Sustainable Development in Northern India
Etienne Berthelot (France), Project Manager of our Homestays project, one of our rural tourism initiatives with a group of young women in the rural community of Naddi- upper Dharamshala:
The Home Stays project is an eco-friendly microfinance project developed by the NGO EduCARE India and its affiliate programs MicroempowerED and ConservEN. The aim is to receive tourists for the touristic season in the home of a small village community called Naddi. This idea was born when working with Young Women Association (YWA), an association of women in the community that we are trying to empower. We realized that they have all extra rooms which they don’t use and by which they could try to make earnings.
So now EduCARE India and YWA are working hand in hand to try to realize this project by April 2013, the start of the touristic season in the Himalayas. We are a very motivated team composed of several interns which come from different Western countries. We share our experiences, ideas and philanthropy to make this project possible and to help the community.
It is a microfinance project because through small loans and financial skills we help the community to improve the state of their room and to organise, develop and advertise the project on a larger scale. Also we hold workshops with the female participants on a weekly basis on topics like housekeeping, cultural sensitivity or English lessons, so that they can be fully ready to receive tourists and to interact with them.
Additionally, the Homestays project is an eco-friendly project because the community is located on a small verdant hillside in the Himalayan Mountains. The community lives in harmony with nature and tries to get the maximum out of it by respecting it at the same time. There are plenty of animals like horses, goats or cows. It is an opportunity for the tourists to experience rural Indian lifestyle in interaction with the local culture and tradition and in a peaceful and quiet environment such as the Himalayan Mountains.
In a personal point of view it is very interesting to try to implement this project in rural India because we face a lot of challenges and difficulties that we then solve by our team work. Indeed the gap between the western comforts and Indian rural life is a huge challenge. We try to make the rooms as cozy as possible by improving the local infrastructure. Moreover to teach the women how to provide services is also laborious but we do it with a positive attitude and we have a lot of fun with the women.
Spending so much time with the community on this project and teaching the women the art of western hospitality is very entertaining. This brings us closer and we forge friendships with these women. In return they do not hesitate to give us their own customs and show us that in India they also know how to receive guests. The guest is treated like a king in the Indian Hospitality culture and these women take care to remind this to us. All these exchanges and pleasant moments with the community allow us to build a lasting relationship of trust.
Like in every project you are working on it has its share of good and bad times. One of the bad moments was when we were trying to make each room of the community follow a standard quality of living. Some of the rooms were in a bad condition and we had to start from scratch. For example, some women were using their extra room as a cattle feed storage! This room should be ready to host tourists in few months! But one of our strengths in the work team is that we are very motivated, never defeatist; we never give up! This kind of challenge just makes the project more interesting for us.
This project is not fully launched yet, but we are well on the way to realizing it. It is only by the strength of our efforts and respect for the local culture that we can achieve it. There is still a lot of work, but fortunately we work very hard to make these homestays possible. I hope that we will create something that we allow this village to be sustainable for many years!