As countries develop and the tourist industry grows, it’s always inspiring to see the locals meet these changes head on in a charitable way. And that is exactly what the people of Cambodia, forever known for their resilience, have done, as the country moves towards a slightly more westernised, more developed and inevitably more touristy destination.
Throughout the country, hundreds of projects have been set up by local people to enrich the experiences of those visiting whilst also enriching the local communities. These have been enormously successful, particularly in more remote, rural areas, and witnessing these local, charitable initiatives have enhanced the beautiful environment, held the most vulnerable in communities and given a new level of autonomy to the Cambodian people.
The projects set up in the floating village (a village where everything is built on stilts to protect from rising water levels in the rainy season) of Tonle Sap Lake, near Siem Reap, exemplifies the positive impact these projects can have in local communities.
The local women of the village have capitalised on its unique nature and have joined together to set up a business run solely by themselves. Right in the heart of the village, the women have begun operating lazy canoe boat trips for tourists to meander through the undergrowth of the stilted homes and get a sense of what it’s like to travel solely by boat in the rainy months.
Or, if the visitors are fancying something a little more relaxing, they are also welcome to relax under the canopy of trees that surrounds the village, and the hand-woven pillows and blankets adorning the boats make this a very tempting option.
This entire operation provides autonomous employment for local women in a culture where men are still seen as the main earners. The women have worked together to create a viable, attractive business that serves both their employment needs and the desires of the tourists who travel there. It is inspiring, and not all too common, to see such a female-dominated enterprise right out in the most rural areas of Cambodia.
As well as this, the profits generated from this venture are being used to support the local school and schoolchildren. Classes in rural Cambodia tend to be large and many do not stay in school past an elementary level. Whilst there are opportunities to give money to the local school, or buy supplies from sellers standing on the playground, this eco-tourism project allows tourists to benefit the local school, children and local women who will in most cases be the mothers of the children attending this school. It allows travellers to help whilst not removing any autonomy from the local people, who then get to decide how they use their employment, their time, and the profits generated from this to best serve the needs of their community.
As well as stumbling across eco-tourism ventures such as the women in Tonle Sap Lake, there is a comprehensive, nationwide effort to establish and encourage these enterprises across the country. Eco-tourism Cambodia is an initiative that believes that charity is not the solution for the people of Cambodia, but rather sustainable employment and education achieved through sustainable tourism can be the solution.
They believe that by supporting eco-tourism projects, the negative impacts of tourism such as deforestation and water shortages and can offer provide economic advantages only to the richest in the country. Because of this, they pioneer many homestay accommodations, such as that in Baray. The homestay includes chalets and was set up to promote local crafts as a means of alleviating poverty in the area. There are also homestays set up in Chi Phat, and area that has pioneered eco-tourism by setting up a wide range of accommodation and activities for tourists that involve local people, have a positive impact on the local communities and the environment, and provide an authentic experience of Cambodian life.
The eco-tourism drive in Cambodia is a really inspiring reaction to the growing tourist industry. Locals take pride in involving themself in the tourism industry and showcasing more “off the beaten track” places many tourists would miss otherwise. The projects serve to empower Cambodians and provide an avenue for them to create autonomous employment and to enrich their own communities.
These initiatives, in addition to have a positive economic and environment impact, have often created new opportunities for more marginalised groups, such as youth and women, and they are fast becoming one of the most popular ways to experience Cambodia.
For more information about sustainable tourism in Cambodia, please click here.