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Elephants in the Masai Mara

Sustainable Travel and Tourism
Special Edition, November 2000

Our definition of ECO is Environmentally and Community Orientated; many of our properties are small and unique, found off the tourist path. These properties can be environmentally friendly by using solar panels or wind turbines, recycling waste, planting trees or building their camps without damaging the environment. Many are also community orientated, leasing land from the local tribes, giving a percentage of their profits to the local communities, supporting local clinics or schools, or training and educating the tribes people in their areas. Some are involved in partnerships with the local people.

The standards of our properties range from Local Village Home Stays to luxury, personal mobile camps and private lodges, thus allowing visitors of all budget levels the opportunity to explore East Africa in a respon-sible manner that preserves the local environment and benefits the local communities. Eco-friendly travel does not require unlimited budgets, nor does it require vast amounts of visitor knowledge. A simple list of basic advice is provided to all our clients and this guideline forms the basis for responsible travel.

ECO-TRAVEL GUIDELINES

The flora and fauna within East Africa are often fragile and endangered. You are requested not to collect any form of flora or fauna when on your safari, whether inside a National Park or not. In particular, do not purchase any form of handicraft or souvenir that requires the death of an animal, such as shells, starfish, ivory, animal hides, bird eggs etc. Within the National Parks and Reserves, there is a published "Wildlife Code". Obeying these rules and regulations helps to ensure everyone's enjoyment and safety, while protecting the area for the future.

Animals on the CITES protection list are numerous in East Africa. Trade in products made from these animals is illegal and will result in prosecution. Purchasing these products also encourages, the illegal trade and leads directly to poaching. Ivory, rhino horn and animal hides are all prohibited items. If these items are offered to you at any time, please report the matter to the authorities immediately. Many local handicrafts are hand carved from indigenous trees. Please ensure that you purchase carvings made from woods such as mango, neam and jacaranda. Avoid the hard woods such as ebony and bamba kofi as these trees take centuries to grow and are now endangered through extensive forest cutting.

When purchasing your souvenirs and handicrafts, purchase the work of local craftsmen and artisans. Woven baskets, beadwork, jewelry, woodwork and cotton cloth are some of the more common handicrafts. Most tribes have traditional designs, shapes and sizes, providing a wide variety from which to choose.

The Four Commandments

1. Wherever you go, do not litter. Please keep your rubbish with you until it may be disposed of properly. If you bring it into the area, take it out when you leave.

2. Water is a precious resource throughout East Africa. Please use water sparingly wherever possible, using simple actions such as turning off the tap while you brush your teeth.

3. Electricity is expensive and in short supply. Pleas switch off the lights if you are not using them, or if you leave the area.

4. Never touch, chase or harass the wildlife or marine life.

OUR POLICIES

In addition to promoting Eco-friendly policies with our partners and clients, we ourselves actively practise eco-friendly policies. We have a comprehensive Environment Policy of our own which we actively promote internally and externally.

Eco-resorts.com supports sustainable development with East Africa through encouraging the use of:

  • renewable energy products
  • the reduction of paper and plastic consumption
  • the development of community self-help projects
  • the education of both our consumers and our partners.

Eco-resorts.com hopes to ensure that tourism in East Africa develops in an environmentally and community oriented manner, protecting the local environ-ments and communities for the future.

It is our company policy to donate 10% of all post-tax profits towards sustainable community and/or conservation projects that will help development projects in East Africa. On-going projects include:

  • The Children of the Rising Sun Home, which provides accommodation, meals, medicines and schooling for street-children
  • Rangers' Equipment Provision for the Watamu National Marine Park
  • School-classroom building at three under-funded local schools
  • The development and funding of a Community Library
  • Development of carbon sink with the Arabuko Sokoke Forest.

Our office is operated using natural resources, with all our power generated by solar panels and a wind turbine. Our roof collects rainwater, which is diverted into tanks for kitchen and shower usage; a borehole provides salt water for the toilets. In fact we are not even connected to a mains water pipe.

