Guest Post

Traveling off the beaten path with Sharing Seeds in Sarangkot Pandeli

Written by Eliane – Student Researcher from Sharing Seeds
Traveling sustainably and responsibly has been trending within the past few years. An awareness regarding cultural loss and increasing levels of pollution due to mainstream tourism has been raised and tour operators as well as travelers are longing for a change. But how can one travel sustainably?

One option to do so can be found in Sarangkot Pandeli the beautiful village near the tourism capital of Nepal, Pokhara City which is a gateway to the world-famous Annapurna conservation region.  

Sarangkot, a small village close to Pokhara, Nepal, is known for its beautiful sunsets and the view over Pokhara and Phewa Lake. However, if you look beyond the well-known sights and mainstream tourist spots, you can learn much more about the community, culture and the production of local products. 

Explore Evenmore Tour and Travels, in partnership with not-for-profit Sharing Seeds, aims to promote sustainable tourism in this area by focusing on guiding visitors off the mainstream routes and towards the local communities.

Knowing what is best for the community, Aabiskar Thapa, Founder and Managing Director of  Sharing Seeds, and his team run three projects that concentrate on the production of local products, like coffee and honey and work to help women gain independence in their communities. 

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More information on some of Sharing Seeds’ Projects:

Organic Arabica Coffee Farming Project: 

  • Goal: Sustainable, local production of coffee; creating job opportunities 
  • How: Providing training and support to local farmers in coffee production 
  • Progress: 600 coffee tree plantations have already been planted in cooperation with 95 farmers

 

Recyclable Handicraft Project: 

  • Goal To empower local women to achieve financial independence
  • How: Providing basic sewing training for women
  • Progress: 40 women have already been trained through the program 

 

Organic Bee Farming Project:

  • Goal: Sustainable honey production 
  • How: Explain the importance of the role of bees to farmers   
  • Progress: 70 bee hives have been installed in cooperation with 5 bee farmers

In collaboration, Explore Evenmore Tour and Travels and Sharing Seeds developed a tour that combines hiking with learning to create added value for the visitors as well as the community in Sarangkot. The popular tour Secrets of Sarangkot: Arabica Coffee experience and local life guides the visitors along the beautiful Phewa Lakeshore, through the community jungle and stops at every project.

While visiting the projects the visitors get in-depth insights into the local life and working processes of local products while enjoying the beautiful landscape all along Pokhara. Through observation and conversations with locals, the visitors are immersed in the Nepalese culture and understand the impact that local organizations have on these communities. Furthermore, there is added value for the community through the exchange of knowledge with the tourists which helps to contribute to sustainable development in Nepal.

To sum up, Explore Evenmore Tour and Travels, in collaboration with Sharing Seeds,  offers a unique experience to visitors while raising awareness about the local culture, food and products and the importance of maintaining them. 

There is also added value for the community through the exchange of knowledge with the tourists which helps contribute to sustainable development in Nepal.

Sharing Seeds - Bee station

About Sharing Seeds:

Sharing Seeds is a not-for-profit social enterprise whose mission is to empower local farmers by providing knowledge and resources to cultivate organic Arabica coffee and practice organic beekeeping.

Visit https://sharingseed.org/ to learn more about their inspiring work.

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Sustainable Travel Close to Home

Written by Ainsley Lawrence
Sustainability is more than just a hot topic of conversation these days. According to a recent Nielsen study, 78% of U.S. consumers say a sustainable lifestyle is important to them. Reducing waste, using less energy, and recycling are all important. They are also easy habits that people can incorporate into their everyday lives.

Unfortunately, travel and sustainability don’t often go hand-in-hand. We tend to think of things like carbon emissions from cars and planes, the waste produced by traveling, and the people involved that are creating even more pollution simply by having to go to work each day. 

But sustainable travel is possible, especially when you choose to stay close to home. Whether you have a travel bug or you want to take a family vacation while doing something good for the planet, you can use a few effective sustainable techniques to keep things “green” while you hit the road. 

Let’s take a look at a few of those tips and tricks, so you can enjoy your next trip in this post-pandemic society. 

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Cutting Down on Emissions

While traveling via car already creates fewer emissions than traveling by plane, there are still things you can do to cut down on your carbon use while you hit the road. 

