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The ‘Six Stars’ at Amba Estate

THE “SIX STARS” AT AMBA ESTATE, BANDARAWALA, SRI LANKA

We have just returned from Sri Lanka after meeting yet another group of inspiring women being supported by Planeterra Foundation! The “Six Stars” as they befittingly call themselves, are women who work a the AMBA Tea Estate and with Planeterra support have established a successful chutney cooperative after getting training and necessary equipment, further supplementing their income.

AMBA Estate is a community-based sustainable tourism project in the Ambadandegama valley in the Uva Highlands of Sri Lanka. Ambadandegama Chutney Cooperative is the first entirely community-owned venture to be supported by the Estate. Planeterra provided a grant for equipment and training so that the women of AMBA could start producing a range of chutneys, pickles and other preserves to be sold to visitors, utilizing the multitude of fruits and vegetables that grow in the valley. The group received guidance on how to make different types of chutney and about health and safety standards, like how to sterilize the bottles. The whole process is carried out with utmost precision. Anyone witnessing the entire process can feel the meditative approach of the cooking, as going step by step requires a lot of patience. But in the end, you are rewarded well with the aromas of all the lovely ingredients slowly filling the room.

The Happy Team at Work

The six members of the cooperative were selected by AMBA because they are the most experienced tea pickers. In Sri Lanka, it is mandatory that tea pluckers retire from the plantations at the age of 55, so the chutney cooperative adds financial stability as these women move into retirement. The “Six Stars” are all able to work from the comfort of their own homes which also provides them the opportunity to get help from their family members. As a result, the cooperative can churn out an order of 10-15 bottles in a single day. Guests at AMBA Guest House are able to taste the delicious chutneys ranging from mango, papaya, tomato, jackfruit, and lime, and can also take some back home.

The Six Stars remark on the impact AMBA has had on them, including being able to support their families.

“I have two daughters and one son,” Renuka says, “This money has really helped me a lot as I build my house. With the profits, I bought wiring for the house.”

“I worked before in the estate and now I do this,” Ramayalatha reflects, “I am saving money for my daughter’s wedding.”

All of the women’s stories are truly inspiring, but Renuka’s story stands out. after facing a lot of setbacks early in life, in 2008, she joined AMBA as a tea-plucker. Step-by-step she learned a whole range of new skills, from organic vegetable and tea growing to fine-plucking, tea-rolling and jam-making. Like all of AMBA’s team, she participates in the farm’s revenue-share and she is now responsible for all aspects of tea production, from plucking the leaves to rolling and overseeing the oxidization and drying. She is also a founding member of AMBA’s chutney cooperative, which are then sold in the AMBA farm shop. Thanks to Renuka’s perseverance and hard work, she has been able to give her children an excellent education – her oldest daughter graduated and is now a teacher, her son is a security officer at a school, and her youngest daughter is taking her O Level. Renuka says that her life is getting much better, thanks to AMBA and Planeterra.

It’s not just the members of AMBA Chutney Cooperative who are set to benefit from this enterprise. The community is also seeing ripple effects from this business, as Rs. 10 from each bottle of chutney sold is added to the cooperative’s fund which goes towards their equipment, and eventually, towards purchasing a start-up kit for more women to join the cooperative.

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The “Six Stars” at AMBA Estate

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We have just returned from Sri Lanka after meeting yet another group of inspiring women being supported by Planeterra Foundation! The Six Stars as they befittingly call themselves, are women who work a the AMBA Tea Estate and with Planeterra support have established a successful chutney cooperative after getting training and necessary equipment, further supplementing their income. 

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AMBA Estate is a community-based sustainable tourism project in the Ambadandegama valley in the Uva Highlands of Sri Lanka. Ambadandegama Chutney Cooperative is the first entirely community-owned venture to be supported by the Estate. Planeterra provided a grant for equipment and training so that the women of AMBA could start producing a range of chutneys, pickles and other preserves to be sold to visitors, utilizing the multitude of fruits and vegetables that grow in the valley. The group received guidance on how to make different types of chutney and about health and safety standards, like how to sterilize the bottles. The whole process is carried out with utmost precision. Anyone witnessing the entire process can feel the meditative approach of the cooking, as going step by step requires a lot of patience. But in the end, you are rewarded well with the aromas of all the lovely ingredients slowly filling the room.

The Happy Team at Work

The six members of the cooperative were selected by AMBA because they are the most experienced tea pickers. In Sri Lanka, it is mandatory that tea pluckers retire from the plantations at the age of 55, so the chutney cooperative adds financial stability as these women move into retirement. The “Six Stars” are all able to work from the comfort of their own homes which also provides them the opportunity to get help from their family members. As a result, the cooperative can churn out an order of 10-15 bottles in a single day. Guests at AMBA Guest House are able to taste the delicious chutneys ranging from mango, papaya, tomato, jackfruit, and lime, and can also take some back home. 

