and cultural preservation. To meet these goals, we create programs especially for women and children. Firstly, we have an after-school tutoring program for Dom children. Our goal is to raise Dom children’s educational level,  to encourage parents and children to continue with education, and give Dom children better opportunities and choices of future work. 

Before COVID-19 the center had become an integral part of their everyday life. They felt safe and motivated to go to school every day, and their grades were getting better and their involvement with school activities increased. We believe that our tutoring support is helping children to stop dropping-out of school, as they get more confident with their abilities and aspirations for the future. We are happy to say that we have students who are entering high-school now. However, it has been a challenge to keep such progress with continuous lock-downs and limitations. We are focusing on helping Dom students at home to take part in the shift to online-learning; we are contacting donors and applying for grants to acquire tablets or laptops for Dom children. a few of the Dom children are using their parents’ smartphones to access their classes and the remaining have no alternatives for the physical school classrooms. 

Secondly, we are dedicated to providing Humanitarian Aid, especially during COVID-19. A lot of Dom parents have lost their jobs and their only source of income. We are focusing on maintaining our community’s will-power and continue to give the children assurance and hope during the pandemic. The Domari Society supports the Dom family with vital and necessary supplies; food packages, blankets, school supplies, and children gifts to uplift their spirits. 

Thirdly, we have a tourism program with Planeterra. Our goal is to inform people around the world about Domari history and culture, create work opportunities for Domari women and increase their independence, and receive income outside of grants. The project before COVID-19 was a great opportunity for our community, as they were able to use their skills and communicate with different people from different cultures. We believe that our mission is giving a voice to our community.

Fourthly, we offer a space for the community to meet, exchange and live out their traditions. This is essential for preserving the Domari culture, which is at risk of marginalization. One of our projects is the Domari Language Preservation. We invite elderly members of the community and record Domari language. It provides an opportunity for the children to forge a connection with their cultural, linguistic heritage in hopes that it will not disappear. Before the pandemic, the community center held a variety of activities to keep the Dom traditions alive; traditional Gypsy food dinners, live music and dance. Additionally, the Domari Society has compiled a cookbook of Gypsy recipes and a book about Domari history entitled The Dom of Jerusalem.

What impacts has your organization had on women in your community, and why is that so important?

Dom women are the pillars of our community, they are the pillars of change and achieving economic empowerment. I believe in order to build a strong independent society that has a clear future, I must provide the Dom women with the tools and skills to function independently in their communities and later transfer these mindsets and work ethics to their children, who are the future.

 One of the courses we provide is a small Business Course, in which women can learn skills necessary for starting and running an independent business. The course was geared towards individuals already working in the service industry and includes accounting, operations management, marketing, and technical expertise. We also provide catering and hairdressing courses with practical and theoretical sessions, which include psycho-social workshops, business follow-ups, income statements, and marketing sessions. We aim to increase the possibilities of Dom women finding employment or opening their own businesses, and as a result, improve the status of Dom women within their families and societies.

Dom women are always eager to participate in new learning opportunities that we provide, as they receive official certificates and real skills. Consequently, we recognized that Dom women became more confident, and the Dom community especially men are becoming more open-minded to the women’s various roles and abilities in the society. When our women find employment through the skills developed in courses, both the economy of the community and families as a whole experience positive effects. 

We also offer the center as space for Domari women to showcase their handicraft work, which is their only source of income, our goal as well is to celebrate the Dom people culture and cultivate cultural pride and self-confidence.

What actions do you take to ensure women in your workplace have equal opportunities?

At the Domari center, I make sure to give every Dom woman the chance and opportunities to develop new skills, gain experience, and find her path in life. I believe that it’s important to hear every woman’s struggle and find a program that suits her best. I always strive to be a mentor and provide guidance whether for work or for personal matters. Of course, the work environment revolves around building confidence between employees and volunteers, and where trust and cooperation are essential for progression. Therefore, we address our employees’ personal life pressures and duties, especially because I work with women. Most Dom women feel that they can’t reach their goals and mainly in their careers, because they lack childcare support, but at my center children are welcomed and we provide games and a space for them.

What are your dreams for your organization?

I have many dreams for my organization, one is to make the Domari Society Center a model for all gypsies around the world; to become an international focal point for connecting all gypsies together, and I aspire to make it a model for all gypsies -especially in the Middle-East-  where from it they can derive pride in our culture and ethnic roots. Such a dream is a journey where we have many bus-stops; end discrimination, and obtain economic, legal, and social equality. I strive to reach leaders who will advocate for our rights, promote justice, and give voice to the voiceless.

You can learn more about our work the Domari Society here. 

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Panama commits to bringing travel back better with launch of PACT – Panama Alliance for Community Tourism

New initiative designed to improve well-being of residents, visitors and the environment

This week the Panama Government, in partnership with the Panamanian Foundation for Sustainable Tourism (APTSO), Fundación Natura, and non-profit Planeterra, the global leader in community tourism enterprise development, announced a joint venture to work with communities across Panama to build community tourism experiences that improve the well-being of residents, visitors, and the environment, celebrating the natural beauty and must-have cultural experiences the country offers. 

The new partnership aims to reposition Panama as a destination focused on incredible cultural immersion experiences for travellers that leave a positive footprint on the country in terms of supporting local people and businesses, and ensures traveller dollars stay in-destination. 

“The launch of the Panama Alliance for Community Tourism (PACT) is a major break-through in the implementation of Panama’s Sustainable Tourism Master Plan”, explained Ivan Eskildsen, the Panamanian Minister of Tourism. 