First, before you leave on your trip, make sure your vehicle is in top shape. Things like maintaining proper tire pressure, making sure the engine is tuned up, and fixing any other mechanical issues in your vehicle will help to ensure it produces as little pollution as possible. 

While you’re driving, you can also reduce pollution and travel more sustainably by: 

  • Minimizing travel items;
  • Developing a strategy so you can drive the most efficient route;
  • Carpooling;
  • Towing a trailer instead of overloading your car.

Drive slower and smarter while you’re on the road. If you’re not in a hurry, don’t keep your foot glued to the gas pedal. Frequent acceleration not only burns more fuel, but it creates more emissions. Instead, go at a leisurely pace. You’ll get more out of your gas tank and release less pollution into the air. 

You can also choose to live more sustainably on the road. Try to avoid using plastic products. Eat locally. Don’t leave any pollution behind if you stay overnight somewhere, and limit your water usage. These small actions can add up quickly, especially if you travel a lot, and they can really help to give back to the environment.

Getting Back to Nature

Traveling by car to tourist areas and famous sites can be fun, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t enjoy those special attractions with your family or friends. But, one of the best options for sustainable travel, especially close to home, is to get back to nature and go camping. 

Spending time in nature is also a great way to gain a greater appreciation for the outdoor world, and it can also do wonders for your mental health. In fact, doctors are writing prescriptions for nature, as outside time has been demonstrated to lower stress while increasing physical activity. 

No matter where you live, there’s likely a national park or campsite nearby. You won’t have to travel far to get there, and you can enjoy a more sustainable time away from home than you would if you went to a typical tourist trap. Plus, getting back to nature allows you to immerse yourself in local culture. Even if you only travel a few hours away from home, you’ll be able to experience new and exciting scenery, people, and ways of life. 

If you haven’t traveled much since the COVID-19 pandemic, spending time away from typical tourist sites can help you ease back into it. Camping can provide a lot of solitude and relaxation, and help you to appreciate the freedom you have to travel across the country while preserving its natural beauty. 

If you want to be an eco-friendly camper, buying organic food, ditching plastic water bottles, bringing reusable dishes, and only camping in designated areas can help. It’s a great way to feel more at home with nature, and a wonderful opportunity to teach your family about the importance of conservation and sustainability. While camping isn’t for everyone, it’s something you should try at least once! You might be surprised by how much you enjoy it, and how easy it is to give back to nature when you’re surrounded by its splendor. 

Offsetting at Home

Finally, when you’re not on vacation or taking a road trip, make sure you’re living sustainably at home. Many companies – including airlines – use a practice called offsetting. It’s a way to do something good for the planet to counteract some of the harmful or negative effects of traveling. 

For example, Delta Airlines has been investing in carbon offsets since 2012 and has a goal of carbon neutrality, so you can feel good about flying without harming the planet in the process. 

At home, you can carbon offset by donating to environmental protection organizations or sustainability groups. You can promote awareness of climate change and excess waste. Most importantly, you can implement daily habits that help to promote sustainability within your household, including: 

  • Using less water;
  • Installing energy-efficient appliances;
  • Recycling;
  • Composting;
  • Switching to LED lighting.

 

Traveling close to home is a great way to scratch that itch to go somewhere new without doing harm to the environment. Keep these sustainable practices in mind for your next road trip, and you’ll be able to make the most out of the time away from home. 

About the author:

Ainsley Lawrence is a freelance writer that lives in the Northwest region of the United States. She has a particular interest in covering topics related to travel, sustainability, tech, and accessibility. When not writing, her free time is spent reading and researching to learn more about her cultural and environmental surroundings.

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From Tradition to Tech: Women Driving Change in Community Tourism

Written by Zoë Woods
Women are using technology to connect, communicate, and proudly embrace their diverse cultural heritage.

In today’s digital age, Internet platforms offer a vibrant space for women to share their inspiring narratives with the world and display their traditional arts and crafts.

In community tourism, technology acts as a catalyst for women’s empowerment, opening doors to economic and social success. Women are harnessing the power of technology to bridge divides, encourage inclusion, and honour their cultural heritage through the harmonious integration of tradition and innovation.

