Zoológico Mágico: The Magic of Art Crafted by Female Artisans

From the colourful streets of San Martín Tilcajete, Oaxaca, the women of Zoológico Mágico are transforming the art of alebrijes into a tool for empowerment and change.

In the photo, Daniela Hernández stands on the right, alongside her sister-in-law Karina and mother-in-law Leonila. Rosario Fabián, the association's President, is on the far left.

Zoológico Mágico is a collective of talented women from San Martín Tilcajete, a community renowned for its rich cultural heritage and skilled artisans in the art of alebrije crafting.

Their craftsmanship skills have been passed down through three generations, but it was the onset of the pandemic that prompted a significant shift. With their husbands and other male members exploring alternative income sources to support their families during challenging times, these women decided to take matters into their own hands.

Faced with limited options due to the pandemic, they relied on their skills and knowledge in crafting alebrijes to establish a workshop aimed at selling their art and welcoming visitors.

Motivated by their deep connection to their roots, culture, and traditions, these women sought to capture the essence of the alebrije—a fusion of dreams, fantasies, and personal experiences.

What sets Zoológico Mágico apart is not just the beauty of their creations, but also the fact that it is led entirely by women who oversee every stage of the crafting process, including the intricate sculpting of wooden pieces, a task traditionally associated with men!

Check out Rosario Fabián, President of Zoológico Mágico, in action as she carves wood into beautiful sculptures:

Copal: A Mystical Tree

Copal has been used since pre-Hispanic times. This tree holds deep significance for the community of San Martín Tilcajete; it’s sacred to them. The women of Zoológico Mágico use Copal to craft their pieces.

The whimsical way it grows provides artisans with a canvas to unleash their creativity, allowing them to visualize and then shape detailed alebrijes with each swing of the machete.

The sap or resin of the copal tree, also known as incense, is used in various cultural rituals. It’s believed that the smoke from burning incense purifies the soul, protects families, attracts love and abundance, and wards off malevolent spirits.

The residents of San Martín Tilcajete place great importance on the utilization and preservation of the copal tree. Consequently, every year, the entire community – including workshops and residents alike – collaborates on a collective endeavour. They participate in a reforestation initiative, planting approximately 2000 trees to nurture life and sustain their environment.

Crafting a Magical Piece

For some, the price of an alebrije might seem high, but let us assure you, it’s more than fair considering the intricate process behind crafting each of these magical pieces.

It all begins with the selection of the copal trunk, which must be of the highest quality. Its natural structure is what inspires the creation of the figure.

A second step is the curing process, which involves treating and dehydrating the piece. It must be restored and patched as many times as necessary before it’s ready for colour.

Then comes the painting process, where each stroke tells a story. At Zoológico Mágico, artists work with two types of paint. The first, called “basic,” allows for free expression, with dots, spots, and lines forming patterns guided by the artist’s imagination. The second, known as “fine painting,” focuses on symbolism, with each element carefully chosen to convey deeper meaning, like butterflies symbolizing happiness or seeds representing fertility.

This attention to detail ensures that each alebrije is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.

The process of crafting an alebrije
Exploring Zoológico Mágico as a Traveller

Aside from purchasing beautiful souvenirs, travellers visiting Zoológico Mágico get to delve into the captivating world of alebrije crafting firsthand. They even get a chance to try their hand at painting one themselves. 

A handy kit equipped with paints, brushes, and all necessary materials is provided, allowing their imagination to run wild with vibrant colours and intricate designs. And who knows, perhaps a taste of Mezcal, a beloved local alcoholic beverage, will make a special appearance to further ignite their inspiration.



*Interested in joining a tour? Check out what our travel partners at G Adventures or Just You have to offer.

The inspiration for this blog comes directly from the insights generously shared by Daniela Hernández, a talented craft painter at Zoológico Mágico, during a webinar for Spanish-speaking members of Planeterra’s Global Community Network. Watch the session in Spanish below.

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Women in Community Tourism: Three inspiring stories

In case you haven’t heard, Planeterra has joined forces with Evaneos to champion community tourism worldwide, and we couldn’t be more thrilled about it.

