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Our Projects

Two Years Later: More Women being Empowered through Planeterra’s Partnership in Belize

THE SAN ANTONIO WOMEN’S COOPERATIVE

A small pottery cooperative, run by local resident President Timotea, who was dreaming of how to capture the volume of travellers coming to Belize. The cooperative was preserving traditional pottery, even working with archaeologists to rediscover paint colours for decorating pottery that was used centuries ago. The cooperative was a prime spot for tourists to stop, but they were ill-equipped to host groups, and struggled to get passers-by to stop. Then, along came Planeterra.

Women make up over half of the tourism workforce. Because of societal norms in many countries, women have become well-suited to make money in the tourism industry because of the many skills they have honed growing up can be used in this field. From traditional handicraft creation to cooking and maintaining a household, women around the world make wonderful entertainers for handicraft demonstrations, chefs for traditional meals, and community guesthouse hosts. Despite being employed more than men, and having developed the various skillsets for the industry, women are often underpaid.
Planeterra works to break this cycle, which is why in 2016, they partnered with the San Antonio Women’s Cooperative in a rural area outside of San Ignacio. The community has its roots in Mayan traditions and currently practices subsistence agriculture. Like many rural areas around the world, they are more likely to struggle to access government services.

The Cooperative Expands after Planeterra Helped to Build the Workshop and New Space

A small pottery cooperative, run by local resident President Timotea, who was dreaming of how to capture the volume of travellers coming to Belize. The cooperative was preserving traditional pottery, even working with archaeologists to rediscover paint colours for decorating pottery that was used centuries ago. The cooperative was a prime spot for tourists to stop, but they were ill-equipped to host groups, and struggled to get passers-by to stop. Then, along came Planeterra.

“We were all squished in a little place,” explains Timotea, “before Planeterra helped to build the workshop and space we have now.” With an introduction to G Adventures and an upgrade to their space, the small cooperative was ready to launch their tourism business in earnest.

Despite only having a primary school education, like many of the cooperative’s members, Timotea led the cooperative to a successful 2016 season, and in 2018 G Adventures increased their trips visiting the cooperative, and more revenue started to flow in. “Now, even the tourism board of Belize has taken an interest, and we have groups booking from nearby hotels,” says Timotea.

Perhaps the most remarkable part about the San Antonio Women’s Cooperative’s growth in the tourism industry is the number of people they now employ. In the beginning, they started as just nine members working at the centre. Now, 25 people work here as chefs, servers, hosts for the travellers, and to help run the tourism program along with the pottery workshop. Employees are not the only ones benefitting from the burgeoning business. The cooperative sponsors the high school fees of two female students from the local community. G Adventures’ revenue also helped them to make a small extension for an outdoor workshop.

When Planterra met Timotea, she said her dream was always to help women in her community – now, through employment and empowerment of girls in their community, they are achieving this dream.

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5 years, 50 new global projects: A reflection

INITIAL GOAL EXCEEDS EXPECTATIONS

Director of Global Programs Kelly Galaski reflects on her ten years at Planeterra, and the accomplishment of the 50 in 5 initiative, launched in 2016 and achieved last month with the addition of Planeterra’s 75th project. 

One cold winter week of 2015, the small but mighty Planeterra team of the time huddled in a basement meeting room in Toronto, and the idea for our 50 in 5 campaign was conceived. The team wanted to do something bold, yet strategic, and had been overwhelmed by the success of the community tourism projects developed over the course of the previous few years, realizing that this work was having the greatest impact at breaking the cycle of poverty, out of all the different causes the organization had supported over the first 12 years. The women artisans of the Ccaccaccollo village in the Sacred Valley of Peru were sending their children to university, even though they themselves had experienced oppression and lack of access to education beyond primary school. There was evidence that the gender gap was closing in Nicaragua at the Puesta del Sol homestay where women had traditionally been excluded from economic opportunities. New literacy classes were being launched in rural Morocco, enabling a whole new sector of society to start to reach their potential. All of this because of the funds generated by their grassroots tourism businesses.

We felt like we were on to something. We could see that lives were being changed by our projects; in fact, we were helping to change entire communities. The feeling in the room was that we wanted to do more.

