Sunday, 13 March 2011

Andaman Discoveries

This video was featured at the ITB Berlin responsible tourism networking day 11 March 2011.

Andaman Discoveries, a leader in sustainable travel in Thailand, allows visitors and volunteers to directly support community education, village-led conservation, and cultural empowerment.

Are you interested in seeing a different type of Thailand? Ready to take a detour from the tourist circuit? Andaman Discoveries allows visitors to experience the traditional culture and ecology of rural coastal Thailand. Just a few hours north of Phuket, you can experience a true cultural exchange. We offer several village tours, including cultural tours, family tours, and hands-on tours. Each of their village tours contains a diverse mix of cultural exchange, ecological, and handicraft-making activities. Their tours are designed for everybody, regardless of age or ability, including mature and single travelers.

In addition to village tours and homestays, they can also arrange long-term volunteering placements and study tours, and can book tours to Koh Surin National Park and regional cultural and ecotourism programs.

Andaman Discoveries began as a relief NGO in the aftermath of the 2004 Tsunami. Following the initial crisis response, the organization transitioned into community and livelihood development, training villagers in English, computer, and leadership skills. Andaman Discoveries continues to support these villages through responsible travel and handicraft sales.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Inspiring stories: Potters of Aruvakode in Nilambur

'Kathakali depicted on terracotta. Designed by artisans and potters trained by social entreprenuer Jinan

My journey into the world of the rural artisan communities was not with the intention of ‘developing’ them or educating them. I went to them to regain that which I had lost in the process of getting educated; to learn from them. Having escaped ‘education’ and ‘development’ they were still original and authentic and were holding on to the culture and world-view, which sustained them for centuries. I perceived the rural / tribal communities as being wise and evolved; and recognised that only by learning from them could we lead sustainable lives.”

This is the story of Jinan, a rebel, activist, designer and a wonderful human being. More over this is the story of all those people’s life that he touched and changed positively for ever.

A news report on how the destiny of Aruvacode, from being a simple potter village had changed to becoming a hub of sex-workers impelled him to proceed to Aruvacode, a sleepy village by the river in Nilambur in Kerala. According to Jinan, “the reason for such a drastic transformation in the village was the rush of cheap substitutes of steel, aluminum, and plastic products to pottery in the market. The rush had pushed the demand for earthenware off the edge and the artisans were left a troubled and distressed lot. Seized of their traditional labour, women of the village were forced into sex-work.

Advent of consumerism had held out its stakes and the artisans failed to keep pace with the fancy needs of the new consumer. In earlier times the artisans had always responded excellently to the local needs of the people, as a strong cultural bond held the user and the producer in unison. But every nuance of modernity brought with it newer difficulties for the potters.”

Pottery revival is to some extend happening through tourism in other villages like Arangottukkara as well. pic by Anita Nair

Several years with the potters of Aruvacode had revealed to him that the issue of development lies deep in preserving the self-respect and creativity of the concerned community. In his presentation on “De-colonising the Aesthetic Sense: The story of craft revival in Aruvacode potters’ village” Jinan argues that “any community, armed with an absolute sense of self-respect and untarnished creativity, is well able to sail through all their problems. It is a dilemma of the ‘educated’ and the culturally uprooted sections of our society where development is perceived more on an economic plane. It is these sections more than any body that genuinely consider the distressed community as incapable of confronting and solving their own problems. “

Treading therefore very carefully, not to step on to the much-travelled path by the interventionist agencies, he took up the work with the potters, honouring his own integrity. He ensured that the aesthetic quality of whatever they made to be rooted in their own culture. He therefore limited his role to incorporating utilitarian aspects into their creations. It was a slow process and the products that emerged were evolved at a natural pace.

The basic idea behind their training programmes were to help the individuals regain their wisdom and confidence which lies embedded within their own communities and culture, believing that creativity can and does solve many a problem related to self-esteem.

Trekking through the rain forests to reach to Nilambur from Wayanad. Pic. Anand Sankar

Five years ago, after a long and two-days of ardent trek from Waynad through the rain forests to Nilambur, we went to spent some time with Jinan. He was by then married to a local woman and still staying with the community creating more livelihood for them. Jina’s work has created good demand for the unique products developed at Aruvakode and one can see products from this small ‘colony’ being displayed in several cities in India.

