How travelling has made me eco-conscious

I started travelling pretty young. First with my parents in Europe, than in a school-enrolled programme to Mauritania. After that I could not stop, I have returned to Mauritania, been to Cameroun and Central America. I currently live in Bali and have travelled other countries in South-East Asia. Each country and culture I discover has impacted me. This is my story of how travelling has made more humane and more eco-conscious.

Why I have reduced my waste production

When I started diving and hiking, when I visited the nicest beaches and went through amazing cities, I started realise that waste is everywhere. I saw plastic bottles swimming in the ocean as if they were fish, and I saw plastic bags flying through cities and forests as if they were butterflies (sadly, that is how plastic backs are called in Nouakchott: Mauritania’s butterflies). I really don’t want to see the waste and more important: I don’t want it to be there. I want to see real fish and I want to see real butterflies. When I explore nature and cities, I want to see the beauty of it, not trash mountains. Even though in certain parts of the world much waste is recycled, big parts of trash always end up in the oceans and forests. For me, reducing waste has become the only way to keep the oceans and the forests clean.

Why I have reduced my general consumption

When travelling you realise that you do not need much. Everything I actually use fits in my backpack. I have come to realise that I do not need most of the objects I used to possess. Why do I need a smartphone, a tablet and a laptop? It takes space in my backpack and it’s heavy. I have also learned that a pair of hiking shoes and a pair of flip-flops is more than enough. I do not need a whole wardrobe of cloths. It is ok to wash your cloth more often and wear them every week! Why do I need a new bikini every year? It is expensive and I rather spend money paying for a local guide that shows me a secret track in the forest than for a new handbag.

Why I don’t eat meat and fish

I stopped eating fish when I started diving. I enjoy to see the fishes underwater so much that it started to make me sad to see them on my plate. Little by little, I got the same sadness when I saw meat on my plate. I remember when I was travelling in Cameroun, I had a piece of meat in a laid-back jungle village for dinner. I do not know what kind of animal I ate and if it is was an endangered species. I felt really guilty afterwards and started to decide that I will not eat wild animals any more (later I became a vegetarian). In my first years of travelling I wanted to taste everything new. Now I think sometimes a new taste is not worth it, if I don’t know if it is a right thing to eat.

Why I don’t go to the zoo any more

I used to love to go to zoos and aquariums. I have always been a great animal-lover and seeing all these cute and exotic animals, looking at them and studying their behaviour was something I really enjoyed. I have been to zoos in many parts of the world and I think I decided to stop going to the zoo when I was in a public zoo in Merida, Mexico, where animals live in tiny cages and are visibly psychotic. It made me really sad to see them and I realised that it is not right to keep another living being in a cage, even if it is big and well equipped. Instead of going to the zoo, I prefer going to animal sanctuaries now. The animals are still not free, but I like the idea of supporting associations which rescue animals out of terrible keeping conditions. It is always better if the animals can be released into the wild, but sometimes it is not possible. I have been to this amazing camp in Northern Thailand where formerly badly treated and tortured elephants were given a peaceful life. This is the kind of “zoo,” I want to support. Most of all, I enjoy seeing wild animals during my hikes. It is difficult to find them and sometimes I have been disappointed by not seeing any, but when I see a wild animal it is so much more exciting. The best wildlife I ever saw were spider and howler monkeys during a hike in Guatemala. When spotting a wild animal, it is always a kind of achievement that gives me a special thrill. There are many animals you cannot see in wild, because they are difficult to find or they are dangerous. But I rather not see a tiger in my life again than go to one of those tiger attractions in Chiang Mai where animals are probably drugged and badly treated.

Why I ride a bicycle as much as possible

I have always enjoyed to ride a bicycle. It is free, it gives me a little exercise and it makes me explore my city much better. However, in Chiang Mai I have started to wear a mask when riding my bicycle. Air in Chiang Mai is very bad and sometimes (depending on the season and weather) it is hard to breathe, even though the city is located in the middle of nature. This has encouraged me to rethink my way of transportation. When travelling, taking a plane is often unavoidable. But now, I will rather take my bicycle than my motorbike – even when it is hot. If possible, I will rather take the train than the plane – even though it takes longer. As I enjoy breathing fresh air and riding by bicycle without a mask, I felt that I should adapt my way of transportation.

Why I use organic cleaning and body products

Many times when I have travelled, I saw locals (and tourists) soaping themselves in rivers, lakes and seas, leaving behind them a puddle of foam. I saw water evacuations spilling used water right into the nature. I have been to a beautiful lake in Guatemala which is – how I learned afterwards – completely polluted and close to die. I have been to waterfalls in Thailand which could have been mistaken for foam parties. I realised after one month that the used water of our house in the middle of Chiang Mai, goes directly into our garden. This is when I decided to use organic cleaning and soaping products. My house, my laundry and myself have never been cleaner.