The Six Stars remark on the impact AMBA has had on them, including being able to support their families. 

“I have two daughters and one son,” Renuka says, “This money has really helped me a lot as I build my house. With the profits, I bought wiring for the house.” 

“I worked before in the estate and now I do this,” Ramayalatha reflects, “I am saving money for my daughter’s wedding.” 

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All of the women’s stories are truly inspiring, but Renuka’s story stands out. after facing a lot of setbacks early in life, in 2008, she joined AMBA as a tea-plucker. Step-by-step she learned a whole range of new skills, from organic vegetable and tea growing to fine-plucking, tea-rolling and jam-making. Like all of AMBA’s team, she participates in the farm’s revenue-share and she is now responsible for all aspects of tea production, from plucking the leaves to rolling and overseeing the oxidization and drying. She is also a founding member of AMBA’s chutney cooperative, which are then sold in the AMBA farm shop. Thanks to Renuka’s perseverance and hard work, she has been able to give her children an excellent education – her oldest daughter graduated and is now a teacher, her son is a security officer at a school, and her youngest daughter is taking her O Level. Renuka says that her life is getting much better, thanks to AMBA and Planeterra. 

It’s not just the members of AMBA Chutney Cooperative who are set to benefit from this enterprise. The community is also seeing ripple effects from this business, as Rs. 10 from each bottle of chutney sold is added to the cooperative’s fund which goes towards their equipment, and eventually, towards purchasing a start-up kit for more women to join the cooperative.

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The Chutney bottles at the AMBA Shop. 

On a lucky day you might get customized packaging, or maybe not!!

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

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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.

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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.

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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 paining 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.

 

 

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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.

 

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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 travelers 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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AFER homlunch- Moroccan Aubergine Salad Recipe

AFER homlunch works to empower rural women in Meknes, Morocco by helping women gain access to the formal job market. Planeterra provided the seed funding for the first hospitality program run by local partner AFER (Association Des Femmes et Enfants Ruraux). Planeterra helped AFER develop the training program, provided funding for kitchen and dining renovations as well as funding to outfit the administrative space.

More than 3,000 travellers visit the rural village of M’Haya for the AFER homlunch, and receive a warm welcome from a group of five women who serve up a delicious traditional lunch. They were graciouos to share the recipe for their delicious Zaalouk, a moroccan aubergine salad!

 

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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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Building a community restaurant in China

Ever wonder how a community tourism project becomes a Planeterra partner? Here is a quick photo blog to show you how the Jia Community Restaurant went from just an idea, to a restaurant with a steady stream of travellers in rural China.

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Meet Tomato. This young woman in the striped shirt had a dream to build a restaurant in her community of Liandaowan, China. She wanted this restaurant to be a gathering place for women and children to learn, enjoy life and building a stronger sense of community. Tomato had been engaged with trainings with a local nonprofit, the Rural Women Development Foundation (RWDF), for some time, and looked to them for partnership to help make her dream come true.

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This small plot of land is where Tomato dreamed of building her cafe. Through various connections, Planeterra was introduced to Tomato and the Rural Women’s Development Foundation. They told us about their vision to create the community space that would allow them to create jobs for women. They were in need of funding to build the restaurant, as well as a link to a customer base to make this business viable.

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Planeterra had been searching for a few years for a community partner in China. RWDF’s proposal was timely and meaningful. Even better, the village of Liandaowan is just a ferry ride from tourist hub, Yangshuo. This meant it could be possible to build a strong customer base for the restaurant through the G Adventures traveller market. Planeterra and G Adventures approved this program, and construction began.

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Planeterra’s first field visit to China in late 2017 showed the skeleton of a large new building. As the community continued to progress on construction, Planeterra was working with G Adventures to include this new community experience and local lunch into their 2019 itineraries.

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Many community members helped out with the construction of the restaurant. While Planeterra often provides grants for construction projects, many times our project partners chip in with a little “sweat equity” by volunteering their own labour. This gives an extra level to our partnerships and investment from the larger community.

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By mid 2018 the restaurant construction had been completed and community members began their trainings in food service and hospitality. The restaurant was named ‘Jia Community Restaurant’, referencing the land that the food comes from.

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The dining room now seats about 30 people while the kitchen serves up traditional Chinese dishes. They use vegetables from the local farms and use healthy ingredients. This dining space has already become a local hangout, as it is the first restaurant in the village!

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One of the most important parts of this new project is the building’s second floor. This area above the restaurant features a large open space for children to come and learn, or for various community activities. Even in the first few months since opening this space has already been used frequently for trainings through RWDF, and even weekly movie nights for children.