We train and employ local staff ourselves, and within the company all our staff are aware of and required to practise our energy and resource saving policies, such as:

  • Paper Usage - Wherever possible, email notices and messages are sent rather than paper notes. When paper is required, internal memos and letters are printed on the back of already used letters. Envelopes are re-used for local hand-delivered letters.
  • Power Usage - Systems such as computer printers are switched on only when required and are turned off when not in use.
  • Water Usage - Reduced flow shower heads and drip irrigation for the gardens reduce water consumption. Staff are all trained to turn taps on and off when using washbasins or showers to further reduce consumption.
  • Natural vegetation has been left uncut to protect the land and prevent Soil degradation. Local wildlife, such as the Suni Antelope, has been left to freely wander through the grounds on traditional routes as the property has not been fenced.
  • Eco-resorts.com is located within the boundaries of the Watamu National Marine Park. One of our directors is an Honorary Park Warden and the company provides extensive assistance to the warden and rangers within this United Nations Biosphere Zone.
  • Community development projects are operated in conjunction with local villagers as the operators and managers; Eco-resorts.com provides advice and guidance when requested, but abides by local beliefs and traditions.

We are members of the US based International Ecotourism Society (TIES), and one of our directors is an advisory board member of this organisation. We are members of Green Globe 21, the worldwide certification programme for Sustainable Travel & Tourism for 21st century consumers, companies and communities and are currently working on receiving our full accreditation. Last, but certainly not least, our company is represented on the African Conservation Centre (ACC) board, works with ESOK (Ecotourism Society of Kenya) and has been quoted in various articles concerning East African ecotourism. We are also involved with the development of an official East African eco-rating system for the tourism industry.

The three eco-resorts.com directors are American, Kenyan and British. Neel Inamdar grew up in Kenya, while Anne Loehr moved to Kenya in 1991 and Melinda Rees has lived in Kenya on and off since 1977. We love East Africa and call it our home. Our sales office is based in Kenya, and provides the latest, reliable and up to date information on East African travel, special events, activities and eco developments. Besides our hands-on knowledge, we offer you over 50 years of Kenyan, American and European experience in tourism, safaris, hotels and restaurants.

OUR PROJECTS

One of the favourite aspects of our company is being able to help those truly in need. Many of the international aid organisations spend a majority of their funds on administrative costs. Eco-resorts.com prefers to support projects that spend a majority of their funds in the field, directly supporting the people and animals, with as little administration costs as possible. Our projects are all based in the area surrounding the eco-resorts.com Kenya office, in Watamu, the Coast Province.

Eco-resorts.com provides a percentage of its profits towards our own Environmentally or Community Oriented (ECO) projects listed below, with Neel, Melinda and Anne each having a project, resulting in loud discussions about which project will receive the next assistance! However, in addition to monetary contributions, we also physically check on our projects weekly, to ensure that the project is being managed properly.

Marine Base Project
There are 23 Kenya Wildlife Service rangers employed at the Watamu National Marine Park. Boat and beach patrols, coupled with local school education seminars, ensure that this delicate marine eco-system remains unspoiled for future generations. The Marine Base Project aims to improve living conditions for the rangers who patrol this beautiful park.

Revenue to support these efforts is raised through Marine Park entrance fees and park ticketing is another responsibility of the rangers. With over 32 square kilometres and 24-hour patrols, the rangers are constantly busy!

One of the critical patrol offices consisted of a tin shack on a very exposed corner of the Marine Park. Subject to the monsoon winds and rain, rangers often had to evacuate this base due to flooding.

In addition, the shack served as both a ticket office and sleeping accommodation for the rangers. It was definitely a "hardship" posting!

However, as the office was located close to most of the major hotels and tourist entry points, it was the greatest source of revenue for the park. But the morale of the men there was very low!

We therefore decided to improve the quality of the structure by building a concrete, two room base, complete with solar powered lighting and a real roof! Over a period of 6 months, we managed to raise the funds required for this project, and are now pleased to say that the new building is open. It consists of a sleeping area as well as a ticket sales area, and is a definite improvement on the earlier structure. Donors to this fund included Eco-resorts, Hemingways Resort, Turtle Bay Beach Club and the Kenya Wildlife Service.

In addition to this major development, we have provided the following assistance to the KWS base in Watamu:

  • Installation of solar lights for offices and Wardens house
  • Provision of new beds, cooking facilities and shoes for rangers
  • Provision, with other community members, of fuel for boat and vehicle patrols

The Dabaso primary school classroom project
The Dabaso School is located just outside of Watamu, near Malindi, on the Kenyan coast. The school is the largest in the area, and has over 1,200 children permanently enrolled. There are only 20 classrooms and 20 teachers for the entire school. Over 60 children share each small classroom, with the majority sitting on the floor due to the lack of school desks.

Due to this overload on the school facilities, children are frequently unable to receive the attention they require. As children are not allowed to advance to the secondary (high school) level unless all examinations are passed, it is not unusual to find 14 and 15-year-old teenagers still attending primary (elementary) school.