Why I started being a humanitarian

I am not only concerned by nature, but also by other humans. When travelling to Western Africa, Central America and South-East Asia, I have not only seen stunning nature, but I have met amazing people. Some of them helped me and some of them needed help – sometimes both at the same time. Lesly and I have created Omakua in order to support persons, families and villages in particular needs. This is my way of giving back to the people whose countries I enjoy travelling through. Travelling and being immersed into different cultures also made me more tolerant and sensitive to other people’s problems. Sometimes it is difficult to understand and accept a local tradition and I have to admit that I have come around traditions I do not personally approve of. But everybody and everything on this planet is unique – humans, animals and plants – and everybody and everything deserves a place to live safely and happily. For me it is differences which make our planet so special and enjoyable.

Why I am much happier like this

When I started exploring the world, my way of travelling was different from how it is now. All the experiences made me understand things, and I think that travelling has made me a better person. It is not only travelling and the amazing things I see that make me happy. It is also the values I have acquired through travelling. It has been a process and I am sure that I have not reached the end of it.

What happened to the project “Sunshine for ARK’s dogs“?

In cooperation with Blue Tail International we established a project for the dog shelter ARK. The goal was to build an outside enclosure for sick dogs which for now live in small cages. The sick dogs cannot leave their cages, because of a contamination risk for the other dogs.

For more information, read our blog article about Blue Tail and ARK.

We spent a lot of time and effort for the preparation of the project. We have visited ARK multiple times in order to determine the location of the enclosure, take measures, set a budget, and to find a volunteer engineer who could help us with the construction of the outside enclosure. We then presented the project on our website and conducted a social media campaign in order to collect the necessary funds.

Sadly, the project has never been realised. Four days before the scheduled construction of the enclosure, the owner of ARK Dip has stopped all cooperation with Blue Tail and Omakua.

Even though we have been very sad about his decision, we understand Dip’s decision.

The Thai government has recently conducted several raids in different animal shelters and NGOs in Chiang Mai with the goal to find illegal workers. The goal was to chase down foreigners who get paid for their work in Thailand, without having a working permit.

Many NGOs in Thailand employ volunteers and workers which are in Thailand on a tourist visa. Many NGOs do register, because it is difficult and costly for NGOs to be officially recognised. Further, work permits can be expensive, too.

We do not pay ourselves with Omakua, and we thus do not fall into the category of illegal workers. Nevertheless, we understand that Dip does not want to continue to work with us.

In Thailand, the law and what happens on the field are two very different things, and corruption remains wide-spread. We think that Dip was scared of possible consequences if foreigners are seen on the ARK territory, even if it would have been legal.

It only needs one person with bad intentions and some pictures of foreigners building an enclosure, to Dip could have been pressured into paying a bribe. Many shelters in Chiang Mai have demanded their foreign volunteers and employees to stay away from work for a certain time, even those who actually have a work permit – just in case.

We have heard stories before from other NGOs which were asked to pay a “tax” which does not exist on paper by local authorities. Luckily, in the mentioned case, the person had high-placed contacts, and could continue the work after some phone calls. Dip clearly does not have the same contacts.

We have been touched very much by the whole situation, because everybody loses. First, the dogs which will stay in their small cages and will not be able to go outside, then Dip who will have to find new sponsors if he decides to build the enclosure in the future; further, the waste of time and effort for Blue Tail and Omakua, and the disappointment of our donors and volunteer engineer.

 

Our research for articles about the raid in Chiang Mai were fruitless. You can find below links to articles about similar incidents:

http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2012/02/17/armed-thai-officials-raid-wildlife-rescue-ngo/
http://www.bangkokpost.com/archive/activist-says-60-70-parks-staff-raided-his-house/279857

 

It is important to underline that this is our point of view of the situation. The article does not reflect the opinion of ARK and Blue Tail International.

Omakua goes animal – Spotlight on Blue Tail

Even though we have so far reported on humanitarian organisations (besides Laetitia who also works with gibbons) we have realised that many animals in Thailand live in precarious conditions and that increasing awareness on that topic is necessary.

This week we want to write about French initiative Blue Tail Animal Aid International which aims at improving the living conditions of wild animals living in captivity and stray animals. We have met with Delphine Ronfort, founder of Blue Tail and her managing trainer Laurène Heuguerot.
Last week we have been on a field trip with Delphine and Laurène and have visited the dog shelter ARK which has been supported by Blue Tail for two years.

