This article first appeared in Tourism Watch, September 2014
The villagers of Mae Kam Pong have developed a “Sustainable Tourism Community for Learning” programme that serves to bring the local villagers together with tourists, within a learning environment. The tourists provide a source of revenue for the village, as they are introduced to the rich history and culture of the community. Over the past 14 years, many benefits have been seen, such as, better quality of life for the villagers, improved infrastructure, including water systems and transportation, all allowing for a more self-sufficient community.
Ban Mae Kam Pong community is located east of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. Immigrant families, who settled in the area, developed the community over 100 years ago. The name of the village came from the beautiful red and yellow coloured Kampong flowers that grow near the creek in the village. Both the Mae Kam Pong community and the Mae On district, in which the community is located, were given their names by the native flowers. Within the community, abundant forests characterize 98 percent of the areas ecosystem and high mountain slopes, with an elevation of 1,300 meters above sea level. The climate is cool throughout the year and relatively cold in the winter.
In 1999, the leader of the community, with the help of outside organizations, initiated the “Sustainable Tourism” programme within the community of Mae Kam Pong. The village was declared a tourism village in 2000, allowing the natural resources and community culture to become the source of capital for the community. Visitors can participate in a home stay within the community and enjoy the culture, as well as wonderful nature trails within the area. Other activities include excursions to the coffee plantation that is grown in harmony by a waterfall. The manufacture of tea pillows also complements the production. The tea and coffee products are both sold within the village, as well as other locations, as a source of income for the community. The visitors, alongside the villagers, can work to gain an understanding of a sustainable life within the Mae Kam Pong community.
The community works to contribute to the preservation of the natural resources in the area through activities such as tree planting, the making of firebreaks, preventing deforestation by protecting the trees in their area, and protecting the wild orchid species. Visitors during their stay not only gain an understanding of the sustainable community, but must also respect the rules and regulations of the community itself, in order to help manage waste, etc. The community has a rich base of natural resources and a mode for production that relies on sustainability. The community has an established social welfare system that provides funds in case of birth, death, illness and education for the villagers.
The funds provided by tourism have allowed families to be better provided for, therefore increasing their quality of life. The sustainable tourism program revolves around the ability to manage and maintain the environment, culture, and tourism within the community. The specific cultural traditions, such as the making of tea pillows, are unique and native to this community. The practice of making tea pillows includes the cooking and drying of the new wild tealeaves, finishing by sewing them into a pillow. This practice, along with many others, is one that the tourists will have a chance to learn and practice. The pillows provide a wonderful aroma and the scent is also know to have many health benefits. The new tealeaves are also used for cooking, as the leaves are added to many traditional Thai dishes that are shared among the community. This practice has become a known and loved practice within the village.
The YMCA of Chiangmai has had great involvement with the Mae Kam Pong community and is now working to incorporate more youth participation. This would allow groups of youth to visit the village and learn about sustainability and the conservation of both natural and cultural resources. The groups would speak with community leaders about the benefits of sustainability, witness the use of hydroelectricity, and learn the process of tea and coffee production. Youth are aware of their value in cooperation, unity and sacrifice for the common good during their participation in the Sustainable Tourism Community. Their participation serves to assist in the development of morality and responsibility within our future society, allowing people to live together peacefully, in unity, harmony, and love, working together for a common purpose.
The YMCA brings many groups to visit Mae Kam Pong as a model of sustainable tourism development. Within the plan for youth involvement, there will be a strong focus on renewable energy. The community of Mae Kam Pong switched to hydroelectric energy in order to cut the increasing price for oil and use a more renewable source. Within the community, an association of volunteers and those interested was developed in order to address the issue. A resource person on renewable energy and community development, Mr. Prommin Pongmala, a former village leader, worked with the community in order to enhance their skills. The model of Sustainable Tourism in Mae Kam Pong has since been replicated in other communities in Northern Thailand.
The community of Mae Kam Pong will continue to serve the future learning of students, teachers and volunteers, in order for them to enhance the environmental management of their own schools and communities. This commitment to the growth in knowledge of sustainability is extremely important for increased public support of community development in both rural and urban communities.
It is necessary that all parties become involved in the rescue of communities such as Mae Kam Pong. The successes of the community, such as increased quality of life, better infrastructure of drinking water, hydroelectricity, and transportation, and increased income and capital, should be shared for others to follow. Introducing visitors from other countries to the organized quality of environmental education has proven to be a benefit for the visitors as they learn and grow from a cultural experience and a benefit for the community itself, as it is able to sustain its cultural history through the produced revenue.
Chularat Phongtudsirikul works with the YMCA of Chiangmai, Thailand.
For further information: www.ymcachiangmai.org