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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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Planeterra Raises $100,000 in Emergency Funds for Community Tourism Relief

Non-profit raised $100,000 to support community tourism businesses affected by COVID-19 shutdowns

Earlier this week, Canadian non-profit Planeterra Foundation successfully closed their Turn Travel Into Impact from Home emergency fundraising campaign after successfully hitting their fundraising target of $100,000. The campaign was aimed at encouraging travellers who have found themselves at home due to the spread of COVID-19 to continue to make an impact on small community businesses in the tourism industry.

Planeterra Foundation has disbursed 19 emergency relief grants during this time, and will continue to evaluate and support project partners until travel resumes.

“Just because this particular fundraising campaign has closed, does not mean we are done sending grants to our partners,” says Planeterra President Jamie Sweeting. “Our team continues to support our 85 community partners worldwide, and we are reviewing grant appeals on a regular basis, with more to disburse in the coming weeks.”

Planeterra’s Turn Travel Into Impact from Home campaign was launched at the end of March, when it became clear our community partners globally were going to need support to meet their basic needs during the pandemic, and ensure their recovery when travel reemerges post-COVID. After reaching their $50,000 goal in June, Planeterra Founder and Chairman of the Board Bruce Poon Tip graciously offered to match donations for the remainder of the campaign, which helped the non-profit reach their second goal of $100,000.

“We want to thank our global community of donors for their overwhelming support when our partners needed it most, but our work is far from over,” continued Sweeting. “The Planeterra team continues to help our partners that are dealing with the various stages of the pandemic. We hope our growing community will join us as tourism and Planeterra reemerge stronger and more resilient than ever.”

– ends –

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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For media enquiries, please reach out to:

Alanna Wallace
Program & Communications Manager

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Celebrating Women’s Day in Zimbabwe

When Zimbabwe experienced the world’s worst case of inflation in 2008, many of the country’s inhabitants struggled to meet the basic needs of their families. However, there is a growing movement to form cooperatives to create thriving businesses. Despite a traditional gender disparity, many Zimbabwean women are forming cooperative groups to provide services like tailoring, catering, and animal husbandry. These groups are taking matters into their own hands – creating income for their families and communities while empowering other women to build and launch their own businesses.

One such cooperative is the Lusumpuko Project (Lusumpuko means “progress” in Tonga), which was formed by 20 women from the Chinotimba township on the outskirts of Victoria Falls who found themselves without the means to support their families.

“If everyone had something to do or had an income at the end of the day, then people would be able to take their children to school, they’d be able to get healthcare, they would be able to get shelter over their heads,” explains Merlyn Mpofu, the Secretary of the group.

Taking a turn most cooperatives do not, Lusumpuko decided to partner with Planeterra, in order to harness the tourism industry and launch a catering business for visiting foreigners.

Planeterra has been working with this group since July 2017, with the help of Evie Ndhlovu, who has been assisting the ladies on behalf of Planeterra with training in hospitality, marketing, and more. Lusumpuko is one of 13 Planeterra partners who directly benefit women’s empowerment, and the newest project to launch in 2018. The Lusumpuko Project, originally a chicken-rearing endeavour, has expanded to a catering business – with G Adventures travellers to Victoria Falls as their main customer base and Planeterra providing a kick-starter grant to get their business off the ground.

“If tourism grows, the opportunity of employment will grow, too,” noticed Linda Makarutse, the President of Lusumpuko. “The problem now is some of our age group and youth, they are not educated enough to get a job in the tourism industry. There is a need for hospitality training classes, and opportunities for women and youth here in Victoria Falls.”

Despite the gap in ability for many in Victoria Falls to benefit from the tourism industry, both Merlyn and Linda, along with the rest of the Lusumpuko members, believe they can have a hand in helping the next generation.

“We’re feeling very positive for the future,” says Merlyn. “Also, looking forward to, as we grow, maybe also changing the community, teaching others, helping others invest in their own thing and maybe our Lusumpuko company also having a sister company.” To this, Linda nodded her approval: “It’s our dream to help more women in our community,” she concluded.

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Celebrating International Day of Cooperatives

It is International Day of Cooperatives today, and we have taken the opportunity to highlight just some of the ways we work with co-ops around the world – from Tanzania to Costa Rica! Take a look at five of our partnerships around the world:

San Antonio Pottery Co-op

San Ignacio, Belize

The San Antonio Women’s Group of nine Mayan women in Cayo, Belize, established a pottery cooperative as a means to earn an income, learn new and interesting skills, and share their traditional knowledge not only with visitors, but with the younger generation. Each woman working at the co-op cares for an average of 5-10 children. Planeterra was able to raise funds to support the co-op, allowing them to build an indoor workshop space to host more visitors and start a training program for unemployed youth.

