Childhood in Switzerland
My earliest memories are of the exhilaration of walking, cycling and skiing outdoors in the pollution free, healthy Swiss mountain air and of swimming in deep green lakes followed by a carefree cycle home along wild flower scented, countryside lanes. My school mates and I had fun being chased by moody old cows, running around with our dogs, scrambling up and down trees, and guzzling fresh apples, cherries, and grapes full of flavour. Working on farms during the summer we hardly had time to sit in front of the TV as we were too busy having our own adventures in this childhood paradise.These impressions never left me and I am forever grateful to my grand parents and schoolteachers who introduced me to the joys of exploring yet still respecting our natural environment.
Working around the World
During my first steps into the outside world as a recently qualified hotel manager, I was initially excited by the discovery of faraway, exotic destinations ripe for tourist development. Then I saw runways being hastily built for the influx of tourist filled jumbo jets and concrete mega highways and building sites for chains of international hotels mushrooming out of unspoilt fishing villages and along stretches of beautiful, palm fringed beaches. Accompanying this first wave of development was the spillover effect on small villages overwhelmed by increasing flows of people destined to work in the new tourist resorts. Uncontrolled overbuilding, traffic pollution and destruction of the natural environment soon followed and I realized that I was part of this tourism boom which earned me a good living and provided me with an exciting and adventurous lifestyle. As I pursued my hotel career around the world I saw this pattern repeating itself at an explosive pace and I started to feel uneasy about this worldwide trend in tourism.
Galapagos… the Eye-opener
In 2000 I was employed by a major Ecuadorian tourism company as a consultant for their cruise ship and hotel operation in Galapagos. For the first time in my life I was introduced to a new form of tourism called ecotourism and immediately exposed to a world of international conservation organizations, tourism quotas and local immigration controls. Regularly visiting the islands I gradually became aware of the growing threats to the islands’ unique natural environment and wildlife by tourism development and increasing population stress.
While permanently based on Santa Cruz island from 2002, I began to understand the complex issues involved by talking to the many dedicated individuals and groups committed to the conservation and protection of the islands’ ecosystems and learned about the importance of the tireless work carried out by the Galapagos National Park Service and Charles Darwin Foundation guides and volunteers. Confronted and concerned by the sometimes intense conflicts between the islands’ econonomic, social, tourism and conservation interests I decided that I wanted to contribute in some positive way to the local schools and community.
I already knew that the hotels and cruise ships recruited the majority of their employees from mainland Ecuador and that locals often lost out due to lack of training, language skills and limited educational opportunities. So I recruited an English teacher to train the hotel employees in English for tourism, organized exhibitions in the hotel to promote the works of local artists and helped to raise funds for a local school through the children’s participation in an art project for the hotel. It was my experiences in working directly with local residents and children that inspired me to go one step further and led me to make an important change in my career path.
My Dream…the Sabbatical
Reflecting on my early days in Switzerland and my subsequent 30 years of working around the world in international tourism, I realized that the long term success of the future conservation and protection of the Galapagos islands was in the hands of the islands’ next generation, the children of Galapagos. If they were to stand a chance of protecting their unique and fragile natural environment and of directly participating in sustainable economic and tourist development for themselves and future generations then I would have to find a way of inspiring and engaging their interest in the heritage of Galapagos.
So I took a year out from my career and focused on creating a framework from which I could achieve my aims. I formally set up and self-funded my own company on Galapagos, called RHT Consulting (Responsible Hospitality and Tourism Consulting) to create and develop local, sustainable economic projects in the form of microenterprises. I formed a partnership with a local resident, Mayra, who was to be responsible for the installation and operation of our first project, the Ice Machine. Slowly the word got around the island and we are now supplying the local artisanal fishermen and chicken farmers with around 60% of their ice supplies.
At the same time I created the Nova Galapagos Foundation, a non-profit organization formed to encourage and support the children of Galapagos to adopt a life-long appreciation and interest in the protection of their natural heritage, just as my grandparents and schoolteachers had instilled in me a love and respect for my Swiss heritage.To reach these aims we are in the process of setting up programs in Music, Arts and Crafts, Sports and Languages to attract local children to participate in cultural and sporting activities.
Children involved in these programs will then have the opportunity to participate in the Nova Expedition program which will organize field trips and expeditions to directly explore and discover their natural world by means of photographic projects, snorkeling surveys, bird watching, painting and writing projects and many more.
We will donate a small percentage of any profits made from the RHT sustainable microenterprises to the NovaGalapagos Foundation.
As our first pilot project we set up and funded a local youth soccer team to find out more about their needs and what they felt was lacking in their lives. Mayra managed the team and took the NovaGalapagos flag to all the matches so we could get the word out about the foundation into the local community and receive their feedback. The response was enthusiastic, we gained a lot of valuable feedback and the NovaGalapagos team finished a respectable 4th place in the Santa Cruz Island soccer league.
More recently Katty, a professor of music from Quito, has joined us to give very popular music lessons to local children which we intend to develop, with more funding, into a small orchestra. We are expecting that feedback and findings from these projects can be posted onto our online NovaGalapagos Social Network where interaction with international fellow students will be encouraged. We now want to share our ideas and projects with the international community using the internet and are currently developing our website blogs and ning social network as we work towards the long term achievement of our aims. We hope that a few positive steps will go a long way…