Our Ambitious Goal Was Going to Be Met, and Met Early

We also knew that when people visit and connect with these local people, their lives change too. We counted up how many destinations we would need to add to our portfolio to reach over 90% of our founding partner G Adventures’ annual 150,000 travellers and launched an ambitious plan to add 50 new projects over the next five years. This would ensure a customer base and sustainable income source for our community partners. We went to work that September, launching our 50 in 5 campaign to the public with the Ignite the Night fundraising event, and began to see support unlike anything we had envisioned. We quickly grew our team and our project count: 11 in the first year, then 15 in the next. By late 2017 it was becoming clear that our ambitious goal was going to be met, and met early.

Another 17 projects launched the following year, and the team once again reconvened to talk about the impact we were having around the globe. By now, we were launching projects nearly every month, and this momentum led us to a total of 69 projects by mid-2018. These new enterprises hosted nearly 100,000 travellers that year – driving needed income to essential non-profit programs and into communities that had never before seen the benefits of tourism.

Our partners were reporting back to us about achieving their dreams. People with disabilities were gaining new skills and jobs in communities where they had once been shunned. Women were taking control of their families’ incomes by becoming the sole or main breadwinner, investing in nutritious food and education opportunities for their children, and putting money back into their businesses and cooperatives to drive even more income. Communities were building computer labs for students, undertaking water and sanitation projects, starting community gardens and launching recycling programs. Indigenous communities were telling us that tourism was their hope for the future, for generations proud of their cultures and with livelihood opportunities close to home. The ripple effects were limitless.

Looking back on the last three and a half years, and my ten years at Planeterra, there are too many highlights to put into words. Someone asked me this week what motivates me, what makes me stay. Every time I answer this question tears come to my eyes. Even writing this now. When a woman tells you she was so oppressed and overlooked because of her race and gender and finally feels that she has control over her destiny, has freedom to make the choices she needs to make, and the respect she deserves, all because of an opportunity to earn her own income and share her culture, I know our work is the most important work I could be a part of. When an Indigenous youth tells me he feels it’s the only hope for children in his community to believe they have something powerful and special to share, I know our work is what I want to be a part of. Our team of dedicated professionals, generous supporters, and our partners around the world have enabled us to finish 50 in 5 a full year and a half earlier than anticipated. We have seen tens of thousands of lives changed – entire communities transformed – as a result.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the people who helped along the way. Thank you to those who visited our projects, in 43 countries around the world. Thank you to anyone who supported our work – whether with $1 or $1,000 – it all went directly to our global programs and allowed us to change lives. Finally, thank you to the staff and leadership of G Adventures, our largest partner, who have helped us in immeasurable ways to make this impact.

To all our generous supporters, we hope you continue this journey with us, because we’ve only just begun.

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Boosting a craft workshop in Kyrgyzstan

Planeterra works with community organizations and nonprofits all over the world, using tourism as a catalyst for empowerment and sustainable development. Here is one example of how we brought on our newest partner, Ak Orgo, in the small town of Barskoon in Kyrgyzstan.

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Meet Mekenbek

Mekenbek is a passionate artist that has spent his life producing traditional Kyrgyz crafts. Mekenbek started a workshop in Barksoon village that primarily produces yurts and yurt decorations. Ak Orgo’s purpose is to preserve traditional Kyrgyz handicrafts while providing employment opportunities for the town of Barskoon, a community suffering with 80% unemployment.

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Finding Ak Orgo

The Ak Orgo workshop has actually been featured in Lonely Planet, and was found by a G Adventures’ CEO in Central Asia. G Adventures’ groups started visiting Ak Orgo in 2018, but it was clear that some additional training and infrastructure development was needed to see this workshop achieve its social enterprise goals through tourism.

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Infrastructure Needs Assessment

The basic structure for the workshop at Ak Orgo was already standing, but the toilet was not at a good standard, the kitchen was barely functional, and they dreamed of having a showroom where the artists could actually display their crafts for visitors.

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Infrastructure Grant

A grant was provided to Ak Orgo to fully construct a building outside the workshop that would house the kitchen, handicraft display room and the bathrooms. The community pitched in to complete the construction project in time for the tourism season to begin. This new building allows Ak Orgo to greatly improve the quality of experience they can provide in their workshop.