The timing of our partnership announcement couldn’t be more perfect, coinciding with International Women’s Day.  So, let’s take a moment to celebrate and shine a spotlight on three extraordinary women who are at the forefront of the first community tourism enterprises supported through this collaboration.

Get ready to be inspired by the stories of Yenny Quispe Sallo, Ni Komang Sariadi, and Jenny Rasija as they lead the charge and uplift others with their remarkable work.

Yenny Quispe Sallo

Community member and former President of the Urpis de Antaquillka Association

Before joining the Urpis de Antaquillka Community Association, Yenny Quispe Sallo made a living by weaving belts and chullos (Andean beanies) to sell at a local market. However, this work was exhausting and unprofitable due to the low selling prices.

After meeting with her colleague Roxana, they decided it was time for a change. They wanted to showcase their amazing creations and explore new opportunities in tourism.

So, even though Yenny lacked experience in the area, she eagerly accepted the position of secretary in the association, backing up Roxana, who served as president at the time. Years later, Yenny ended up taking the presidency twice! 

In 2019, they formalized their association with 40 women, although not all of them are currently active members.

Yenny Quispe Sallo Urpis de Antaquillka Association (Peru)

Yenny and her colleagues also decided to level up their skills with some training in gastronomy and hospitality, getting ready to welcome travellers with open arms.

They were all set to welcome their first visitors in March 2020, but then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and drastically changed their plans. This brought them down, but despite the initial setbacks, they found the motivation to move forward and complete the construction of their premises, with the help of their husbands during the pandemic.

Their perseverance paid off when they finally welcomed their first guests in July 2022, reigniting their determination. They’ve been hustling ever since, teaming up with local agencies to bring in more travellers. And by 2023, they were hosting 3 to 4 groups of tourists every month, which meant more jobs for the 23 incredible ‘mamás’ (as Yenny likes to call her colleagues), with plans to expand even more!

Their vision for the future is to keep growing, and they are immensely grateful for the support of Planeterra and Evaneos. Through our partnership, we’re supporting Yenny and all the women from Urpis de Antaquillka in enhancing their current tourism experiences and upgrading facilities and infrastructure.

This includes improving the llama hiking paths, kitchen facilities, and overall experience development. Additionally, we provide training and capacity building to ensure the success of their tourism enterprise.

Ni Komang Sariadi (Ibu Sari)

Founder of PKP Community Centre

Ni Komang Sariadi (also known as Ibu Sari) has travelled a remarkable journey from adversity to empowerment, inspiring everyone she meets along the way.

Despite enduring the heartache of a difficult divorce and being separated from her daughter for 12 years, she refused to let despair define her. Instead, she embraced resilience and determination, returning to school with a clear mission in mind.

Driven by her own experiences, Ibu Sari recognized the need to support other women facing similar challenges. Thus, she founded the KIM Women’s Centre, a sanctuary of hope for those seeking to rebuild their lives. Understanding the importance of holistic well-being, she developed comprehensive programs to nurture the mind, body, and spirit of her fellow women, offering both emotional support and practical skills.

Ibu Sari PKP Community Centre (Indonesia)

But Ibu Sari’s vision extended beyond individual empowerment. Recognizing the crucial role families play in women’s lives, she expanded the centre’s focus to encompass the entire community. With the introduction of the new PKP logo, symbolizing unity and growth, the centre transformed into a vibrant hub where people of all ages and genders could gather to learn, collaborate, and flourish.

Today, the PKP Community Centre stands as a testament to Ibu Sari’s resilience and compassion. Through initiatives ranging from sewing and cooking to yoga and more, it continues to empower individuals to lead fulfilling lives and contribute to their community. However, sustaining this vital work relies on the ongoing support of generous donors who share Ibu Sari’s vision of a brighter future for all.

We are collaborating with Evaneos to support Ibu Sari and the PKP Community Centre in upgrading their existing catering tourism infrastructure.

This includes enhancing the walking path around the garden to make it wheelchair-friendly and accessible to everyone. Additionally, we will provide training on the technical aspects of running a successful tourism enterprise.

Jenny Rasija

Founder of Razafindrabe

Jenny Rasija is a young Malagasy entrepreneur driven by a passion for arts, community development, and women’s empowerment.

