Happy Thanksgiving! Be thankful, be joyful, and remember those who are less fortunate

My dear readers,

As the year winds down, Jack O’ Lanterns are done greeting trick or treating juvenile posses, green leaves decide to join the carnival and burst into a riot of amber-hued pageantry, and Christmas shopping lists get longer… the fourth Thursday of November is before us and Thanksgiving is here.

It may be a quintessential American tradition, but for me the significance is universal. Set aside one day in a year where all people regardless of race, color, creed, or social status, gather around for a feast with their family and friends and give thanks. What are YOU thankful about?

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.

~ Melody Beattie, Author

  • I’m thankful for plenty of things. Among others, for my wife’s successful surgery; and speedy recovery; for our eldest son doing well in college and for choosing the right path in his proverbial “fork in the road of his academic life”; for our youngest son’s early acceptance at a prestigious college on the East Coast. I’m of course thankful for turning 50 with my sanity in tact; but most of all for the rare opportunity of having all my four parents (who flew in from afar), both sons (and my eldest’s  girlfriend), and believed close friends by my side… helping me celebrate my half a century walking the earth and still acting like a 12 year old!
  • I’m thankful for all my guardian angels for their incessant hard work and overtime (my brother-in-law always reminds me that mine do, and his are therefore working part time!); I’m thankful for my parter-in-crime and best friend for never ceasing to teach me the values of compassion with her random act of kindness of helping friends and often practical strangers.
  • I’m thankful for the big mouth, social skills, talents, and decent confidence I am blessed with in seeking new businesses and working with great clients who keep my solution searching and brand building skills in overdrive; I’m thankful for all the business partners, and colleagues who make all work possible. And of course I’m thankful to you, my dear readers, for welcoming me into your world, giving me the attention and the opportunity to share my experience and knowledge.
  • And finally I thank God for giving me good health, an indescribable family, a sane mind, and steady fingers to type this message and keep all my blogs alive.

PS: I searched for Thanksgiving messages that had a decidedly modern design, and found the ones you see on this page. I particularly like Google’s Thanksgiving banner this year.

Inspiration: Inspired Every Moment; Cinnamon Hollow; I am a reader, not a writer; 365 Give; Simple as That

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What is poverty, really?

This story was first published in Anthropelago Blog, where the author, Max Hasan, who was on a short stint in Jakarta, Indonesia, working with Habitat for Humanity, pondered the question of what really defines poverty?. I felt it was appropriate to share it here.

The other day, my colleague and I were arguing about the definition of poverty. He claimed that:

“poverty alleviation is an oxymoron. One cannot alleviate poverty simply due to its very nature; poverty is a relativistic concept, thus someone always exists who is going to be comparatively less well-off or impoverished due to the way our economy and society are structured. For example a millionaire could be considered wealthy today, but what about in a hundred years? Will his million dollars still hold the same worth due to factors such as inflation and changes in social values?”

A wooden shack in Mauk. Photo: Max Hasan

At first, this claim struck and resonated with me. He seemed to be correct. If we take poverty as a relative term, then sure, there will always be a group of people who are perpetually “impoverished”it all depends on context. However, after much thought and observation, I came to the conclusion that “poverty” is a static and concrete idea, rather than a relative and forever shifting definition. Yes, there can be those who are “poorer” or “less better off,” but poverty strictly describes “those who don’t have the means to attain the most basic human necessities.” Though this definition may seem vague and too far-reaching, that’s precisely what poverty itself is.

Poverty is like a virus or a plague, as it exists, multiplies, and destroys. Furthering the similarities, it is preventable and can be uprooted indefinitely; it’s not something that has to exist.

Several small boys in Cikangkung entertaining themselves with none other than… a live bat. Photo: Max Hasan

Throughout my travels in Indonesia, my conception of poverty, the poor, and who embodies these ideas has changed drastically. On Thursday, June 28, 2012, I embarked on several field surveys within Jakarta Greater Metro Area. These surveys were paramount to my changes in poverty perception. Below, are my notes and observations from the field.

My colleagues invited me on a series of field surveys today. My eyes and heart were opened to the lives of these extremely simple and impoverished people who, despite having no material or financial assets, are still rich. They are rich in life, love, happiness—and all other aspects that truly matter in composing a wholesome and fulfilled life. Though only a couple of hours away from the smog-choked metropolis of Jakarta, these villagers were worlds apart from any city rat.

9:30 AM Cikangkung – Several homes and seven public water facilities were built by Habitat. In January, the area was ravaged by a flood with waters as high as 1.5 meters (5 feet). Homes and public water facilities were built as disaster relief products and thus donated pro bono. There were about 100 families living in the village, several of which had leprosy as a result of bad sanitation and irrigation. Prior to Habitat building these water facilities, villagers had to walk an absurd distance to use a brown, garbage-filled stream for all purposes (washing clothes, bathing, toilet, washing dishes, brushing teeth, etc.). Upon leaving the area we saw mostly naked village boys playing with what at first we thought was a squeaky doll, but upon closer observation, it turned out to be a live fruit bat, screeching and flailing while the village boys laughed hysterically.