Compulsory schooling is required until children are 16 years old. School fees are generally one of the largest drains on a family's finances, and very few children continue school after reaching 16. As the children are generally still in primary school at this age, the majority of children in this area never receive any secondary education whatsoever.

The Kenyan government provides one teacher for every classroom in a school. However, the government is not required to build new classrooms. The construction of new classrooms is the responsibility of the Parent Teacher Association of each school.

Building a new classroom, from foundation to roof, costs approximately US $5,000. An average Kenyan yearly wage is just US $400. The last fund-raising effort by the local villagers took over 5 years before a single classroom was available for teaching!

However, in the last year, several visitors to the area, in conjunction with their hotels and local benefactors, have started fund-raising to build more classrooms. With the donation of cash, time and building skills from these generous visitors, we have been able to complete three new classrooms since September 1998! We are now breaking ground on the fourth classroom, and we hope that with the continued support of our visitors to Kenya, we will be able to complete at least another four classrooms by the end of 2000.

Children of the Rising Sun
CRS is a children's home located near Malindi, Kenya, which currently houses twenty-eight abandoned boys and girls, ranging from five to sixteen years old. Most of the children were found on the street or abandoned by families that could no longer support them. From their start of sleeping under rusty vehicles and sniffing glue, all of the children are now healthy, integrated into society, well fed, attend school daily (with many of the children at the top of their class!), work on the CRS farm and share home duties such as cooking and cleaning with the five loving staff who live with them.

CRS was started in 1994. A permanent home was built in January 1997 on eleven acres of land donated by a generous Kenyan hotelier. The children have lived without electricity since 1994. However, thirty solar powered lights were installed in April 2000, allowing the children to study at night safely, without the use of kerosene lanterns.

Two acres of the land have been used for the facilities, which include:

  • One dormitory for boys
  • One dormitory for girls/arts and crafts/office
  • One kitchen/store room/dining verandah
  • Three showers and four drop toilets

The remaining land is used as a fruit and vegetable farm, which the children tend on weekends. Although the purpose of the farm was to sell some of the produce, the children usually end up eating most of the fruits and vegetables before we can take them to the market! However, this year we are planting a much bigger farm, in hope of selling some of the produce. In addition, the home has a cow for milk, four goats, a dog and six rabbits. We also have 20 chickens, in order to have fresh eggs daily and continue to teach the children basic living skills.

The home is committed to sponsoring each child to secondary education ( 12 to 16 yrs. old) and university if the child passes the exams. If a child does not pass the exams to continue into secondary school, the home then sponsors the child to learn polytechnic skills such as carpentry, auto mechanics or similar skills. Once the child has finished the polytechnic school, the child is then taken as an apprentice in one of the local hotels or businesses.

Currently, two of the older children are at boarding school for secondary studies, for four years, while the other children are still living at the home and studying in primary school.

Still needed at the home are more toilets, increased solar power for a refrigerator, child sponsorships, and funding for medical and operational costs; Once these have been arranged, the CRS committee plans to add a vocational training centre, including a farm and wood carving shop for the home and community. Currently individual donors fund the home. However, eventually the earnings from the farm and training centre will support the home as a sustainable venture. The estimated cost of realising this dream is two million shillings. (Approximately US $35,000).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Melinda Rees was born to British parents living and working in Singapore in 1965. Her expatriate family moved frequently and by the time she had reached 18 years of age, she had lived in 7 countries on 5 continents. The longest period of time was spent in East Africa, with 7 years in Nairobi, Kenya. Holidays were generally spent visiting yet more countries and cultures, providing her with personal experience of a wide range of locations, peoples, cultures, cuisines and transportation devices.

After university she continued this gypsy lifestyle with her own career, living in the Middle East, Europe and Britain before returning to Kenya in 1995 as the Assistant General Manager of a beach resort in the resort town of Watamu. It is here that she first became involved in Community and Conservation work, setting up Community Libraries, building classrooms and working with the Kenya Wildlife Service to protect the Watamu Marine Park and the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Reserve. With two friends, Anne Loehr and Neel Inamdar, Melinda formed Eco-resorts.com in July 1999 specifically to promote and encourage the development of sustainable tourism to the country she has decided to make her home. The gypsy feet have finally put down roots due to "The incredibly hospitable, friendly people, stunning landscape and fantastic wildlife," says Melinda. "I have never felt 'at home' in the same way anywhere else in the world."

If you have any inquiries regarding the content of this article, please contact:

Melinda Rees Hospitality Management Services PO Box 120 Watamu, Kenya Tel: +254 122 32161 Fax: +1 (801) 991-7410 E-mail: info@eco-resorts.com

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