“In our Master Plan, we have prioritized the development of tourism experiences focused on the ‘discerning traveler’, a global trend that is demanding more and more authentic experiences that benefit local communities, and their surrounding environment. We are excited that PACT will accelerate the implementation of this strategy, with local and global partners that will help Panama consolidate world-class community tourism experiences, that showcase the extraordinary wealth of our natural and cultural heritage.”

The partners involved in the PACT initiative plan to work closely with at least 10 communities and their tourism enterprises in order to assist them with income diversification, product development, and customer service. Long-term sustainability will be a focus for the initiative’s pilot projects, which will include training local counterparts in Planeterra’s highly successful community-led tourism development methodology and local communities in all aspects of the tourism value chain, including business planning, regenerative agriculture and resiliency building in order to ensure each community is set up for success.  

“Planeterra is excited to work with APTSO, Fundación Natura and the Ministry of Tourism to launch this groundbreaking community tourism initiative,” says Jamie Sweeting, president of Planeterra. 

“We look forward to bringing Planeterra’s proven approach to empowering community-led tourism to Panama and, in the process, strengthening local partners to lead this initiative forward.”

“The PACT partners share a vision for using proven solutions to put host communities at the heart of tourism in Panama,” explained Annie Young, president of the Panamanian Foundation for Sustainable Tourism (APTSO). “Through close collaboration, we can achieve the goals of  the Tourism Vision 2025 of the Panama  Sustainable Tourism Master Plan and become globally recognized as a world-class sustainable tourism destination while supporting the wellbeing of our communities.”

For more information, please visit www.planeterra.org  and www.aptso.org.

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About Planeterra

Planeterra is committed to turning travel into impact by helping local communities earn an income from tourism. It is a non-profit organization created in 2003 by G Adventures’ founder, Bruce Poon Tip and was started with the purpose of connecting underserved communities to opportunities in the travel industry. Planeterra helps local organizations and communities use tourism as a catalyst to improve people’s lives, protect their natural environments, and celebrate their culture. For more information please visit www.planeterra.org

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Deepening impact alongside Canada’s Fund for Local Initiatives in Sri Lanka

Planeterra & Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives

In June of 2020, Planeterra was awarded a grant from the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI), for a project focussed on increasing domestic demand for Sthree’s handicraft and cafe. The CFLI is a program designed to support small-scale, high-impact projects in developing countries, which align with Global Affairs Canada’s thematic priority areas for engagement. The program is directed at projects conceived and designed predominantly by local partners.

At Planeterra, we imagine a world where funds from the travel industry flow freely to individuals and their families, changing lives and entire communities in the process. As the global travel industry stood still for much of 2020, we pivoted to ensure we made an even deeper impact with our partners at the Women’s Development Centre (WDC) in Kandy, Sri Lanka through accessing Canadian government funding that has helped their artisan community diversify income sources and cater to a local market.

Planeterra first forged a partnership with the WDC in 2017, when we provided them with funding to renovate the Sthree Craft Shop & Cafe. We also connected them to travel industry partners, who started bringing tour groups for a meal at the cafe in 2018. Within the first two years of the cafe’s reopening, Sthree’s sales had increased 400%, and they were able to begin investing more funds into their network of over 170 entrepreneurs, 9 cafe workers, 5 differently-abled server trainees, and support the running cost of WDC’s shelter for abused women. 

In June of 2020, Planeterra was awarded a grant from the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI), for a project focussed on increasing domestic demand for Sthree’s handicraft and cafe. Goals for the project included increasing domestic demand for artisan handicrafts by 50%, training 25 female entrepreneurs in quality control, and creating e-learning resources for product development. With the main activities of the project now complete, Sthree Project Manager, Ramona Stephen is looking back and examining the success of the endeavour. 

“Entrepreneurs who previously focused on catering to tourists, now have adjusted their products as well as their prices to match local customers through various market research and surveys carried out,” explained Ramona. “Entrepreneurs have also had the opportunity to polish their skills and acquire new skills in order to cater to this customer segment.”

Tea tasting class for local entrepreneurs.

A key component of the project was the multiple training sessions, both socially-distanced and in-person when safe, and online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Ramona, these training sessions helped “boost entrepreneur confidence” and put a focus on “marketing, pitching, costing, networking and packaging.” Perhaps one of the greatest long-term impacts of the project will be the sustainability of online training, which shall assist entrepreneurs in months and years to come, as well as the business plans developed by entrepreneurs – something they previously did not possess.

“The project has overall upskilled entrepreneurs and provided Sthree with tools to strengthen entrepreneur capacities while creating a sustainable structure to provide entrepreneurs with necessary services to economically empower women,” said Ramona. 

Planeterra’s Regional Representative based in India, Priyanka Singh, oversaw the management of this particular project, and has been overwhelmed by the positive impacts of the activities undertaken, particularly considering the timing of the program. 

“This project is special as it shows how Planeterra and its partners are adapting to the changing times,” said Priyanka. “It showed the spirit of perseverance even in times of adversity and was inspiring to see how they innovated and ensured that maximum entrepreneurs could benefit from such a program.”

Local entrepreneurs at a packaging workshop.

About Planeterra

Planeterra is committed to turning travel into impact by helping local communities earn an income from tourism. It is a non-profit organization created in 2003 by G Adventures’ founder, Bruce Poon Tip and was started with the purpose of connecting underserved communities to opportunities in the travel industry. Planeterra helps local organizations and communities use tourism as a catalyst to improve people’s lives, protect their natural environments, and celebrate their culture. For more information please visit www.planeterra.org

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