Relief is the immediate step after a natural disaster. Then what? An uncertain future lays ahead for communities whose livelihood and surroundings have been directly affected. Fisherman villages in Southern Thailand had to rebuild their lives and look for new opportunities to sustain their families after the 2004 tsunami.
Andaman Discoveries (AD) previously known as North Andaman Tsunami Relief (NATR) stemmed from tsunami relief pioneered by Bodhi Garrett to serve communities he had lived with and respected. After the initial rebuilding of homes through community-driven tsunami relief, it soon progressed into long-term post-tsunami development programs. Participatory workshops and community meetings sparked the idea of potential tourism as a means of economic renewal. Villagers wanted to welcome tourists in a way that will not bring negative and harmful impacts like that of mass tourism.
Since then, AD works closely with interested villagers on vocational training (covering aspects of tourism, guiding, hospitality, small business management, community development, English and computers). The idea was to maximize and utilize local knowledge and local people as a means of tourism. Villagers return empowered to set up home-stays and design a holiday experience for guests.
Now, guests can choose from six villages to stay in – mostly fishermen communities. Accommodation is simple and clean often with a fan, mattress and mosquito net for a good night rest. Guests are assigned to different host families whom they will spend their time with. Often times, guests leave with great memories of relationships being made. Some even stay to volunteer.
Activities in each village are focused on preserving the culture, religion and environment within the village. Busy your day with big net fishing, batik and soap making, cashew and fruit harvesting or even teaching English to villagers. Conservation programmes such as mangrove and orchid replanting are also encouraged to educate guests on the natural surroundings.
The majority of the money of each trip goes directly to the villagers and 20% of guests’ in-village costs are donated to the community fund which funds community-led projects. AD helps provide communities with new sustainable livelihoods to replace those they lost in the tsunami.
By: Deborah Chan (Kuraburi District, Phang Nga Province, South Thailand, 12- 15 September 2009)
Special Note: Andaman Discoveries is one of the finalists for the 2009 Responsible Tourism Awards (Category: Community Based Tourism). For more v-blogs on Responsible Tourism Awards 2009, please visit our YouTube Channel.