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Community Tourism Project from Brazil Wins United Nations Award

Projeto Bagagem, a Kellogg Foundation-supported project that promotes community-based tourism in various regions across Brazil, has received the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Award. The Brazilian NGO promotes the interaction of tourists with local communities through recreational activities that celebrate local ways of life: culture, traditional lore and natural resources.

Community-based tourism, or social tourism, represents an alternative source of income for the communities involved. The goal is to promote local development through an activity run by the residents themselves, in contrast to the tourism standard that only involves visiting new places, without paying any attention to the life of the communities or making any contribution to their development. When communities begin to grasp the economic, social and cultural value of tourism, it boosts their self-esteem, spirit of enterprise and bargaining power.

The interaction between the visitors and the communities during these trips is intense, since practically all the activities are organized and conducted by residents of the community. An example is the ‘cultural tournament’, in which the visitors split up into groups and, guided by local representatives, explore the community, meeting the people, chatting and gathering fruits of the land to complete their assignment. The assignments involve a wide range of aspects of community life: political organization, legends and myths, and sports and games, plants and fruits. In places like Chapada Diamantina, in state of Bahia, the activities are based on the traditional local lore of the old ‘griôs’, the local sages. As a result, the visitors come into direct contact with virtuoso accordionists, traditional midwives and former diamond prospectors, finding themselves fully immersed in the culture of the sertão drylands.

During the preparatory phase for the trip, Projeto Bagagem encourages the tourists to organize workshops in the communities to promote an exchange of knowledge. Some examples of the activities that have already taken place are snorkeling with the local children, swapping recipes, exchanging know-how (one tourist, a doctor, taught the local healer how to measure blood pressure), reading children’s stories to the kids and toy-making workshops. The cultural evenings are also very exciting opportunities for cultural exchange and strengthening the bonds between the participants and the community. On these occasions, the visitors and the residents dance, sing and let their hair down in a relaxed and jovial atmosphere.

One of the objectives of Projeto Bagagem is actually to develop specific projects that maintain and strengthen the bonds that are forged during the trips. It is very important to remember that the warmth and openness with which the communities receive the groups from Bagagem is only possible thanks to our close ties with the local partners. Each itinerary is planned in accordance with the operating design of these partners as a way of systematizing the work that has been developed, which the visitors have the opportunity to experience.

Since the start of the activities, in 2002, Projeto Bagagem has had a positive impact not only on the communities involved, by providing a source of income and celebrating the local ways of life, but also on the travelers and on the attitude of the local partners to the new concept that we have introduced through the partnership. The main impact on the communities is the generation of an extra income and the awareness that it is possible apply a different form of tourism, one that is good-natured, involving friendships. Tourism is no longer seen as a threat, but as an opportunity. “It is very gratifying to see that the communities notice the difference between the conventional tourist and the bagageiro, and that they receive our groups with such pleasure”, says Mônica Keel, from Projeto Bagagem (see interview in this web site).

For the travelers, the impact of the trip is immediate and profound. Sometimes, participation on the trips can be a watershed in the life of the participant. For the local partners, meanwhile, the experience opens up a new avenue for working with the communities. The partners gradually set up their own community tourism centers to enable the activity to become an alternative source of income for the communities. For example, the Health and Happiness Project has been sealing a series of new partnerships, in addition to the one with Bagagem, to secure more constant and frequent visits to the communities.

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Photos: Projeto Bagagem

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