Delphine is an assistant veterinarian who has been working with and for animals in Thailand for six years. In 2009 she has founded the French association Blue Tail. Blue Tail mainly works with governmental animal shelters that take in animals from illegal traffic, victims of poaching and road accidents. Blue Tail further works with local NGOs linked to animals. The association provides tools and professional training to animal keepers and care-takers, as well as training in animal behaviour and shelter management.

Blue Tail’s work is particularly important in Thailand as the required knowledge, skills and animal-welfare awareness are not prevalent in many developing countries, leading to animals suffering. Blue Tail provides advice, workshops and training for veterinary nurses and other staff on clinic management. If you are interested in Blue Tail’s work, visit their website for more information.

We have noticed that there are three main issues when it comes to wild, captive, working and pet animals here in Thailand. (This is solely our impression and we are no specialists in that field.)


First, poaching and the traffic of protected species remain a big problem in Thailand. Awareness about the protection of endangered species is low in Thailand and due to poverty especially in rural area, poaching remains common.

Second, the living conditions of wild animals living in captivity as well as working animals are often bad. This is the result of a lack of financial resource to provide better conditions, but also a lack of knowledge about the animals’ needs.

Third, even though Thai people love animal, they treat them like human beings. One must know that Thai people are pretty rough with each other and this is also how they treat the animals. A Thai person can easily pet and feed a dog and violently chase it away. Of course, animals do not understand this behaviour and we have met a lot of straying dogs that are afraid of humans because they have been badly treated.

By the way, we have been surprised to learn that Thais are willing to donate to animal shelters and organisations – even though the donations are small, it is at least something. The humanitarian organisations we have met so far all told us that they receive hardly any money from Thais. Nevertheless, the financial and structural resources of many animal shelters remain limited.

When visiting the ARK shelter we have noticed that the dogs are well fed, but clearly lack in veterinary care. ARK houses around 100 dogs; most of them former strays or abandoned by their owners. Founded by an American, the shelter is now run by Dip and his team of four after the founder died three years ago.
Dip is very committed to the well-being of his dogs, but he lacks in resources. Thus, during our visit, Delphine and Laurène have brought food, medication and blankets for the dogs.

According to Blue Tail, ARK needs a small veterinary clinic above all, in order to take care of the many dogs that arrive in bad shape. Delphine has organised a voluntary veterinary that will train the ARK team in basic medical care and be with ARK three times a week.

Blue Tail further wants to build and supply ARK with a clinical setting and build better kennels. Even though we have so far only supported humanitarian project, we want to keep in touch with Delphine and Laurène in order to see how Omakua can support Blue Tail in that project.

After all, not only humans, but also animals have the right to good life.

 

Sustainable tourism with Laetitia

This week we have decided to write an article about Laetitia Bisiaux, a young French woman we have met in Chiang Mai.
Laetitia has been in Thailand for two years. She has got enrolled with an organisation which aims at the protection of gibbons which disappear from Thai forests due to the destruction of their habitat and illegal poaching. The project is super interesting and if you want to learn more about it you can visit the organisation’s website.

gibbons_thailande
The reason why we have decided to write an article about Laetitia is however not her commitment to gibbons, but a second project she is currently enrolled with and which aims at the establishment of sustainable tourism in a village one hour from Chiang Mai. The project is called Active Conversation Travel (ACT) and has been established in a Thai-French cooperation. Laetitia is currently creating a guest house and will propose responsible tourist activities in cooperation with the village dwellers.


The project aims at developing the local community with the creation of jobs, the preservation of the forest and the respect of local traditions and the conservation of nature. Thus, Laetitia will propose activities in cooperation with the local population like cooking schools, workshops on the cultivation of local fruits and vegetables and on Thai traditions like boxing, but will also offer activities like planting trees, hiking etc.

In Thai villages, poverty often leads to the destruction of the natural habitat with poaching and illegal deforestation. In return, the destruction of nature enhances poverty in the middle and long term. A vicious circle. Once the forests are deforested and burned and once the soils are exploited, the population is left without any resources.

capture_d_ecran_2015-05-20_a_20.18.29-dcd1f
One must know that the eco-conscience is not very developed in Thailand, especially in the rural regions. Nevertheless, the respect of the environment is important in the fight against poverty, especially in the North of Thailand where agriculture is one of the main resources.

In order to raise awareness among the population for the protection of the environment, Laetitia regularly organises workshops in schools so as to concern the youngest for the issue. The goal is to explain to the children and young adults why it is important to respect and protect nature and animals. The workshops go on for several days and include walks in the forests, role plays and other educative activities.

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Laetitia is currently raising money for the renovation of ACT’s guest house. If you want to support Laetitia and ACT, you can make a donation on leetchi.

For more information you can always contact us.