Asociación de Mujeres Artesanas Zoológico Mágico San Martin de Tilcajete, Oaxaca, Mexico
Keeping Cultural Heritage Safe

Digital platforms have opened up new avenues for communities to showcase their rich cultural tapestry. From websites and social media to virtual reality experiences, these platforms attract tourists in search of authentic encounters. Women play a pivotal role in curating these digital offerings, serving as the custodians of cultural heritage and ensuring that their traditions are appropriately portrayed and preserved.

In addition, women are creating spaces that foster intercultural dialogue. Through online forums, storytelling platforms, and video conferencing, women from diverse cultures come together to interact, exchange ideas, and collaborate on community tourism initiatives. These virtual connections not only facilitate cross-cultural bonds but also promote mutual understanding and appreciation of different cultures.

Developing Women's Digital Literacy

Women who possess digital literacy skills are better equipped to navigate the modern landscape and drive meaningful change. Recognizing the importance of empowering women in rural areas and assisting them in utilizing technology for their economic and social growth, several organizations and projects have emerged to provide training and resources. provide training and resources. Through digital literacy programs, women gain essential skills such as internet marketing, e-commerce, and social media management, allowing them to showcase their community tourism projects to a wider audience.

Aside from teaching technical skills, these programs often equip women with the tools they need to excel in leadership, entrepreneurship, and financial management. Women take on leadership roles in their communities, taking charge of tourism initiatives, planning events, and encouraging community cooperation.

Technology, a Bridge to Economic Opportunities

Technology acts as a bridge, opening up new revenue streams and connecting women engaged in community tourism to a broader market. With the rise of internet platforms such as marketplaces and booking sites, women now have the ability to market and sell their local tourism services to customers worldwide. By cutting out intermediaries, this direct link enables women to maximize their earnings, contribute to their communities, and improve their quality of life

Moreover, women are using technology to diversify their sources of income. Through online marketplaces, they can showcase and promote genuine handicrafts, locally sourced products, and unique experiences. By doing so, they not only preserve traditional crafts but also generate income and establish sustainable livelihoods for themselves and fellow community members. Technology enables women to reach customers beyond their local markets and transform their community tourism enterprises into thriving ventures.

Overcoming Obstacles

Despite the tremendous benefits provided by technology, women working in community tourism still face various challenges. Limited access, inadequate infrastructure, and cultural constraints can hinder women who aspire to embrace technology. Recognizing these obstacles, several programs and organizations are diligently working to bridge the digital divide. They provide women with the necessary infrastructure, support systems, and training to thrive in the digital era.

Furthermore, cultural norms and gender stereotypes may restrict women’s participation in leadership positions and decision-making processes within community tourism. Technology-based solutions alone won’t solve these problems; societal and cultural changes are also imperative.

In order to challenge and eliminate gender barriers and create an inclusive atmosphere where women can contribute fully to the growth of community tourism, initiatives focused on women’s empowerment, lobbying campaigns, and regulatory reforms are essential.

Final thoughts

As we recognize the extraordinary achievements made by these women, it is crucial to support their ongoing efforts by giving them the tools and platforms needed to elevate their voices and build a more inclusive and successful future for community tourism globally. 

Planeterra_IUCN_Rio_Abiseo_paisaje

About the author:

Zoë Woods is enthusiastic about empowering women in the tech industry.

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Weaving a new Future: How Tourism has Empowered Indigenous Women in Peru

Written by Serena Hejazi
Deep in the Andes Mountains of Peru lies the village of Ccaccaccollo, home to a group of Indigenous women who have found empowerment through tourism.

The women of Ccaccaccollo belong to a Quechua community, which has lived in the Andes for thousands of years. They are skilled weavers, creating beautiful textiles using the traditional techniques passed down through generations. Despite their rich cultural heritage, many of these women have struggled with poverty, lack of education, and discrimination.

Until recently, the market for their products was limited, and they struggled to earn a decent living. In the early 2000s, a group of local women with the help of Planeterra formed the Ccaccaccollo Women’s Weaving Co-op to promote their work and improve their economic prospects. 

The cooperative called “Awamaki” which means “handmade” in Quechua, also provides training and support for other indigenous women to develop their skills, market their products, and manage their finances: it’s all about women supporting other women! 

Tourism has been a game-changer for the women of Ccaccaccollo. The village has become a popular destination for tourists seeking an authentic Andean experience. Visitors can learn about the Quechua culture, watch the women weave their textiles, and even participate in traditional ceremonies and of course you can also purchase their products.

