Go Barefoot actively searches to link with co-operatives, green and social enterprises and NGOs. One of the key challenges we face when creating a sustainable and rewarding itinerary is finding the local partners with an ethos and approach to tourism that is different to the usual circuits. In some countries this is a real challenge where the concept or support of sustainability initiatives or alternative models of development are not understood or supported. Visiting Armenia recently, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of green initiatives popping up.
Exploring the café-lined streets of Yerevan you will find the social enterprise, the Green Bean café. The Green Bean was designed and constructed with eco-friendly, renewable, and green building material and sells organic produce. The café also links with the Homeland Development Initiative Foundation, which uses traditional skills to provide jobs for women in the rural regions of Armenia. Handmade products include bags, knitted bears and dolls, ceramics, and woodworks. The Foundation has created over 1000 jobs in the last 5 years creating opportunities through handicraft sales, tourism and events.
The Armenia Tree Project project focuses on reforesting Armenia’s historically forested regions (they’ve planted more than 4.5 million trees since 1994). Their successful planting efforts of fruit trees amongst others provide food and environmental benefits including reduced soil erosion and essential habitat for wildlife. Cycling and yoga are both becoming popular lifestyle habits in the creation of a healthier and active city. The city is buzzing with creativity with many galleries and workshops supporting disability charities and opportunities for children. Impact Hub, a global collaboration network of innovative ethical enterprises and a business incubator, is close to being launched in Yerevan, an indication of the progressive and green orientated youth in the city.
I visited a wonderful private reserve in the south of Armenia, a perfect location for hiking, horse riding, and bird watching. The nature reserve established by the NGO FPWC (Foundation for the Preservation of Wildife and Cultural Assets) has several endangered species and even recently recorded the sighting of the extremely rare Caucasian Leopard. The reserve is a perfect spot for any tourist wishing to enjoy Armenia’s beautiful nature; their visit also supports the conservation efforts of the country’s unique biodiversity. The Foundation has begun to promote visits to the reserve and has established a local guesthouse network for community based tourism development. The guesthouses in the reserves’ neighbouring village have been supported with hospitality and language training, plus, had renewable energy technology installed for water heating. The host families most indeed were identified and invited to be involved in the ecotourism project. The host families are directly involved in the direction of the project in addition to the reserve rangers who are also inhabitants of the village. Several schools and local villages are involved in environmental education events throughout the year to raise awareness of their natural assets. Rangers have now mapped and established several hiking routes through the reserve for visitors to enjoy its beauty and wildlife. In addition to ecotourism, the reserve continually hosts scientists for scientific research including monitoring of the fauna and flora species, plus, provides skills workshops for youth groups.
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