Development 101 (Part 2)
Diane Faires – Sri Lanka
This past week, I had another “lesson” in implementing development projects, this one related to Eco-tourism. To begin our school holidays, my fellow missionary Grace and I went to visit some friends of ours on the island of Mannar. Our friends work for the refugee assistance agency ZOA, which is helping initiate a new eco-tourism project with a newly resettled community of fishermen, as an additional source of income for them. Their families were displaced by the war, and although they have recently been allowed by the army to resettle on their land, it’s a struggle for them to rebuild their lives, homes, and livelihood.
In the mornings, the fishermen take their boats out on the Giant’s Tank, a very large man-made lake that attracts a huge number and variety of migratory birds. The idea is to have the fishermen offer bird-watching tours in their boats in the evenings, when the birds are easiest to view. They would use their own small, non-motorized boats for the tours, taking only a few tourists out at a time, so they wouldn’t damage the tank or scare away the birds. The community could also open a small shop to sell food and drinks to visitors, as well as some local produce or crafts. The organizers hope that by using the beauty of the birds and the tank to generate income, the fishermen will have incentive to protect their environment, and stop killing the birds for their meat.
Of course, being in a sensitive area, many different groups have to approve even such simple plans. One morning, Grace and I went along to a meeting to discuss the project with all the parties involved – the army, the police, the LTTE, the local government officials, zoology professors serving as advisors, and representatives from the fishing village. After many hours of discussion (which mostly evolved into unrelated topics – from elephant dung to training donkeys), all came to a consensus in support of the project.
But the best part was the next day, when we got to be test-tourists for the project, and go on a tour of the Giant’s Tank ourselves. Grace was thrilled, being an enthusiastic bird watcher, and I was happy to enjoy the beautiful scenery, and the experience of floating around in this vast, secluded lake, seeing the birds, water buffalos, trees, and plants.
The fisherman are receiving training in identifying different birds, and they enthusiastically tried out their knowledge on us, trying to point out the birds as they paddled, poled, and sometimes pushed us through the thick water lilies filling the tank. They sang and joked, and seemed delighted with their newest line of work. From such a simple idea, there is potential for a big change in the life of these villagers, and for the preservation of a rich natural resource.
Diane serves as a Global Mission Intern by the Common Global Ministries Board of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ. She teaches English and participates in community-based work.