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It’s safe to say that the women of Ccaccaccollo have been able to improve their economic situation and they now have a stable source of income and can provide for their families thanks to tourism. 

They have also gained a sense of pride in their cultural heritage, which they are now able to share with visitors from around the world.

But tourism has not only helped the women of Ccaccaccollo economically, it has also helped to preserve their traditional way of life. The women have been able to continue weaving using the traditional techniques and materials, which have been passed down through generations. 

They have also been able to maintain their language and culture, passing it on to their children and grandchildren.

The success of the Ccaccaccollo Women’s Weaving Association is an inspiring example of how tourism can be a force for good in indigenous communities. By providing a market for traditional products and cultural experiences, tourism had a positive impact in the lives of dozens of people. 

If you are planning a trip to Peru, consider visiting Ccaccaccollo and supporting the women of Awamaki. You can purchase their beautiful textiles and learn about their rich cultural heritage. By doing so, you will not only have a unique travel experience but also make a positive impact on the lives of these remarkable women.

Serena Hejazi

About the author:

Serena Hejazi is a passionate traveler and the author of Sere Travels, a blog that focuses on sustainable tourism. Visit http://seretravels.com/ to learn more about Serena’s travels. 

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Unfolding Nepalese Women’s Entrepreneurial Journey

Written by Aayusha Prasain, CEO, of Community Homestay Network
Despite various challenges women in Nepal face, travel and tourism provide them with more opportunities for empowerment and entrepreneurship than any other industry, giving the sector increased responsibility for the advancement of women.

When we hear the word entrepreneurship attached to women in Nepal, the first thing that comes to mind is all the barriers they might have to overcome while pursuing, scaling and sustaining it. These are not just ideas that come to us subconsciously; access to resources and opportunities for women due to the patriarchal structure of society plays a vital role in shaping these thoughts. 

Although women make up 51.04% of the population in Nepal (Census Nepal, 2021), they are not considered equal workers in the economy. Sadly, women tend to be marginalized and discriminated against for access to education, employment opportunities, and property ownership. In addition, the legal framework and policies also affect the control of productive resources like land, forest, credit, and technology. 

According to Nepal’s 2011 census, only 19.71 % of women have asset ownership. Women in Nepal are often associated with subsistence agriculture or work with a huge pay gap. My experiences of working with the communities and the different studies have shown women facing difficulties rising above from the subsistence or lower-paying jobs to high-productivity sectors. 

Women are also disadvantaged because they tend to have inadequate time managing both the demands of their business with domestic tasks – and have lower literacy levels, particularly in developing countries like ours. Along with these challenges, the attitude towards working women creates more obstacles, and as a result, there are few successful women entrepreneurs in developing countries. 

The question is, how do we change that?

According to the UN Global Report on Women and Tourism 2010 by World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and UN Women, tourism also promotes women’s leadership more than other sectors of the economy. 

Since its establishment, Community Homestay Network has been one of the social enterprises in Nepal that encourages local women to take the lead in managing their enterprises (community homestays) while offering authentic experiences to travellers. 

Testimonies from the women running community homestays have shared that one of the benefits of interacting with travellers has been learning about different cultures. While they also emphasize the importance of paid work and their contribution to their families well-being, many women entrepreneurs within our network often mention gaining confidence through interactions with travellers. 

Women hosting travellers Panauti Community Homestay, Nepal

They have stated that running homestays have made them more aware of the hygiene and cleanliness of their homes and the surroundings. The hosts of Panauti Community Homestay, the first women-run Community Homestay of Nepal and the flagship product of Community Homestay Network, often express that the economic gain has helped almost every women entrepreneur in their community to strengthen their social networking skills as well as amplified their voices towards community development as a whole. 

Networking plays a crucial role in entrepreneurship. Compared to men, women in traditional societies have less advantage in building networks resulting in limited information about markets and NGOs or government organizations’ support mechanisms. This is probably caused by restrictions on women’s freedom of movement in the public sphere. In such cases, women with strong family support participated actively in requesting additional assistance from the organization, as well as demonstrated leadership abilities.

Another challenge women in (the rural areas of) Nepal face is the lack of access to credit and financial services. This often limits them to start and expand their businesses and also, according to Bushell (2008), creates a dependency on their male counterparts. 