Her journey into handicrafts started in 2010 when she joined family members in the trade. However, it was her travels across various African countries to engage in social work that reignited her passion for handicrafts. Inspired to make a difference, Jenny raised the bar and established Razafindrabe Collections in 2016.

As a social activist, Jenny advocates for artisans, working tirelessly to secure a brighter future not only for them but also for their entire families.

As a result, we aim to help Razafindrabe diversify its income, foster cultural exchange, and empower the women artisans involved. This will also lead to opportunities for their own education and that of their children, enable infrastructure upgrades and offer financial freedom.

Jenny Rasija Razafindrabe (Madagascar)

The stories of Yenny, Ni Komang Sariadi, Jenny Rasija, and all the women inspiring change within their communities are true examples of the power of community tourism to uplift lives and create better futures for women worldwide.

We are grateful to partner with global leaders such as  Evaneos to continue fostering the positive impact of tourism. Stay tuned for more updates on this exciting partnership.


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Asociación de Mujeres Artesanas Zoológico Mágico

Asociación de Mujeres Artesanas Zoológico Mágico

San Martin de Tilcajete, Oaxaca, Mexico


This newly formed cooperative was founded by 13 women who aspire to foster growth and generate employment opportunities for women and youth through art. Their primary objective is to preserve the Zapotec culture and the cherished artisanal process of creating alebrijes, a local cultural heritage.

Their workshop is a haven of fantasy and art, where they breathe life into various animal creatures they can imagine. Each piece is meticulously crafted with their own hands, skillfully combining vibrant colors that enhance the beauty of the wood.


people directly impacted


women indirectly benefitting
Zoológico Mágico

Critical Need

San Martín Tilcajete is a town located in Oaxaca famous for the woodwork created by local artisans. The main piece of Art in the wood workshops is the famous Alebrijes, which are wooden figures that represent different animals of the Zapoteca culture and some of their legends, there are approximately 150 alebrijes artisans.

The alebrijes are a big part of the Oaxacan culture and preservation from generation to generation is very important. Nowadays a lot of different people around Mexico create copies of the original alebrijes and they are sold everywhere, the artisans in San Martin are having a hard time generating enough income and the value of their art has gone down according to the market prices.

Our Involvement

Planeterra has been working together with the women of the Zoologico Mágico association to find out what are the most pressing needs to be able to host travellers. They needed a bathroom for visitors, as well as to finalize the process of registering their business. Now they are fully registered and have brand-new bathrooms.

Through this partnership, we also connected Asociación de Mujeres Artesanas Zoológico Mágico to travellers who are now able to experience the Zapoteca culture and the making of alebrijes. This additional revenue will increase their income so they are able to grow as a community.


Related projects

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CFLI Project in Sri Lanka comes to a successful close

Planeterra & Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

About Planeterra

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

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An Interview with Amoun, Founder of Domari Society

An Interview with Domari Society Founder, Amoun

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

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

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

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

Why did you start your organization?

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

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

What impacts have you seen in your community?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your dreams for your organization?

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

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

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

Planeterra & Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives

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

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

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

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

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

Tea tasting class for local entrepreneurs.

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

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

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

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

Local entrepreneurs at a packaging workshop.

About Planeterra

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

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The ‘Six Stars’ at Amba Estate


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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2019 Update from Lusumpuko Women’s Club


Since serving their first meal to international travellers in April 2018, the ladies of Lusumpuko Women’s Club in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, have continued to grow and excel at their craft while also cementing their position as a community-based organization.

The Lusumpuko Women’s Club has catered to over 3,000 G Adventures travellers and due to their success, they have begun serving even more travellers as of January 2020. The members have improved their English skills, public speaking abilities, and continued to preserve traditional Zimbabwean cooking methods and dishes.

The group has brought in an additional 10 members and their operation has expanded from a tourism service to a popular local event caterer. The ladies are also giving back to their community by serving meals on a monthly basis at the local hospital and seniors’ home.

Lusumpuko has continued to break barriers in the industry by standing alone as one of the best locally-owned service providers in Victoria Falls and they have received critical acclaim from local media for their efforts.

This is only the beginning of a new and exciting journey for the Lusumpuko Women’s Club as they continue to take back their power through the growth of their cooperative.

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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.


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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