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Posted in Eco Matters, Humanitarian, Indonesia, Inequality, Micro Loans & Micro Financing, Poverty Eradication & Alleviation, Sustainable Development, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Ecotourism defined

Ecotourism: Responsible travel to natural areas which conserves the environment and improves the welfare o local people (TIES, The International Ecotourism Society)

Inspiration: University of Michigan: Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning

Posted in Earth Matters, Eco Matters, Eco-Responsible, Ecotourism, Endangered Species, Energy Conservation, Ethical Tourism, Green, Green Travel, Responsible Tourism, Sustainable Development, Sustainable Tourism | Tagged , | Leave a comment

From theory to practice | The 4C’s of Responsible Tourism in action

In the world of do-good tourism, Costa Rica quickly comes to mind as a pioneer of a type of tourism that predominantly built on the idea of “low human impact and high community and environmental benefit.” In one word: Ecotourism! And while ecotourism in the current (modern) understanding of the term is not Costa Rica’s invention, they did bring it to another level, where an entire country is adopting one type of tourism.

A decision Costa Rica can be proud of. In fact a few decades ago, the country made a conscious decision to abolish its armed forces and channel the budget to education, and later, ecotourism.

So thanks to Costa Rica, ecotourism is finally catching on with the rest of the world. And for the sake of getting everyone on the same page regarding definition, I’ll use the one from TIES (The International Ecotourism Society):

“Responsible travel to areas which conserves the environment and improves the welfare of the local people.”

And one country that has progressed tremendously in ecotourism and its practices is South Africa. Allow me to state briefly about the principles of “4C’s”, practicing tourism that meets the needs of:

  1. Conservation; 
  2. Community; 
  3. Culture; and
  4. Commerce.

And to use one example of how this is put into action, I’ve chosen one leading Safari Tour Operator & Management Company, Wilderness Safaris, and their take on this strategy.

Wilderness Safaris views responsible, nature-based tourism as the most effective and practical vehicle to ensure the sustainability of African conservation in the modern era. We are serious about what we do and believe fully in our vision of contributing meaningfully to conservation.

Our sustainability strategy is encapsulated by “the 4Cs”: Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce.

And this is how they translate it into actionable steps:

1. CONSERVATION:

This comprises two elements:

A. Environmental Management Systems deals with how we build and manage our camps in the most eco-friendly way possible to ensure that we have the lowest possible carbon footprint.

B. Biodiversity Conservation covers the understanding, management and protection of the wildlife and ecosystems with which we are involved.

And they work alongside The Wilderness Trust, a South Africa-based independent entity supporting a variety of wildlife management, research and education projects throughout southern Africa.

2. COMMUNITY:

People are the heart of our business. We believe in honest, mutually beneficial and dignified relationships with our rural community partners in ways that deliver a meaningful and life-changing share of the proceeds of responsible ecotourism to all stakeholders. Our mechanisms include community-centric employment, joint ventures, education and training, social and health benefits, capacity-building and infrastructure development.

This comprises two elements:
A. Training:

Staff and guide training is a vital part of our operation. Through regional training programmes, we provide local people with the skills to become some of the best guides and managers in the African tourist industry.

B. HIV/AIDS

Our innovative HIV/AIDS programme, formally implemented with the assistance of primary health care and HIV specialist Dr Clive Evian in 2003, has built a solid foundation over the past 9 years.

And they work in close cooperation with Children in the Wilderness.

Our Children in the Wilderness programme, our pride and joy, is part of our Community vertical. Every year, some of our camps are closed to paying guests while we host underprivileged children from neighbouring communities.

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Posted in Adventure Travel, Eco-Responsible, Ecotourism, Education, Ethical Tourism, Green Travel, South Africa | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Hail all natural building materials… let their beauty shine through

Santiago-based Architecture Firm AATA Arquitectos Asociados has a knack for bringing to life eco-friendly concepts with a modern twist. See my other post on their prefab green cubes in Easter Islasnd, the Morerava Eco Cabins

AATA has brought their design to the urban environment, for an exhibit at the Centro Cultural Palacio la Moneda in Santiago. This was to celebrate the artisanal craftsmanship heritage of the indigenous people of Chile.

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Defining Ecotourism

We hear about Ecotourism all the time, it’s the latest catchphrase that everyone around is using at the drop of a hat. But do we really know what it means?

According to The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), it goes beyond retrofitting hotel rooms to conserving energy or planting an organic herb garden on its grounds. Ecotourism is described by the TIES as:

Responsible travel to natural areas which conserves the environment and improves the welfare of the local people.

Environmental awareness and social responsibility has never been more chic and accessible. More than ever before, the world’s most renowned architects, designers, chefs and hoteliers are banding together to create a way of life that is both fashionable, yet treads lightly on the planet. EcoChic unearths the latest and most exciting developments the Green Movement has to offer, touching on gourmet eco cuisine, sustsainable fashion, eco architecture and green experiental travel, alongside daily improvements one can practice as part of an environmentally-friendly lifestyle. With ecological awareness fast becoming an integral aspect of our existence, EcoChic will be the quintessential guide to sophistication aspiring to live life both responsibly, and with style.

Posted in Biodiversity, Eco Matters, Eco-Responsible, Ecotourism, Ethical Tourism, Green Travel, Humanitarian, Responsible Tourism | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Quote of the Day | On Nature

What I see in nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. ~ Albert Einstein

Posted in Earth Matters, Eco Matters, Eco-Responsible | Tagged | Leave a comment