We have been working with hosts of community homestays (mostly women) within our network to have bank accounts in their name to overcome such challenges. Along with our impact partners like ICIMOD and Planeterra, we are actively trying to encourage women entrepreneurs to break the biases. 

In Barauli, we were proactively engaged to establish the bank accounts in women’s names, although this created friction at the beginning due to the conservative mindsets of a few locals. Proper communication and opportunities that could be created through financial independence paved the way for change. 

Walking through the villages in Barauli Barauli Community Homestay, Nepal

As empowerment means different to different women, we should not try to put women in the same basket while unfolding women’s entrepreneurship. 

For some, it might be interacting with the travellers, but for some having a separate bank account, though shy to interact with outsiders, might be the first step to building confidence. In this sense, tourism has also provided women in developing countries the chance to engage themselves where they would not be directly forced into moving out of their houses to start something new to prove the notion of empowerment and success. 

Running community homestays has also helped them use the skills and knowledge (household management) that they have been doing for years to manage the enterprise. This would build confidence in women and help them receive direct financial benefits. 

Despite advancements for women, the tourism industry cannot blindside the persisting inequality inside its sector. Women are paid less, engage in work that receives less money, and are underrepresented in certain tourism occupations and management levels. The issue of overtaking the enterprise once it is successful has also been one of the bottlenecks for women to foster in their entrepreneurial journeys. 

Although the legal registration of the enterprise is in the woman’s name, there is also a tendency to take over the enterprise when it starts to become more successful. Regarding this phenomenon, Brenda Bushell, in one of her studies, has cited women as surrogate entrepreneurs.  

For the economic development of any country, the government, private sector and other relevant stakeholders cannot just capitalize on half of its human potential. Various studies show that organizations that include women on their boards or as decision-makers have their staff performing better in terms of profitability, creativity, and sustainability. Hence, the prospect of a gender-equal society as a whole is promising. 

As a social enterprise, we are doing our bit to change the overall entrepreneurial environment for women. Still, meaningful partnerships among and between relevant stakeholders play a crucial role to develop and strengthen women’s entrepreneurship and leadership.

Aayusha Prasain, CEO- Community Homestay Network

About the author:

As the CEO of Community Homestay Network (CHN), Aayusha is working towards strengthening the organization while streamlining and scaling the impact of tourism across communities. Along with her team at CHN, she also works towards bringing local actors into the tourism value chain and promoting responsible and inclusive tourism. 

Visit www.communityhomestay.com to learn more about CHN’s work.

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REEF ECOLOGIC- AN EXPERIENTIAL GREAT BARRIER REEF ADVENTURE

WRITTEN BY NATHAN COOK, MARINE SCIENTIST, REEF ECOLOGIC

As a marine scientist specializing in active reef restoration techniques, the Whitsundays is an ideal location to try to implement my craft. In March 2017 ex-Tropical Cyclone Debbie devastated a number of coral reefs in the Whitsundays region of the Great Barrier Reef. In 2019 Reef Ecologic partnered with Planeterra Foundation who provided critical funds to support the continuation of reef restoration activities in the region.

In December Reef Ecologic’s Nathan Cook and associate, Tracey Cook joined Explore Whitsundays in hosting 20 G Adventures travellers in the magnificent Whitsundays region of the reef. Nathan and Tracey went along to introduce travellers directly to the reef restoration project.

We departed Airlie Beach on a beautiful sunny morning heading for our first destination at Blue Pearl Bay on the shores of Hayman Island. The seas were calm and we were all keen to dive into those azure waters common in the Great Barrier Reef.

Some areas of the Great Barrier Reef have been heavily degraded by multiple impacts over the past few years. One of the reef restoration techniques we specialize in is called coral gardening. It’s nothing new; it’s been going on around the world for over 20 years. We take fragments from donor corals, or we might find them loose around the reef, and we transplant them to areas that have been degraded and attach them to the reef using cement. Once they’ve got that stable base, they can grow in that new location and help regenerate that degraded reef. The coral colonies we plant cover small areas in the overall Great Barrier Reef, but if we all contribute our little bit, it’s that whole economies of scale that’s going to make a difference to our global community and impact these ecosystems.

I gave a briefing to all travellers on the restoration project, how it works and what they would see once in the water. Showing the travellers the corals growing on the coral nursery was a real pleasure. It was fulfilling to close the loop and show them the corals growing on the reef that their travels had made possible. Many were amazed that you could actually grow coral this way.