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Organizational Needs Assessment

Ak Orgo had no online presence, and struggled to find a way to capture the tourists driving by Barskoon. With the existing craft orders and partnerships the workshop was surviving, but not yet thriving or reaching its social enterprise goals of providing more employment opportunities in Barskoon. Ak Orgo looked to tourism as a launching pad that could help their workshop grow.

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Capacity Building Program

To address organizational needs, a training program was developed with the Association of Social Entrepreneurs Kyrgyzstan. The training program went over a period of six months, with trainings in three key categories – social entrepreneurship, tourism & guest management, and managing their online presence. Through this process Ak Orgo was able to develop their Social Enterprise Business Plan to continue tracking business and social targets for the future.

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Launching in Tours

As Planeterra works with our local partners, we also ensure that the experience is represented into the travel itineraries of G Adventures. Their first group of the 2019 season visited Ak Orgo on May 21, 2019. The group enjoyed a yurt building demonstration, a tour of the workshop and a traditional Kyrgyz lunch. The income earned through this partnership with G Adventures allows Ak Orgo to continue doing what they love, producing Kyrgyz crafts.

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Constant Innovation

Mekenbek doesn’t stop at craft production in the workshop. He is an innovator and creator at heart, and is constantly building new equipment that will allow their crafts to be produced in a less labour-intensive manner than traditionally taught. These innovations mean that more people can continue to produce the items and the culture can be better passed down to the next generation.

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Impact

Ak Orgo currently employs 9 community members and hopes to continue providing employment opportunities as their tourism program grows.

Planeterra couldn’t be more excited to see travellers start visiting Ak Orgo. It is our hope that tourism will allow them to continue to grow their workshop, hire more community members, and spread their unique crafts on to the next generation of artisans. Ak Orgo is a special place, and we highly encourage you to visit on your next trip to Kyrgyzstan!

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From the Field – The Lusumpuko Women’s Club

The 20 women of the Lusumpuko Women’s Club chose this name with the hope that they would be able to lift themselves and their communities out of the harsh realities brought on by the economic situation in Zimbabwe. The ladies founded the chicken rearing co-operative as a way to create income for their households, and to help and inspire other, younger ladies to do the same.

“It’s our dream to help more women in our community,” says Lusumpuko president Linda Makarutse, and Merlyn Mpofu, Lusumpuko’s secretary, chimes in: “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.”

With this in mind, Planeterra began supporting the co-operative in 2017, and the ladies of Lusumpuko got to receive basic business training. The co-operative also received a grant to help kick-start a meal service in the tourist town of Victoria Falls. This investment helped them purchase much-needed catering equipment, such as pots, a gas cooker, and serving utensils. They also got the chance to empower a different women’s co-operative by purchasing uniforms made from locally sourced chitenge fabric. The launch of their new catering business helped Lusumpuko increase their combined income of about $600 USD to more than four times as much per month, thus significantly improving their quality of life and enabling them to provide for their children while supporting other members of the community.

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The meal service is a hearty buffet of traditional Zimbabwean food, as well as an enjoyable experience observing the preparation by the co-operative members. Travellers going through Victoria Falls have the opportunity to enjoy an array of home-cooked Zimbabwean delicacies. This has not only been financially beneficial for the ladies, but emotionally fulfilling for them as well. Most of the ladies will admit to finding a sense of purpose and validation as they can now depend on themselves to take care of their households.

Members of the co-operative used to do odd jobs in the community, like selling floor polish, providing cleaning services, or selling crafts across the border into Zambia or Botswana. Now, they have weekly work using their skills, practicing English, and interacting with international travellers, while many have dreams to one day expand the co-operative to provide other tourism services, like transport.

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First G Adventures travellers visit Native Grill

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It’s hard to miss the flags and signs of the Native Grill, a family-owned business along Route 89, nestled on Navajo Nation’s western side. It’s lunchtime on a Tuesday and the food truck, with the caption “Navajo Soul Food,” is busy with customers wanting to taste the authentic Navajo cuisine of frybread taco, dumpling stew and grilled local lamb. The kitchen is busy, as the family’s grandmother cooks frybreads for the pending G Adventures group of 12 who are about to arrive.

