Credit to Author: Dave Pottinger| Date: Sun, 23 Feb 2020 16:15:09 +0000
Old Delhi – Stepping out of a stately Ambassador taxi, I dart between idling tuk tuks and pedestrians hurrying to work. I quickly seek shade beneath a small clump of trees, a brief respite from the 40C heat, before I walk down a side street to another patch of shade to meet my guide.
A petite young woman stands quietly, her broad grin encouraging smiles from my group. “My name is Annie and I’m a guide with Salaam Baalak Trust. I’ll be showing you my part of Old Delhi today and I’m a former street kid.”
Sixteen-year-old Annie leads us past markets and through alleyways not on any tourist maps, while telling us how she survived on the streets as a six-year-old.
Now she dreams of owning a travel agency but first her focus is on finishing high school. There are an estimated 70,000 kids living on Delhi streets according to a recent survey by the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights Act; the Trust on average is rescuing 5000 street kids a year, with Annie a shining example of success.
Founded 31 years ago, Salaam Baalak Trust is a Delhi-based NGO, launched from money donated from Mira Nair’s 1988 film Salaam Bombay, which depicted the harsh life of Delhi’s street kids. For the past 12 years, the Trust has been funded by Planeterra, a non-profit established in 2003 by G Adventures, who also partner with the Trust to offer City Walk tours, all led by former street kids.
During this annual G for Good trip by G Adventures and Planeterra, the City Walk is a prime example of the benefits of tourism.
Sustainable and eco-tourism may be au courant tourism catchphrases, but for G Adventures founder Bruce Poon Tip, these words don’t encapsulate his company’s trajectory. “What we do is different than any other organization. We’ve carved a new path within the tourism industry.” Poon Tip prefers community tourism, and as we’re discovering, its women who are embracing the opportunity, even when it challenges tradition.
Another women-led project accessible to G Adventures travellers when arriving in New Delhi is Women on Wheels. Launched by the Azad Foundation in 2015, the taxi service staffed by women drivers provides airport transfers for G Adventures and local women, is a rare sight in India. Women on Wheels now boasts almost 200 employees. Employees learn how to drive, are taught English and work towards owning their cars.
Next stop on the The G for Good trip is Agra, home to the country’s most popular site, the stunning Taj Mahal. Less than 10 minutes away, we stop at colourful and cosy Sheroes Hangout for an afternoon tea break. The staff are all women, all survivors of acid attacks, which has traditionally resulted in victims being shunned, unable to work and often ostracized from their families.
The café is now included on many tours to Agra, where travellers can hear their stories. Providing employment and community, Sheroes have an ongoing campaign to raise awareness and prevent future acid attacks on Indian women.
From India, our group with G for Good headed north to Nepal, which is rebuilding after a earthquake hit in 2015. Apart from the endless stream of climbers heading to Everest, tourism is still in its infancy. But a successful solution has been embraced by many women-led groups: the community home stay program.
The women of Panauti, one of the oldest towns of the Kathmandu Valley, have embraced tourism opportunities to support their families, slowly altering their cultural norm that a woman’s place is in the home.
Shila Amatya convinced 13 women, despite the objections of many men in her community, to join her in creating the Panauti Community Homestay. As Shila’s daughter Amy explained, “…women had to push past their comfort zone. We wanted to be proud of Panauti and show what we have to the world.”
After a boisterous welcome ceremony of music and dance at the sixth-century Indrewshwar Temple, I’m off with my homestay host Anita, for a cooking class and dinner.
Welcomed by Anita’s mom Nirmala, we chop and grate, saute and roast in the small kitchen, as I learn how mother and daughter transform locally-grown ingredients into traditional Newari cuisine. Anita knows she’s embarking on a path different from her mom.
“I hope to get married, and that my husband will move in with us, so I can continue the homestay business.”
As we swap stories and laughs, our plates are soon piled with curried chicken, stewed okra, mustard greens and cauliflower, curried lentils and rice, but I save room for the sweet finish we made: yamari, a sesame paste, almond and coconut dumpling filled with molasses.
Twenty women are now members of the Panauti Homestay Association, offering accommodation, cooking classes and hiking, biking and walking tours, with 80 per cent of revenues going to the hosts and 20 per cent to the association, which recently built a new community centre, offering language and training programs.
Back in Kathmandu, the employees of SASANE are excited for the G for Good group but in particular to welcome Bruce Poon Tip. Ten years ago, G Adventures awarded the fledgling organization $25,000 as winners of the inaugural G Project which launched the association and this is his first visit to SASANE.
Every woman at SASANE is a survivor of human trafficking. Some are paralegals, some are helping to educate in rural areas to prevent trafficking and some are training to work in tourism. As I participate in SASANE’s daily momo-making class, a savoury Nepali dumpling, the laughter of the women is the welcome proof that there can be a bright future thanks to tourism.
These community organizations in India and Nepal are five of 20 women’s projects funded by Planeterra. G Adventures and Planeterra have succeeded in funding 50 new social enterprises in five years, and are now focused on Project 100: funding 100 social enterprise programs by the end of 2020.
All G Adventures itineraries highlight a G for Good moment that relates to a Planeterra-supported project and a Ripple score, the percentage of funds from a tour spent on local transportation, accommodation, restaurants and services.
Waheeda Harris was a guest of G Adventures and Planeterra, who neither viewed nor approved this article prior to publication.