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The launching ceremony in 2018 brought out over one hundred people to celebrate the exciting new project. The ceremony included a cooking contest amongst the women. Some of the winning dishes are now featured in the restaurant for travellers to sample!

Planeterra couldn’t be more excited to see travellers start visiting this meaningful program in 2019. Many of G Adventures tours through Yangshuo will now feature this very local, very special experience. We can’t wait to see the impact it will have over the coming years.

When tourism is done right, everyone wins.

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12 Days of Remarkable Women to Inspire this Holiday Season

If you have been following along this holiday season, you will have noticed that we have been highlighting some of the remarkable women that Planeterra partners with around the world. Some of these women have their own businesses, are part of cooperatives in their communities, or even work for Planeterra. Enjoy their inspirational quotes and stories here, and click here to help us change the lives of more women in 2019.

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“When I see other women succeeding, it means I’m succeeding, too.”

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“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.”

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“With this tourism activity, I got money, I built the house. It changed my life 150%.”

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“My dream is to manage a five-star restaurant one day.”

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“I have so many blessings through Ubuntu. My job allows me to pay for school fees.”

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“I always had a vision to create more opportunities for me, my friends, and neighbours.”

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The tourists are helping us to keep our village clean”, she said. “When the tourists came, people noticed that they weren’t throwing plastic on the ground. Now everyone encourages each other to keep the community clean.”

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“Women can do anything!”

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“The school helped us to be independent, as well to feel how important we are in our family and how we can contribute, as women, to our families.”

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“Today, I am supporting my parents by all means I can and I am independent to make my own decision.”

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“Through this rural tourism project that Planeterra has helped us to do – Homlunch – we get the necessary funds to do our activities and maintain our programs. We are now stronger towards meeting the requests for help and support for vulnerable people.”

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“People with disabilities can have a normal life. I get an education I get skills. And then the best thing, I get married, and I have a son. At first I did not believe it. I can have a job, I can have a marriage and I am happy in my life. For the future if I am lucky I want to be like a businesswoman who has some hotel or has some restaurant, and then from that money I will support some organizations like this. I am very happy if I can help others like that.”

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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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Sisterhood of Survivors Launches New Travel Business

The Sisterhood of Survivor program in Nepal has come a long way. Initially just a dream to bring survivors of human trafficking into the tourism industry, providing sustainable funding for SASANE’s nonprofit programs. SASANE’s program has trained 10 survivors as paralegals, making them the first point of contact for other survivors. In order to better support this program, SASANE went on to develop a successful mo:mo demonstration and lunch for G Adventures’ travellers through a $25,000 USD catalyst grant from G Adventures and Planeterra, and even won the 12th United Nations World Tourism Award for Excellence and Innovation in Non-Governmental Organizations in 2016. Today, they are dreaming even bigger with the launching of their own trekking business to support northern communities and provide alternative income opportunities, decrease poverty, and combat human trafficking which is prevalent in the area.

I had the opportunity to catch up with Laxmi, a founding member of SASANE and now the lead of the trekking business, to learn more about their progress in starting this new business.

What is the purpose of this new trekking business?

“Our trekking program is targeting the mountain village [Ghyangphedi]. Our goal is to develop the poor communities. They need education and opportunities. Someday, we can work with other villages too.” Ghyangphedi is a vulnerable village, as “there are no job opportunities”, this remote village relies on older agricultural practices, leaving children at risk of being trafficked if an influx of cash is needed. “We did an education program, but now they need an alternative income source.” SASANE has been working with this village for years in order to educate children about human trafficking and their rights. They hope to bring travellers to this villages led by their own guides.

How are you making this happen

“Since 2015 we are sending our girls for guiding license.” SASANE has already sent 10 girls for their guiding license. Right now these guides are building their skills while working with Planeterra and G Adventures in the Sisterhood of Survivors mo:mo demonstration. They have also just launched a new website, are are beginning to create partnerships in the industry to better promote their business.

“We still need experience to gain expertise [in guiding]. Now we are taking our volunteers for trekking. This is very new for us!” The sisters receive a 35-day guide training in theory and practice.

What is next for SASANE?

“Now we are bringing some of the girls from the Ghyangphedi here [Kathmandu] to learn hospitality skills so they can go back home and do hospitality properly. We still need help with the homestays in the village.” There are only 4 homestays now, but before the earthquake there were 10. SASANE had invested in the bathrooms and toilets to improve the quality of these homestays. “We want to help them, but we need to fundraise first.”

Over the coming months SASANE will continue to seek out training for their guides and work on improving the homestays located in the northern villages they are working to support. SASANE has just begun their journey into their trekking business, and we’re very excited to see the impact of their dream in the future.

Follow along on their new website. Learn more about SASANE and support their incredible work to support survivors of human trafficking in Nepal.

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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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