Ccaccaccollo Women’s Weaving Co-op

Sacred Valley, Peru

A small group of women from the village of Ccaccaccollo, Peru, partnered with Planeterra in 2005 in an attempt to investigate how they could benefit from tourism in the Sacred Valley. Starting with three women, Planeterra developed a cooperative and funded training programs to help bring back traditional weaving practices that had been lost over previous generations.

The women who have been with the project since its inception report that all of their children are now studying at university. Not only that, but these women of the co-op have been able to contribute greatly to their families’ income, and their children are the first generation to be completely literate.

çöp(m)adam

Ayvalik, Turkey

çöp(m)adam offers regular work to around 40 women in Ayvalik, with all members working in a healthy environment and being paid a fair wage. With guaranteed regular employment, members of this social enterprise are able to make significant contributions when it comes to providing sustainability for their families and communities. Planeterra worked with çöp(m)adam to connect them to the tourism market, helping to expand the co-op’s customer base and benefit more women in Turkey.

Moshi Mamas

Moshi, Tanzania

Planeterra works with a free, adult business school called “Give a Heart to Africa” in Moshi, Tanzania, which provides a year-long curriculum in Business Management, Accounting, and English to local women. From this school has emerged a cooperative businesses within the tourism industry, including a handicraft maker’s studio as well as a shop and spa, all supported by Planeterra. In total, 30 women annually access the cooperative and school, benefitting greatly from the programs and business opportunity.

Mi Cafecito

Sarapiqui, Costa Rica

In 2011, the main coffee cooperative in Sarapiqui, Costa Rica established the Mi Cafecito Coffee Tour to try to find ways for their member coffee producers to earn additional income, particularly after a devastating earthquake two years earlier had wiped out the local economy and coffee prices had fallen. While it was a good idea in theory, they did not receive enough visitors to sustain the business, and were at the point of shutting down when Planeterra began working with them to develop a sustainable enterprise.

Coopesarapiquí brings together more than 240 small farmers that produce fair trade coffee from the four regions in the area. In addition to the coffee tour they farm fish for fresh lunches for their visitors. With training and the reliable customer base, the cooperative was able to triple revenues in the first year of reopening.

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Tyson Travel visits the Clean Cookstoves Project

During his 14-day Tanzanian trip with G Adventures, Australian travel blogger Tyson Mayr visited the Maasai Clean Cookstoves Project in Monduli. This project partnered with Planeterra in 2014, and together we’ve seen more than 250 stoves installed across various Maasai communities. The project has trained more than 75 women to create stoves that reduce harmful air pollution in rural homes, and recently expanded to include the installation of solar panels.

Hear from Tyson himself about his experience 

“I was very lucky to have spent time with a Maasai Tribe earlier this year as I learnt about The Cookstove Project that Planeterra Foundation supports. Travelling the world has opened my eyes to a lot of different things, especially around the way we all live our lives. But the one common trait I always seem to find, is a simple smile spreads quicker amongst people, then any hate ever will!”

Watch Tyson’s video below

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Bolivia Community Project Leaders Visit Cusco, Perú

In April 2017 five community members from Jukil Community Lodge in Bolivia travelled to Cusco, Perú as part of a week-long internship program supported by Planeterra. The trip’s purpose was to contribute to the strengthening of their knowledge about social enterprise management in the tourism industry, to exchange good practices between the communities, and also to provide the necessary tools to improve their tourism program. This experience allowed unique indigenous groups from different countries to interact and learn more about one another’s culture. With many of the community tourism leaders in Bolivia never travelling before, it was an experience of a lifetime to see a new culture from a traveller’s perspective.

The intern group included one community leader, the lodge manager, two women, and a youth leader. Before travelling, the interns took part in workshops to imagine the communities that they would visit, as well as how they envisioned their own own community enterprise growing in the coming years.

The interns lived as travellers for two days to understand how tourists feel in other countries and to experience the local services. Another day was spent learning about community tourism operations, and one day spent having meetings with other community leaders to better understand how they are managing their tourism business through training modules provided by the Planeterra field team. The interns also visited the G Adventures local office in Cusco – giving them a better overview of the logistics that go behind an effective tourism program.

It was an amazing trip because some community members had never travelled before, and they were feeling nervous, shy, and excited to see and talk with their peers for first time. After the internship experience, they were able to communicate their experiences to the rest of their community: Interns presented what they learned with the help of facilitators showing photographs and videos to convey what they learned.

They worked all together on a plan to improve their community business; including a list of possible actions and needs for the community. These plans are being used to create a robust improvement plan to better the services provided at Jukil Community Lodge in the future.

The internship program provided community leaders with a space for sharing experiences and lessons learned for their community enterprises, and to reflect on challenges and opportunities. It also provided an opportunity to analyze and understand tourism dynamics and the potential impact on the social, cultural, economic and environmental dimension of community life.

As manager for the region, Joel Callanaupa stated that “Seeing their smiles and excited conversations with other communities Planeterra works with, as well as the interaction between distinct indigenous communities, was incredibly meaningful, and unforgettable.”



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