Graduates assist Indonesian homestay network

3-Mau-Ponggo1-e1407112135361Geography and Tourism Management graduates at UWE Bristol are putting their skills to the test on the beautiful Indonesian island of Flores, gaining invaluable experience as volunteers helping to develop a successful homestay network.

Founded in 2011, by the Eco Flores Foundation, the network promotes the island as a green tourist destination. Flores was recently voted as one of the top 50 green destinations in the world.

Supported by volunteers, villagers living in poverty in Flores have the opportunity to share in the benefits of international tourism through renting rooms in their homes to visitors.

Supported by volunteers, villagers living in poverty in Flores have the opportunity to share in the benefits of international tourism through renting rooms in their homes to visitors.

For the past three years, upon completion of a module in International Tourism Development in their final year, new graduates have been offered the opportunity to volunteer in Flores, applying the knowledge acquired on the module to advise villagers on both the benefits and negative consequences of tourism growth.

The graduate volunteers have the expertise to advise the villagers on land rights, gender equality, leakages and linkages, waste management, disabilities, and basic finance for small businesses. Before joining villagers they attend a four day workshop to discuss these issues and to learn basic Bahasa, the local language.

The volunteers work with two or three villages for a period of one or two months to establish the homestays which must meet the agreed basic criteria including: waste management, working towards gender equality, providing a clean room with minimum facilities. Each village is marketed through the network and the volunteers regularly meet together to share good practice and report back to the project co-ordinator.

Such has been the success of the project, Network Supporter, Dr Stroma Cole, a senior lecturer in tourism geography at UWE Bristol, was recognised with the award for Tourism in Globalisation: Understanding global complexity through tourism at the Association of Tourism in Higher Education (ATHE) annual conference.

Explaining why the network is such an important learning tool for these graduates, Dr Stroma Cole, comments, “The experience is an excellent example of international service learning, you can learn the theory in the classroom, but the only way to really test out the extent of your knowledge and demonstrate your abilities to future employers is to apply it in a real life situation. What the graduate volunteers are taking away from their Flores experience is hugely beneficial to their professional and personal development.

“They learn not only how people build livelihoods in the majority of the world but also how to live in another culture and speak another language. They learn how to train and motivate, and to help manage the villagers’ problems, like recycling. One of the island’s biggest issues is waste; one student built a wooden press to compact plastic waste into bricks. These can then either be used for building public facilities or be taken by tourists to towns that have waste facilities for disposal. It’s a simple, practical solution that is making a real difference to these communities.

“Flores is a beautiful island and sometimes local assets, such as white sand beaches, caves and hot springs, are often overlooked by tourists. The graduates highlight these attractions on the website to invite tourists to remote parts of the island, spreading their interest in and economic support of these less visited areas. Together, the villagers and tourists connect, share and learn. Without a higher education in tourism this project could not function. It will enhance the lives of many of the poorer villagers, as well as the lives of the students that take this valuable opportunity to work with them.”
In the first two years of the project, nine graduate volunteers who studied International Tourism Development and thirty villagers from fifteen villages took part in the homestay network.

UWE Bristol graduate Gemma Sollis, completed her studies in Tourism and Management in July 2013. For the past nine months, she has been working as a volunteer for the Flores Homestay Network (FHN).  Describing the challenges and highlights of her experience, she says, “I love volunteering here as we are making a difference to local people’s lives, to help them protect themselves from the negative side of tourism and to preserve their cultures and traditions.

“At first it was hard to think like a local, but you adapt quickly as you learn the culture and history. It takes a while for changes to be made in the communities, but the villagers’ appreciation of our visit is enough to make it all worth it.

“The main challenges I’ve faced is the difference in culture between Indonesia and Europe. Being a woman here is a challenge as the attitudes of local men towards woman are completely different to the attitudes of most men in Europe. I found it hard not being able to go places by myself, which is mostly likely because I’m a Western woman but now I understand they are trying to protect me. Being a Western woman, the men give me more respect than the local woman, but not the same respect as a Western man. The Flores Homestay Network’s work is so important, not only to develop the homestays, but also to develop the community as a whole through gender equality and land rights.

“Volunteering has allowed me to gain experience in the tourism industry which is where my passion lies, it’s a great opportunity to see how places adapt with tourism, as well as being able to work in beautiful surroundings and meet friendly local people who embrace you as one of the family. Learning from books and other people’s experiences is one thing, but to go out and use your knowledge and experience it for yourself is a different thing. During my university course I learnt about the positive and negative effects of tourism and the benefits of a sustainable and community based tourism. Sustainability is a very important concept, that I’ve been able to use during my time in Flores to help ensure the homestays are sustainable to protect the local people.

“From this opportunity, I’ll take away the experience of being on the front line to help communities build community based tourism and protect themselves from ending up like Bali. I’ve developed my skills through learning new languages and working with people who have different views and still maintain cultural traditions, which I will also take away. This will be useful for me in the future so I can work with people from around the world and understand our different ways of working and thinking. Finally, I will also take away my changed attitude and thinking that happiness can be found in the little everyday things, no matter if you have no money.”

Andy Bil studied Geography and Tourism and spent six months volunteering for the network. He adds, “Stroma’s lectures and the International tourism development module really prepared me for this experience. It simply takes all your knowledge from the class room and applies it to real life. What we are doing in Flores is the best practices in Community-based Tourism development. It’s not going to the destination to paint a boat, dig a hole in the ground or do any activities which locals probably could do better themselves i.e. voluntourism. It is meaningfully helping locals in poverty alleviation, waste management, education and empowering woman. It’s a real project, it is not a joke, volunteers must take responsibility for their community and invest all their effort to introduce and prepare locals for the project and work together to achieve project objectives.

“I loved the life I was living in Flores, super friendly people always smiling and approaching you to get to know you. I have been in places where ordinary tourists will never be. I shared good times and sad times with local community it was very emotional when I was going back to the UK. Some of the challenges were to adapt to the Indonesian/Flores culture, the lifestyle of the locals and to the weather. Nevertheless, the biggest challenge was the scope of the project, there was lots of job where other organisations would employ professionals. Due to a lack of education about the tourism sector in the community, I had to constantly monitor and ensure that the project was on the right path simultaneously motivating and tutoring participants of FHN.

“I could not have asked for more, this project taught me how to successfully implement and run a project on foreign soil, develop skills which will benefit my future career or prepare me in continuing my academic path. What is of a great importance for me, is that after 6 months I have been able to communicate freely in the Indonesian language and still continue to study it. I am most delighted that I was able to help the people of Flores to engage with the tourism industry and motivate them so they can also directly benefit from it. I believe that in the future FHN will be successfully running businesses which will improve local people’s living standards, generate greater economic benefits while protecting the environment.”

The Eco Flores Foundation hope to consolidate the project concentrating on the villages in the network and are looking for investors to take the project forward. Indonesian graduate volunteers are set to join the network, for the UWE graduates this presents an excellent opportunity to help each other with language and compare and develop experiences and skills.

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