A few years ago my husband traveled to Tibet with his grandfather. The high elevation was difficult for his grandfather, so they ended up spending a lot of time sitting with people, talking about the history of the Tibetan Plateau. Tibet is a unique place on this planet, the highest region on earth (at 4,900 meters), isolated from the rest of the world. Subsistence agriculture has traditionally been Tibet’s economic engine but tourism is becoming an increasingly important source of economic support. But the region has seen more than its share of unrest. Over the past thirty years, Tibetan separatists have been engaged in a power struggle with China, working to gain Tibet’s independence, and China has waged war in response. Human rights organizations have been working to help Tibet for years, though today Chinese influence in Tibet is commonplace.
The people of Tibet, however, must continue to live their lives despite the unrest. Tibetan Village Project is a local organization dedicated to the “economic, cultural, and environmental empowerment of communities living on the Tibetan Plateau.” They work to preserve Tibet’s cultural heritage, one of the major casualties of China’s influence. For example, in schools, Tibetan children are forced to learn Chinese in place of the Tibetan language. One of the many initiatives of Tibetan Village Project is to educate Tibetan children in their native tongue.
One of their other major initiatives is Conscious Journeys, a voluntourism program designed to promote educational travel and volunteer work in the region. They combine mindful tourism and volunteering to involve travelers in ongoing projects while educating them about the unique culture and history of Tibet. Conscious Journeys is transparent about their use of tourism dollars, injecting them directly into the local economy by supporting local businesses. The programs are all run by local people, knowledgeable about the region and its customs.
I am especially impressed by Conscious Journeys’ “Leave No Trace” philosophy. They educate travelers in eco-tourism, encouraging them to be aware of their physical impact on the places they visit. They also conduct site clean-ups, involving volunteers in the practical side of “Leave No Trace.” In true sustainable tourism style, they dedicate all program fees to the Tibetan Village Project, to maintain current projects and to start new ones.
This program is a unique opportunity to work directly with a local population of people who have empowered themselves. This isn’t a foreign aid organization. This isn’t a US-based voluntourism company. This is a Tibetan organization working to improve and protect Tibet. It’s inspiring.