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Uttarakhand Village paves way for Voluntary Tourism

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Jeevan Lal is the hero of the story. His hamlet in remoteKanda, (now Uttaranchal),86 km from Almora, is an ideal  tourist spot. Kanda has about 30 villages and a population of over 15,000 people. But unlike other Hill station, Kanda has shown the way for a new concept of voluntary tourism.

Tourists not only stay in the 5 rooms Jeevan’s Paying Guest, but also use their skills to bring about a difference. For example Rajan Singh who has an architecture back ground , has helped design Earth Quake proof house for those living in the high seismic zone of Kanda.

The project also helps generate employment in an area where there are very few employment schemes.Different from the other forms of tourism ,this pro-poor voluntary tourism helps in offsetting the “Domino Effect” that has destroyed many hill stations.

       Foreigners who flock Kanda in large numbers , make their stay meaningful . They begin their day with a shramdaan ,leading to a cleaner environment . They involve themselves in different chores. They go trekking , chase butterflies but also give lesson in working English to the poor Dalit and backward people. And in the evening ,they enjoy a sumptuous Kumauni meal with Jeevan’s family. Many houses here are even repaired by the volunteers. Jeevan’s story would have remained  unknown beyond these picturesque valleys, but for Prof.Dr.Tajvir Singh – head of the Centre for Tourism Research and Development in Lucknow  and an authority on Himalayas.

    In his research journal, Dr . Singh and his assistant Shalini Singh took up this pilot project and spent a week in Kanda. The research paper they prepared , after there stay in Kanda, war presented at a conference in Makau at the institute for Tourism Studies.” The world received the news with joy”. saidShalini ,back from the conference.

    Prof Singh said this experiment would introduce ‘social  tourism’ on the hills “ inundated by holders of visitors from the plains unmindful of the damage they have done to the place”. ROSE ( Rural organisation for Social Elevation ), Jeevan’s organisation with headquarters in Sunargaon , has a bio- gas plant, a cattle shed, green house and a bee- keeping unit.

      During their stay ,volunteers engage themselves in organic farming, paper making, preparing greeting cards from recycled papers and dried flowers, and even cooking Indian food using biogas or solar cooker.

About Rose

R.O.S.E. (Rural Opportunity for Social Elevation) is a small non-profit organization located in the village of Kanda, Uttarakhand. It’s purpose is to aid in rural development projects and promote awareness through education. It solicits the knowledge and help of Westerners to further its mission.

making-cardsR.O.S.E. was pioneered in 1988 as Jeevan Paying Guest Unit (JPGU)Sunargaon and hosted 9 International visitors. On 17th April 1999 JPGU registred under the Paying Guest scheme of U.P.State Government Tourism Department, now we are in Uttarakhand State. Today it is simply known as R.O.S.E

It works at the grassroots level, appealing to travelers to become active participants in getting involved in and funding projects to develop a better life for the local population as well as themselves. It is the goal of R.O.S.E. to improve the health, education and quality of life of the rural regional poor  while maintaining cultural integrity and ecological balance. This goal is actualized through a program which brings tourist participants to Kanda to live with the Verma family, experience local Kumaoni culture and assist physically or financially, in the rural development activites of R.O.S.E.

Mud-Brick-making2Mr. Verma has created an exceptional example of responsible rural tourism that greatly benefits the community and the visitors through genuine, respectful cultural interactions. Mr. Verma’s family has been present in the Kanda region for generations. He therefore has a deep understanding of the social, cultural and environmental issues faced by the local population. Most importantly, he recognizes that these three aspects are interdependent and thus integral parts of a fully sustainable system of living and all activites are approached with this in mind. Some examples of previous activites of R.O.S.E. include the installation of twin-tank latrines, construction of earthquake-proof homes, community educational programs on sanitation and rural employment. Further examples include a community shop,  construction of a temple, Eco development, organic farming, micro dairy, poultry rearing and others.