Her daughter Alfreida, who’s from the area, started the family food truck in 2013 by attending the Tuba City Fair, and operated in that town until a Burger King opened and forced them out some time later. Undeterred, Alfreida and her family carried on.

“There were days where we made no sales, but we stuck it out,” says Alfreida. “I’d be up prepping at 4:30 in the morning, but as time went along I figured things out.” Eventually, she gained her business license in 2016 and set up just south of the town of Cameron.

This area of Navajo Nation is in particular need of entrepreneurs like Alfreida, as it was under the Bennett Freeze between 1966 and 2009, which outlawed any infrastructure development. This meant houses couldn’t be built, water and gas lines couldn’t be laid, and roads couldn’t be mended, to name just a few of the ways the area’s development was stifled. Still today, it’s estimated that almost 60% of houses in the area do not have electricity, and the majority do not have potable water.

Planeterra partnered with Indigenous business incubator DineHozho, who have helped oversee a grant earmarked for improvements to the Native Grill. Today’s visitors are enjoying new picnic tables, a hand-washing station, and a brand new shade structure which will be especially handy during the hot desert summers. Native Grill’s operations have also been assisted by upgrades to their solar and generator systems.

As the group of G Adventures travellers arrive, they line up at the window to confirm their order for Navajo Tacos, and decide which toppings they’d like on their frybread, as three generations of Alfreida’s family work together in unison in the kitchen.

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It may be these four running the Native Grill this afternoon, but to them, the entire community is considered family, and they assist as many people as they can.

“We do what we can at a local level to help the elderly, and during Christmas and Thanksgiving we do turkey baskets and deliver it to people that live off the main road like 15-20 miles away, all the way at the base of the mountain,” explains Alfreida.

With more income from regular G Adventures groups (somewhere between 15-24 customers will be visiting twice a week during the summer months), Native Grill will be able to assist the community even more, not to mention grow the business. Although the food is delicious and the group enjoys their meal under the shade, the highlight of the afternoon is the family coming out to introduce themselves to the travellers, who eagerly ask questions in an effort to learn more about what it’s like to live on Navajo Nation. In the end, this is so much more of a meal stop – it’s an opportunity to learn about the resilience and entrepreneurship of the Diné (more commonly known as the Navajo) and how travellers should make an effort to stop at the small businesses that dot the roadsides if they’d like to learn more and give back to this community.

Read more about DinéHozhó here.

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Beit Khayrat Souf is Changing Lives

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Tucked in the hills of Jerash, Jordan is a place called Beit Khayrat Souf. Inside this old home is a cafe run completely by women. The cafe was opened three years ago by a local women’s association aiming to empower women in the community with livelihood opportunities. The cafe serves up delicious Jordanian food and provides cooking classes to travellers. G Adventures travellers on the National Geographic Journey through Jordan get to enjoy a cooking class at Beit Khayrat Souf as of 2019, supporting more employment opportunities for women.

More than a cafe, Beith Khayrat Souf was built on the belief that women have the right to be equal in society. Jameel, a founding member of the association, says “Every woman should have this confidence to go out and start working, and to share the workplace equally with men.” She continues, “It’s wrong to think that a woman should stay a home, because it’s not just about them, it’s about their children too. In order to build a better future for the next generation, we need women to be successful. Half our community is women, without them, the future will not be good.”

The cafe employs 10 women, but they engage women who are unable to work outside the home with pickling and jamming activities as well. Jameel plays a key role in training other women. “In the last few years I have gone out to women around Jordan to show them how I make the pickles and teach them about the project. I have trained many women. In Souf alone there are 11 women making pickles from home everyday.” Jameel is proud that her trainings allow women to earn an income, but even more, it is changing their lives.

As the cafe and cooking class continues to grow, Jameel hopes to see more women engaged in the project and benefitting from the livelihood opportunities it brings. “It’s not just about this place,” says Jameel, recognizing the economic benefit that this cafe has on local farmers, drivers, and other community members connected to their enterprise.

