So what can we do? What can Americans do who don't have big bucks to spend abroad?
My husband Ken and I have a modest income; we've both been educators our whole adult lives, and I make a tiny bit writing (2 cents an hour, to be exact). As a rule, we don't buy anything we don't absolutely have to have. When we do buy, we almost always buy secondhand. But our one area of "splurging" is green and culturally-sensitive travel.
We plan all of our trips from scratch, by ourselves. No packages, no big hotels, no cruises. We cut out the middleman and as much as possible, we avoid foreign-owned lodging. We do our best to funnel our dollars directly to local people.
In South Africa, we visited the village of Welverdiend, just outside the Orpen Gate of Kruger National Park. The villagers here rely heavily on natural resources to provide their basic needs: fuel, housing, food. They use wood from local trees for home-construction, cooking, fencing, livestock corrals, furniture, etc.
Welverdiend are trying to generate income by offering village tours, and they're doing a good job of it. When we visited there, all of our payment went directly into the villagers' pockets. Supporting their tours helps the villagers in the short run, and also gives them an incentive to preserve their culture and to preserve a sustainable relationship with their natural resources.
We went to Peru this past summer, and stayed in a remote research facility on a tributary of the Amazon River owned by a nonprofit, Project Amazonas. The mission of Project Amazonas is to promote conservation, conservation education, and the health of impoverished villages in remote areas of Amazonia. Project Amazonas has just gotten funding for a medical boat that will move from village to village providing basic health care for impoverished families. All the money we spent along the Amazon went directly to support the projects of Project Amazonas, or directly into the hands of remote villages we visited along the Rio Orosa: Santa Ursula, Comandancia, Santa Thomas. We donated money also to ACDA-Peru, a nonprofit working along a different tributary of the Amazon, for their September health fair to provide medical services and family planning options to families along the river (organized by Rosa Vasquez of Hospedaje La Pascana). When families have access to medical care, family planning, and education, birth rates go down, which in turn helps families use rainforest products (including trees and wildlife) at a more sustainable rate. All of the support people we employed on the trip - our cook, our boatman, our driver, our guide on the desert coast and in the Amazon - were all native Peruvians.
My son Alan, our excellent bird guide Edgardo Aguilar (email@example.com), and husband Ken on the coast of Peru
With one exception, all of the hostels where we stayed, in the Andes and elsewhere, were owned and operated 100% by local people. Our only exception was Llanganuco Lodge, a Mount Huascaran eco-lodge owned by a transplanted Brit, who donates money to support the local Quechua community and employs local Quechuans.
A Quechuan family cooking lunch to sell to tourists in Huascaran National Park in the Peruvian Andes (photo by Sally Kneidel)
My family (Sadie, Alan, and Ken) birding at Llanganuco Lodge in the Cordillera Blanca of the Peruvian Andes
A trip to Thailand and Viet Nam is in the works. I'm going with two friends this time, not my family. I'm booking places right now via the internet. I'm trying to choose places that promote conservation and that are owned by local people. It takes a lot more time to do the research required to screen providers and to book places myself, rather than through a travel agency. But it's fun. When I get back from trips, I try to maintain contact with villagers, with local providers, and with conservation groups we've met during the trip. I post their contact info on my blog, and promote their fundraisers on my blog. My goal is to get American travel dollars into the hands of people in developing nations who are struggling toward sustainable livelihoods. By doing so, I hope to help them live more comfortably, to give them additional incentive to maintain their rich traditions and way of life, and to reduce the overharvesting of natural resources. When I get back, I'll post contact info for the local providers and organizations we met in Asia.
Text & photos by Sally Kneidel, PhD
Keywords:: green travel ecotravel Thailand Asia Viet Nam Peru South Africa Welverdiend Edgardo Aguilar Rosa Vasquez Project Amazonas