Tourism is the biggest industry in Puri, Odisha, but due to unplanned development, service providers at the grass-roots have not benefited. Barefoot, a nonprofit has changed this scenario in five years. Its contribution to the tourism sector won Barefoot the National Tourism Award-2013 for Best Responsible Tourism Initiative — this was in recognition of their Green Rider Rickshaw project in Puri.
In 2009, Barefoot provided green-coloured rickshaws to around 40 rickshaw-pullers. They were also trained for two years in basic etiquette and how to greet tourists and treat them in truly Indian ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ (guest is god) style. “This project was economically beneficial for rickshaw-pullers and also tourists, who could explore the place in a non-polluting manner,” says Yugabrat Kar, Barefoot’s founder. “Since Puri is a destination for pilgrimages and beach tourism, we decided to empower grass-root service providers and help them earn better.”
Branded as Green Riders, these rickshaw-pullers created a community fund from their savings and grants from Barefoot volunteers for emergency situations. Now, not only are they earning better but are also involved in community work like clean-ups of beaches and bus stations.
Model Beach & Sea Riders is another Barefoot project that has received a good response. Launched in 2012, the project focuses on keeping the 500m beach stretch between Bankimuhan to Panthanivas at Puri, clean and safe. The 500-meter stretch is called Model Beach and lifeguards are known as Sea Riders.
Barefoot trained Nolias (a fishing community) as lifeguards, erected palm leaf shades and beach chairs on the beach. “We guarantee privacy, safety, security and comfort of tourists in our area from morning to evening (around 8pm). Beach vendors would not pester tourists,” says Kar.
Tourists, who take the assistance of lifeguards and other amenities such as sunbathing on beach chairs, massage and soft drinks, pay a user fee. “The money is being paid to the lifeguards and security guards for their sustenance,” says Kar.
Kar also runs small businesses related to tourism such as special interest tour operation, a speciality restaurant, etc. “Community-based tourism not only be economically beneficial for locals. Guests can also get an authentic experience of Odia culture, cuisine, lifestyle etc,” says Kar, who did a diploma in mechanical engineering and worked as a sales engineer for six years before realising that tourism industry was his calling.
Along with Chilika Development Authority, Barefoot would be teaching students about wetland ecosystems. “This programme gives a nice camping experience with activities like bird watching and nature walk. We aim to train 200 students annually for which we have developed a course module with technical assistance from CDA,” Kar says.