Reflecting on her time at the cafe, Jameel say “lots of good things happened after joining Beit Khayrat Souf. I am a better, stronger person. Before this, I was not confident enough to go teach others. Now I have different contacts even outside of Jordan. This has made me a more confident person.” Jameel sees herself as “an ambassador for Jordan”. She wants to show travellers a positive side of their culture, and especially to change the perception that travellers have about women in the Middle East. “I see many women whose lives are totally changed. We’re happy to see women participate by smiling as they start working to create a better life,” says Jameel.

Besma, who was sitting across the table, is a perfect example of the impact that this project is having on the community. “Before Beit Khayrat Souf I never went outside my home,” Besma reveals. “I would have never sat at a table with a man, talking, like I am now. These women have changed my life.”

Jameel concludes, “Before Beith Khayrat Souf this village was not known for anything. Today the local women manage this successful enterprise that is known internationally. We did this by ourselves.”

Planeterra and G Adventures proudly support Beit Khayrat Souf by sending more travellers to their cafe. 

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Chandni Yadav’s Inspirational Story

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Planeterra asked Women on Wheels what our partnership meant to them, and how tourism was impacting the lives of the women that they work with. They felt that individual stories best showcased the impact of how the women they work with are changing the lives of their families, and becoming strong role models in their communities. Here is the story of one of the Women on Wheels drivers, Chandni Yadav:

“I have always wanted to continue with my studies. I have never thought that I would have to leave my studies but when I reached to the age of adolescence, I realized my family situations does allow me to continue my studies further. I have 3 brothers but there was no financial support from them and my parents were struggling financially. I had to leave my studies and started working in a hotel. I have never liked the job in the hotel. One day I learnt from a neighbour about Azad Foundation and its “Women on Wheel” programme. I discussed about joinig the programme with my parents, but they asked me: ‘Why do you want to leave your current job which is a big financial support to family for a 6 months training of WOW?’

But I decided to become a driver, which had cause many issues. Once I started the training, I faced difficulties at home, my parents used to scold me and they were pressuring me to do a job and earn. But I persisted and finished Women on Wheels training.

Today, I feel very happy that I have become independent and since joining Sakha as a cab driver I feel proud of myself. Earlier, I wished to be a driver but never had had the confidence to pursue such profession. Today, I am driver and I feel very confident. I can go alone anywhere, which I could not do before. Now, I am supporting my family and I even have helped my father financially to build a home in our village. I have repaid the loan of my brother’s marriage. Today, I am supporting my parents by all means I can and I am independent to make my own decision. In our community, people are happy to see me as driver and everyone tells my parents that I am better than my brothers. I always used to resist my desires and never used to say anything to anyone. I never used to do anything for myself but now I have started doing things as per my wish. In future I want to buy a scooty for myself, soon I will do this. I am so very thankful to Azad and Sakha for changing my life for better.”

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Virtual Tour of magdas HOTEL

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Take a virtual tour of magdas HOTEL, a social enterprise hotel in Vienna, Austria that empowers migrants, refugees, and newcomers to the country through their training and employment program. At one time, this eclectic hotel was an elderly residence, but with crowdfunding and a grant from a local non-profit, Caritas, the building has been transformed into an accommodation well worth visiting.

magdas is the first social business hotel in Austria, and employs 10 professionals in tourism, who work alongside 10 refugees. This job-shadowing and mentorship between refugees and professionals in the industry an important part of the program, alongside initiatives like language lessons and other services. The idea here is that refugees will later be hired by other hotels in tourist-heavy Vienna, allowing a steady stream of refugees to learn hospitality skills at magdas.

Along with an internationally-themed breakfast buffet (serving things like baba ganoush and other dishes from the refugees’ home countries), magdas has been entirely decorated with up-cycled, donated, or recycled materials. Old doors have become mirrors, repurposed lockers have become serving bays for the buffet breakfast. Rooms were decorated thanks to the Academy of Arts, which resides next-door, and other sustainable initiatives such as a honey-making business that keeps beehives on the rooftop are displayed in the hotel’s lobby.

Click the video below to enjoy the full virtual tour, and see for yourself!

