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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

Media Enquiries

For media enquiries, please reach out to:

Alanna Wallace
Program & Communications Manager

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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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2019 Update from Lusumpuko Women’s Club

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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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

All photos and content belongs to © thirdeyemom.

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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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