We collected a few loose coral fragments and returned to the boat where we ‘planted’ them in new bases. In this way the corals could grow for 6-12 months before they would be planted out on the reef.

Involving people in the process is an important part of the restoration projects that Reef Ecologic are involved with. When we go out and do reef restoration projects and coral gardening activities—meaning we take corals from healthy reefs and use these to replenish or restore degraded reefs—we get travellers or people from the community who have an interest in the marine park or the marine environment. They want to be involved in the solutions, but they don’t necessarily have that knowledge, training or background. We facilitate their involvement and engagement in these activities. It really gives them a sense of achievement, accomplishment and feeling like they’ve been a part of that solution.

Before we departed Blue Pearl Bay I was accompanied by deckhand Thomas Stedman back to the coral nurseries where we placed the newly propagated corals back onto the frames, “it is super cool to be involved in such a positive project” Tom remarked upon surfacing.

We pulled up the anchor and sailed on to our next destination, leaving our little corals growing on the reef to continue to assist the recovery of these important locations.

“Thanks to the Planeterra Foundation, an important partner providing critical funds to support our work. Partnerships like these help assist the recovery of coral reefs supporting the socio-economic values of reef communities in the Great Barrier Reef and around the world. The reef restoration work in the Whitsundays has thus far been an amazing journey of discovery, learning and regeneration.”

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Visiting Solheimar Ecovillage in Iceland

By Amy Freyder- Epic Away Travel 

 

In November I braved the winter cold to spend a full week and then some in Iceland.  It was completely worth it.  One of the comforts of going with G Adventures is the warm and friendly people I met throughout my tour.  A highlight of my trip was going to Solheimar Ecovillage, a Planeterra Foundation partner project.  Talk about warming your heart.

When we arrived, we were asked to remove our shoes before stepping into the main hall. Personally, I really love that they had us do that.  We met two of the Solheimar staff who gave us an introduction to the ecovillage and then showed us a video about the history and mission of Solheimar.  This inspiring, self-sustaining community is a place for disabled and non-disabled people to support each other and live together in harmony and mutual benefit.  It sounds like a very simple concept, but in 1930 when a woman named Sesselja founded this village, people did not believe that the mentally disabled should live among the non-disabled. Society has come a long way from thinking that mental disorders are contagious. 

Some of the opportunities available to residents include candle making, forestry, ceramics, greenhouse gardening, running a guesthouse, bakery and a café.  Their original hilltop café was quickly becoming inaccessible to residents as they grew older, so they recently built a new café.  It was around this time that Planeterra reached out to inquire about a partnership with Solheimar.  The ecovillage’s beautiful new café is furnished with tables and chairs provided by Planeterra Foundation.  The people here are so grateful for the helping hand from Planeterra.  And they are so appreciative of the ongoing support from G Adventures, in the form of tourists who come to Solheimar to listen, to learn, to eat and to shop.

While we were at Solheimar, we got to eat a delicious homemade lunch while sitting in the beautiful new café furniture that brightens up the room.  They made us a delicious bowl of soup, two kinds of fresh baked bread, several yummy spreads for the bread.  The vegetables for the soup are organically grown by residents in their onsite greenhouses.  Every coffee drinker on our tour said that the coffee here was the best they’d had in Iceland.  They roast their own coffee on site.  No wonder it tastes so good.

The main impression I took away from here is that this is a simple place where needs are met. Happiness, comfort, feeling needed, having purpose and living off natural resources, are some of the benefits of being here.  It’s so nice to be reminded of the simple things in life.

Amy was selected as a 2019-2020 G Adventures Ambassador of Change and she says it’s been a privilege to spread the word about the amazing good they are doing in the world. Sharing that her family and tries to live a little more sustainably every day.  Small steps turn into big steps and collectively we can all make a huge difference!

