What is your role or relationship with CESO?
Lead Volunteer Advisor
How long have you been working or volunteering with CESO?
More than three years
What motivates you to work or volunteer with CESO?
There is a saying that, “When an old man dies in Africa, a library has burned down.” It is true that institutional memory is very ephemeral. I believe that that memory goes in both directions. CESO is an excellent vehicle to pass on my own experience (tourism, heritage and education) and, through the knowledge I gain by advising communities on sustainable tourism, I learn much of their culture, history and even language. I appreciate the opportunity CESO affords to pass along those stories in return.
In addition, having had two mentors who gave me every advantage in my career, this is also an exceptional opportunity to “pay it forward”. My grandmother told me that, “To whom much is given, so also must much be returned.”
Finally, I treasure the personal relationships I have built up during my assignments – in Latin America, the Caribbean and Canada’s arctic – which I maintain through Facebook, emails and Skype. They are really heart-warming!
What is your most remarkable experience or memory of CESO?
With my skrillion years in tourism, and a life full of travel, some of my most indelible memories are the people in farflung communities I have met, and those with CESO are mostly indelible. One small memory…
In the Rupununi savannah of Guyana, at the remote indigenous town of Moco-Moco, I was asked by elders if I’d have a question-and-answer with the community young people. I told them I’d be honoured. After some general background, I asked if there was anything special I could help them with. This community is a long flight from the capital of Georgetown in a very small aircraft. Then it’s a long ride behind a tractor in a trailer over rutted grassland, and it’s even possible only in the dry season.
Here’s what I was asked for: A young man said he could be helped showing tourists the birds in the dense tree canopy if he had a green laser pointer (“red startles the birds”). And I can attest to how incredibly difficult it is to spot the birds that he sees so naturally. And a young woman asked for a cook-book for her mother. “Not every Westerner likes our food, and my mother doesn’t know how to cook any other”. “It could be a ‘used’ book”, she added.
And I did include their requests in my CESO report, just in case any future VA were to happen upon Moco-Moco.
It touched my heart strings with the simplicity of the things they wanted. But it was also clear that for most VA’s, our world is just incredibly convenient. Those young people not only don’t have networks outside their communities, except, fortunately through social media, but they don’t have any real access to everyday articles that the rest of the world simply takes for granted. An indelible CESO memory, among so many…
Economic development is important because…
My field is sustainable tourism, and the economic benefits are multi-faceted and varied. First, sustainable tourism offers employment opportunities particularly valuable to small communities. Those opportunities are disproportionately available to women and young people and often at entry level, where education and training have been scarce or not available at all.
As sustainable tourism offers opportunities for young people, they have the prospect of remaining in their communities with new employment which often in smaller communities would mean that otherwise the community becomes “hollowed out” (only the very young and the very old remain, as the middle generations seek a future in the big city environments).
Also, sustainable tourism can often provide alternative employment where communities face declines in their ‘sunset industries’. I have direct evidence of this with my Assignments in Jamaica (disappearance of ocean fisheries), Ecuador (abandonment of oil fields by international players) and the high arctic (galloping climate change).
Third, there is economic benefit to societies as tourists leave behind what are known as “golden dollars”. Through taxes and fees, tourists pay very significant revenues to tourist destinations. Those dollars are ‘golden’ because they tend to drop straight to the local bottom line. Taxes that are paid by visitors, with no claims on the local education systems nor the local health systems, give those dollars much more than the usual value to local treasuries.
What advice would you give other Volunteer Advisors?
If you are fortunate enough to be selected for an international assignment working in some of the world’s smaller, more remote communities, be prepared to leave your creature comforts behind. Things will NOT go according to plan – my first contact in Guyana told me the only important word I needed to know was “flexible”. (As I stepped off the Air Services small plane, he said to me “Welcome”, which he repeated four times. Three times I said, “thank-you”. The fourth, I realized he was telling me his name!)
Just make sure you take along your sense of humour. It will stand you in good stead when you taste something really indescribable, or tread in another dollop of sheep shit in a field. When the water trickles ice cold out of the hose-pipe for your shower, or you are helping pushing your transportation – could be anything – out of yet another mudhole; I promise that the people you meet and the places you go couldn’t be more precious to store in your memories!
Is there anything else you would like to add?
One of the most fulfilling phases of my life, a life chock-a-block full of fabulous experiences. Wouldn’t trade it for anything…thanks, CESO!