He Came, He Saw, He Empowered
By Diana Sahu | Published: 02nd April 2016 10:00 PM |
From tourism to education, a travel expert has been slowly but steadily changing lives of poor tribals in a remote village of Koraput district in Odisha. After implementing a village tourism initiative called Desia in the isolated Bantalabiri village near Machkund, Puri-based Yugabrat Kar will launch a school for its children in mid-April.
Helping him in the initiative are villagers of Bantalabiri, who have been managing Desia for the last two years. The school will provide pre-school training and primary education for children of Bantalabiri and neighbouring villages. “It has been designed on the lines of Awake and Shine School set up by retired Lt General J M Singh in Kalimpong, which focuses on empowering village children to become change-makers of the future,” says Kar. A year’s profit from Desia went into the school.
“A group of village girls working for Desia were trained in Montessori education and primary school teaching in Puri, and will be in-charge of the school. Special focus will be on improving the artistic skills of children,” says Kar, who is also the founder of social organisation Barefoot and owns a tour company, Heritage Tours.
Kar started working in Desia in 2014 to highlight the rich cultural heritage, and flora and fauna of the region among tourists who believe in responsible travel. He also wanted to inspire local youths to preserve their heritage and environment. The village is located close to the Machkund river, the famous 574-foot high Duduma Waterfall and Onkadeli market, where Bonda tribals arrive every Thursday to sell or barter vegetables and non-timber forest products.
Desia offers tour packages to visitors who want to get an essence of the tribal lifestyle and soak in the local culture. The twin bedroom, inclusive of all meals, costs `4,700 per day during peak season from October to March; in low season (April to September), the tariff is `3,500. Tribal tour package of four nights and five days cost `29,000 for two persons.
Desia cottage is an aesthetically designed tribal hut, blending ethnic living with basic modern comforts. It was constructed by Bantalabiri villagers under the guidance of artist Bidyut Roy from West Bengal, who lives in an ethnic house at a Santhal tribal village. Made of clay, Desia’s two-room cottage has colourful tribal paintings, and is decorated with Dokra and terracotta tribal handicraft. “Designing has deliberately been kept minimal to appeal to travellers who are seeking a break from the fast and polluted city life,” says Kar, adding that organic vegetables, fruits and legumes are grown within the campus by villagers in charge of the tourism project.
Six men and as many women run every aspect of Desia; Kar does the marketing. The project also offers indirect employment to around a 100 other villagers, which includes folk artistes to vegetable farmers. A Desia Tourism Society has been formed with village heads, elected representatives and government officials, who oversee the project.
Desia provides a sustainable source of income to villagers, who are traditional paddy cultivators, which doesn’t give them good returns due to changing weather patterns and procurement issues.
Kar was also instrumental in opening a “Model Beach” and “Green Rider Rickshaw” project in Puri in 2012. He received the National Tourism Award 2013 for the beach concept. In future, Kar says, women of the village will be provided skill development training in jewellery and pickle-making at Desia.