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Guest Spotlight: Thirdeyemom- San Antonio Women’s Co-op

“The San Antonio Women’s Cooperative was founded in 2001 to help promote and conserve Maya heritage, culture and tradition within the community and provide women with an alternative, sustainable income outside of farming.” – Thirdeyemom

I woke up to the singsong sound of birds as the sun burst through the drapes, casting a zigzag of light across my room. After two carefree days at the Black Orchid Resort near the tiny village of Burrell Boom in Belize, I’d finally been brought back to life with a newfound energy that had long disappeared. I jumped out of bed, excited for the day ahead as we were heading to San Ignacio, the heart and soul of the Cayo District in Western Belize where we’d be swallowed into a world of thick, lush jungle, mysterious caves and extraordinary Maya ruins. But first, we were making a stop in the village of San Antonio, home of the largest Maya community in all of Belize.  In San Antonio, we would learn about an exciting initiative helping to empower local Maya women called the San Antonio Women’s Cooperative supported by our tour company G Adventures and their nonprofit partner Planeterra.

As our group gathered into the van, I sat up front next to the driver so I could learn more about the four different ethnic groups in Belize. Our driver Carlos was Mestizo(a mix of Spanish and Indigenous decent) which is the largest ethnic group in Belize making up approximately 34% of the population. After Mestizo, the next largest group is Creole followed by Maya and Garifuna. The Creole and Garifuna population both are descendants of African Slaves whereas the Maya population is centered within the tropical lowlands of Central America. Over time, the Maya spread out into parts of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Belize. The Maya make up about 11% of the population in Belize and there are three different linguistic groups: The Yucatec Maya who came from Mexico and live in the north, the Mopan Maya who live in the Southern Toledo district, and the Kekchi Maya who live in Western Belize.

Nestled in a verdant valley, about a 20-minute drive from the twin towns of San Ignacio and Santa Elena in the heart of the Cayo District of Belize lies the village of San Antonio. Populated by primarily Yucatec Mayas, the village is known for its beauty and art, and has a strong farming and agricultural heritage. When we arrived at the co-op, the first thing I noticed was the beauty and lushness of San Antonio. We were surrounded by tropical trees and flowering shrubs. It was no surprise that the Yucatec Mayas chose to settle in San Antonio for its fertile land. Agriculture is king in San Antonio yet it has its downfalls especially for the women who have large families and don’t have the means to earn an income outside of farming.

The San Antonio Women’s Cooperative was founded in 2001 to help promote and conserve Maya heritage, culture and tradition within the community and provide women with an alternative, sustainable income outside of farming.  Since most Maya families have on average seven children and education is not free in Belize, girls are often the ones left behind and have few options besides raising a family. Poverty is a big issue and finding employment (especially without an education) in a small village is challenging. The San Antonio Women’s Co-op offers education in traditional pottery making, embroidery, cooking and serving guests through sustainable tourism as a means to preserve their culture and make a living. Today, there are 25 women in the co-op and they are working to encourage youth to participate as well.

One of the highlights of our visit was the hands-on demonstration of traditional corn tortilla making. Each one of us got to test out our skills at rolling and flattening the corn into our very own tortilla. Then it was cooked on a wood-burning stove inside a traditional open-air Maya kitchen. Afterwards, we got to enjoy our tortilla with a mug of sweet corn porridge.

 

We also got to experience a pottery demonstration by one of the local teachers at the San Antonio Women’s Cooperative. Classes are offered on a regular basis for the local women and girls within the community as a way for them to bring back their traditional art of pottery. The pottery is created by hand from locally sourced clay and mineral pigments. The polychrome painting on the pottery uses terra sigillata (a refined paint that produces a wax-like surface and sheen on the pottery) and is inspired by ancient Maya ceramics unearthed by archaeologists in the surrounding region.

 

After the pottery demonstration, we were served a home cooked meal of corn tamales with a locally grown green salad and chips and salsa, all prepared by the woman at the co-op. We also had time to stop inside the shop where you can buy pottery, embroidery and other handicrafts. All sales and tourism visits help support the San Antonio Women’s Cooperative and ensure that their ancient traditions and culture can be preserved for future generations to come.

As we boarded the van to head off to our next destination – the town of San Ignacio – I felt grateful that we got to witness the work being done on the ground to simultaneously promote sustainable, local tourism and women’s empowerment. In 2018, over 98,000 travellers visited one of Planeterra’s projects around the world and G Adventures has integrated the project visits into most of their tours. In my opinion, it is an excellent way to travel and do good.

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Thank you to Thirdeyemom for writing our first guest post! If you want to write a blog about your experience at one of our projects submit them here. 

All photos and content belongs to © thirdeyemom.

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