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Two Projects Launched in Sri Lanka

This July was an exciting month for Planeterra in Sri Lanka, as not one but TWO of our new partnerships started to receive travellers from G Adventures. Each is a unique guesthouse with community empowerment at the heart of their business plans.

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Tamarind Gardens Farm, Digana

This quaint dairy farm is situated in a dolomite mining community. Owners Ayesha and Nalin aim to bring tourism to the community as an alternative means of income, and use the space to provide meaningful opportunities and training to anyone interested. Planeterra supported their work by funding a community garden to act as a seed bank for community members to begin their own home gardens. This program allows more community members to be involved in Tamarind Gardens, and works to improve access to healthy food. G Adventures’ travellers will also be receiving a handmade bag from the women’s cooperative on site, which was a program initiated by Tamarind Gardens to support young mothers and provide them with an accessible income generating opportunity.

Read more about this partnership here.

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Amba Chutney Cooperative, Bandarawela

This organic tea plantation is nestled in the hills of Ella. The estate provides fair employment opportunities, training and profit sharing for those working on the tea farm. With tourism growing in the valley, there is now the opportunity to support micro-enterprises that can benefit from the tourist volume coming to stay at Amba’s guest house and visit the farm. Planeterra has supported the first micro-enterprise in Bandarawela, a cooperative of six women that will be trained in chutney production. The chutney will be sold back to Amba, giving a built in market to the cooperative.

Read more about this partnership here.

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Zambian social enterprise empowers rural community

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It’s a journey in itself to get to the Mfuwe Village, nestled in the Eastern Province of Zambia, whether you take a car, bus, or plane. Nearly 10 hours by road from Lusaka, or a one-hour flight, one gets the impression straight away that they are in the middle of nowhere. With Mfuwe’s proximity to South Luangwa National Park, famous for its herds of elephants, scores of lion and regular leopard sightings, it’s hard to find a place as beautiful as this.

The beauty, and wildlife, have all created a perfect arena for tourism in South Luangwa National Park, which boasts a plethora of lodges, and more than 45,000 annual visitors – the most of any national park in Zambia. Despite its remoteness, there is a vibrant tourism economy here, and the Mfuwe Airport is constantly receiving flights of travellers eager to take in the safari experience.

Nestled between this airport and the park’s gate is Tribal Textiles, a workshop and bustling business that employs more than 100 Mfuwe locals. With an impressive corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy, countless staff benefits, and a social enterprise model, it’s hard to imagine a business as socially conscious.

“South Luangwa is really benefitting from tourism a lot,” says Nsabila Njobvu, Tribal Textile’s Retail Manager, who has been working at the social enterprise for more than seven years. “The higher the number of tourists that we are receiving, the more poverty is decreasing because people have jobs and they are able to take children to school, able to afford a basic meal every day.”

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However, Tribal Textiles is constantly attempting to tear travellers off the road, or away from the lodges nestled far within the national park. As a result, they are regularly finding new ways of marketing their products, and last year they launched a new restaurant in an attempt to acquire tourists on their way to and from the airport. The restaurant, named the Courtyard Café, is run by local entrepreneur and chef, Dorica, who also runs a restaurant in the village.

“Before the restaurant, I had to go do farming in a nearby village to get money,” explains Dorica, who balances her new café at Tribal Textiles, and a restaurant run at her home in the village. “I am happy, very happy, because sometimes that side when there’s no business, at least here [at Tribal Textiles] you’ll find I have customers so I am able to take care of my family and to keep my business going,” Dorica explains. Not only is her restaurant and the Courtyard Café bringing income to her family, she has also been able to onboard staff as a result of the café’s success.

As it grows, the business expands their social enterprise model. Many proceeds from the products sold at the showroom go to initiatives such as Conservation South Luangwa (CSL), the Malimba School, and the Hanada Orphanage. The business has also opened a Community Artisans’ Market, to provide local artists with a space to sell their handicrafts.

Tribal Textiles is the perfect example of a business expanding as tourism increases, and with their social enterprise model and passion for giving back to the community of Mfuwe, they are set to remain an important part of the safari experience for travellers, all while empowering the local community to earn a sustainable living.

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