Our Norwegian partner Ethical Travel Portal had put together an itinerary that featured interactions with artists at Aruvakode. Sometimes, all it takes for a change is one person. In this case it was Jinan. One of our local heroes.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Inviting volunteers

'products like this bag made out of banana-fibre has helped raise 15 lakhs of Rupees in last three years'

“I don't feel like a dead log now; rather I feel like one among you.”Kumarettan, who benefitted out of the socio-economic rehabilitation at the Institute of Palliative Medicine in Kozhikode said recently.

Footprints is a social rehabilitation project by IPM for the physically and mentally incapacitated people. Patients bedridden with spinal injuries are the main beneficiaries of the project. People with advanced kidney diseases and chronic psychiatric illness are also enrolled in the program. Patients are trained to make various items like umbrellas. environmental friendly pens, paper bags etc through interactive training camps organized at IPM. Raw materials are supplied to the patient after the training, the products that they make are collected, sold and the profit returned to them. The project depends heavily on the involvement of the students from various campuses in Calicut city who are linked to the patients. Students support the patients through camps and sell their products through sales organized in various campuses.

Workshops like the one to be organised at the IPM between 2-8th of March 2011, has provided opportunities and capacities for patients to be able to raise funds to the tune of 1.5 million Indian Rupees in less than three years period. These workshops are also a platform for patients from different locations to come together and get to know of each other and to interact with volunteers. It is here that they learn more skills. These days they are designing and producing hand-crafted bags from banana fibre.

Our local partners like Vayali Folklore group will also spend time at the centre to provide entertainment to the volunteers and patients who will be camping in Kozhikode. If there is anyone interested to come and volunteer with us during these days or any other following workshops, please let us know.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

From one traveller to another

The following is a text from an email from one of our earlier traveller to another guest who is preparing his visit to India.

images from Tholpetty - Wildlife Sanctuary in Wayanad.

"Good to hear that you are going to Kerala and Karnataka! These are really destinations that deserve to be known to the world. As The Blue Yonder mentioned I was in Bangalore and Kerala this January and had an amazing time.
Actually I think that it was not so much entirely the places I visited but mostly the people I met and the experiences those meetings gave me. So to begin with, prepare to be open-minded, talk to people (whom in general are incredibly friendly) and enjoy all the fantastic places and experiences. One important thing that definitely should not be missed is the opportunity to practice yoga with real masters that really live and breathe yoga. That in combination with Ayurvedic massage is really a winner.

with Gurukkal Unnikrishnan at Poomulli Mana Kalari

Traveling on my own was no problem at all, especially since The Blue Yonder planned my trip, but also that I actually felt completely safe during the whole trip.

As for destinations you shouldn't miss out on river Nila and the area around. This is where I probably had the strongest experiences, partly because of the fact that its not crowded with other tourists. Which makes the experiences more genuine and authentic. There are some people working with handicraft that is really interesting to meet (bell metal, clay, weaving and so on). You should try to be part a workshop and the making of the handicraft. Also, if you get a chance to listen to the Vayali folklore group playing traditional music and dancing, that is a great way to get the feeling of the rhythm of Kerala.

If possible you should see the work of Dr Suresh at the IPM (Institute of Palliative Medicine) in Calicut as well. It was amazing to see the work that they have done to improve the life of patients needing palliative care, and how the people in the village come together to help.

Another favorite of mine was Marari beach resort. Had a really nice meeting and session with a yoga master there (Master Krishna Kurup) who gave me a lot of inspiration within yoga and meditation. And their "forest" of hammocks was just the true paradise of relaxation :)

I also went on a hike in Wayanad where I saw wild elephants, bats, chameleons and tiger tracks. This is on route more or less between Kerala and Karnataka and really worth a visit. As of the food, it was quite spicy to me in the beginning. But I slowly got used to it. And even got kind of semi used to eating with my fingers! Really loved the Poori and curry. But there are lots of good foodŠ And the Kingfisher beer is actually real good too ;)

Attached are a few of the many photos I took on my trip. Please let me know if you have any more questions. I'll be happy to tell more.