A Success Story

My name is Jeevan Lal Verma, I was born in the village of Sunargaon, which is in the Kanda, Bageshwar District of the Kumoan region in Uttarakhand, North India. My family business was in jewellery making, we had a Goldsmiths called Sunar, so our village is called Sunargaon. I studied in Inter college Kanda , ITI Training Almora and National Apprenticeship at Scooters India limited Lucknow after I had finished my studying and visiting life in the city I decided to do social work within my village. I felt called to social work because I had a helping nature, I had always suffered from a lack of money, but my soul told me to serve the local community. I made it my hobby to connect to the whole of the world, so I participated in many training projects, workshops, visits and conferences by the youth leadership and as a social activist.

It was June 1988 when I participated in a workshop where I met some foreign visitors. One was a representative from a Volunteer sending organization; he was looking for a host family. The idea was to host overseas volunteers and help them to engage with work camps in rural development, environmental protection, disaster relief and other activities. I was happy to host international volunteers and accepted the offer.

In August 1988, I hosted eight international volunteers (5 female & 3 male) from different nations. They participated in 15 days home stay, cultural exchange and social & rural development work camps. That was my first experience and it was very successful. My family and the whole community gave the visitors a warm welcome. The community and youth of Kanda participated and my family was very cooperative with hosting the international volunteers, who adjusted very well to our family life. I felt good because the visiting group were very flexible, civilized and had a good sense of humor. It was a valuable exchange because I learnt some skills and increased my knowledge from them.

As this first experience was such a success more volunteers were sent from the organization. All the visitors had tourist visas and when they came to Sunargoan they appreciated the beauty of their natural surroundings as well as sampling unique Kumoan organic local dishes and exchanging cultural activities. There was also the opportunity to engage in local religious (Hindu) Ceremonies and Festivals. In addition there was practical work such as rural development projects, building construction and craft activities which hugely increased the local villages social welfare and rural development.

Some of the volunteers suggested that it would be a better idea to invite future volunteers directly so that I could earn money for the community, which previously would have gone to the volunteer organization. Visitors were then able to connect to me directly from places such as the UK, Holland and the USA and I hosted some volunteers every year. Due to lack of marketing skills and adequate communication equipment sometime the number of visitors were few. However with patience and with new communication equipment I was able to connect to non profit volunteer organizations. I placed an entry detailing this opportunity in an International directory publication. This resulted in more visitors arriving in Sunargoan. At the start of 2000 some of the volunteers published their good experiences in an international magazine.

There has been much interest in our projects at Kanda. Professor T. V. Singh and Prof Shalini Singh of the Centre for Tourism Research and Development in Lucknow studied in Kanda and published a research article on Altruistic Tourism ; ‘Another Shade of Sustainable Tourism – The case of Kanda’

In 1999 Brigid McKay, financed by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), of Kathmandu, Nepal wrote an article on Eco-Tourism in Kanda.

Pekka Mustonem (Finland) in 2004 and Eric Coleman (USA) in 2005 both researched here as part of their University work. Many of our visitors are international University students and when they return home they relate the opportunities offered to friends and write articles for their University magazines.

In 2002 we hosted two visitors from Canada television. They were making a TV documentary about remote areas such as Kanda and included the grass root works of ROSE. The news channel of a Canadian broadcasting corporation broadcast the film.

I participate in international seminars, workshops, training programs, fairs and festivals in India and exhibit photographs of the volunteers and village/tourism so people are aware of the opportunities we provide. In 2004 we were able to arrange a computer and connect with the internet. Our UK and Canadian visitors developed our websitewww.rosekanda.org as a further channel for publicity.

Partnering & Funding

The following organisations have formed a partnership with R.O.S.E. and Mr Verma.See their websites for further information

Funding

K.S.S./R.O.S.E. is in constant need of funding. All past major projects, for example the building of the latrines, have been funded by volunteers through fundraising activities before their stay in Kanda. This does not mean volunteers may only come with major funds in their luggage, because the added value of the volunteer comes through the provision of labour for work that otherwise may not be afforded. This is especially the case for building projects in the community that already have materials funding and planting or harvesting. Those visitors solely interesting in cultural exchange, rather than volunteer work are also welcome. However securing funding is a sure way to ensure constant employment on a new or major project that can benefit the community in the long term.

If you would like to help ROSE but do not want to volunteer in Kanda, there are many ways you can help:

Donations
Kanda people need clothes, general medications (aspirin, plasters, fever reducer, disinfectants, etc), paper and pencils for the school, vegetable and/or flower seeds, agricultural tools, etc. You can also send money, which will be used for the most urgent needs or for future projects. Mention if you want the money to be used for a special cause.

Spread the Word
You can talk about ROSE to people around you. Maybe some people you know would like to come in Kanda or make a donation. Any form of publicity for this cause is most welcome. Those involved in University life are in especially good positions to promote the needs of the project via University magazines and newsletters/societies.

Additionally, you can always ask Mr Verma for more information on how to help ROSE via his email.

Research

The following are various research papers people have written about the project here at Kanda.

  • September 1999 Brigid McKay New Zealand
    Study on Eco Tourism in Kanda by the financial support of International Centre For Integrated Mountain Development Kathmandu Nepal.
  • April 2001 Prof. Tej Vir Singh and Prof. Shalini Singh, Centre For Tourism Research and Development, Indra Nagar Lucknow.
    Visited and research on Altrustic Tourism: Another Shada Of Sustainable Tourism. The Case of Kanda Community. Published in Tourism Recreation Research Vol.50, No:4, 2002 (also Vol.28(2), 2003).
  • Chapter on “Kanda” in the book ‘Novelty Tourism’ published in UK (CAB International) .
  • May 2004 Pekka Mustonen Researcher, Turku School of Economics Turku Finland research on Reppureissaus on Utta Massaturismia Travellerit tallovat tuttuja polkuja. Published in S K Sunnuntai 27.5.2007.
  • July 2005 Eric Coleman University Researcher from USA study on Rural Eco / Voluntary Tourism.

Awards & Achievements

Achievements:September 2007
Honored by the Honorable Tourism Minister (Uttarakhand) Shri Prakash Pant on World Tourism Day at H.N.B. Garhwal University, Srinagar for efforts in promoting Rural Eco / Voluntary Tourism.
This on the recommendation of Prof S.C.Bagri, Director of the Centre for Mountain Tourism and Hospitality Studies HNB Garhwal University Srinagar in his research on “Rural Eco / Voluntary Tourism in Sunargoan, Kanda, Bageshwar, Uttaranchal”.

Awards:

2006
Selected for Best Citizens of India 2006, by The India International Friendship Society, New Delhi

2005
Awarded First Choice Responsible Tourism Award 2005 for Best Volunteering programme, sponsored by The Imaginative Traveler, from The World Travel Market (WTM), London
(http://www.presspicture.net/p247t-login.htm).

2001
Selected for The Pride of Utaranchal, by Utsah New Delhi.

Internship

7An intern is one who works in a temporary position with an emphasis on education. ROSE offers to the opportunity for interns to work here on a voluntary basis (unpaid). Interns can work in sustainable agriculture, rural development and construction, gaining the associated skills.

Interns receive practical training from farmers, artisans and international students in a range of skills. In exchange for these learning opportunities, interns are expected to do farm work, assist in teaching skills to shorter-term guests, to assist in developing training materials, and to assist with organizational and guest support.

On a daily basis agricultural interns participate in the farming activities of the season. This gives practice in the skills of working with draft animals and using farm machinery. They plant, cultivate and harvest a rotation of crops and learn many associated skills, such as woodworking, metalworking and blacksmithing. These activities create an understanding and empathy for the work demands of farmers and crafts people.

Construction interns learn both traditional and modern Indian construction techniques while working on construction projects that will be of great benefit to the local community.

An example of a recent internship is Domonkos Mikesy from Planet Foundation Hungary who will be spending 6 months in total with the Verma family learning construction techniques during the building of a community centre, which will provide shelter to families whose houses are lost to flash floods and mudslides in the monsoon. Catherine Duclos represents Boarder Less Volunteers M.C.Gill University Canada who will be financing the construction work.