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.

A “gleam of hope” for hill tribe children in Northern Thailand

Last week-end we have made a trip to Phrao in order to visit the Children Home Phrao for children from hill tribes in Northern Thailand. We were very warmly welcomed by Günter Oppermann of the German association Hoffnungsfunke (gleam of hope) and his team. Our day at the children home was very interesting and pleasant. We were amazed by what Günter has built in only seven years.

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The children home currently accommodates 109 children – girls and boys, but the waiting list is long. Children Home Phrao has a very good reputation and is handled as the “best children home” in the region. The reasons for the children to stay with Hoffnungsfunke are manifold: Certain are orphans, others come from difficult family situations including drug abuse, violence or forced prostitution; another part of children simply stays at Children Home Phrao, because they come from remote villages and have no access to education.


If the parents want to visit their children, they can come on Sundays when Children Home Phrao invite the families for lunch. The contact between the children and their families is very important for Günter. However, some children cannot see their parents for obvious reasons. Some even cannot go back to their villages during the school holidays.

Hoffnungsfunke is a Christian organisation and thus there is a prayer before eating. Günter however stresses that the children are encouraged to carry out their religious beliefs and indigenous traditions. Hence, every Sunday a mess is hold at the children home for which the children dress up in the traditional cloths of their villages. Günter, too, has got the respective costumes made and wears a different one each Sunday. Unfortunately we were not there on Sunday, we would have loved to view the spectacle.

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Seven years ago, Günter has bought the land and built everything from scratch. Still today, we have the impression that the Children Home Phrao is all about self-reliance. Thus, there is a bakery, a repair shop, a fruit farm, a vegetable garden and more. When the children have a particular wish, it is discussed and implemented, depending on Hoffnungsfunke’s financial and material resources. Hence, a dance hall has been built at the wish of the children. During the construction works, the older children are involved and help with the constructions.

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This self-reliance is well linked to a sort of professional education or work introduction for the children. Thus, children interested in needlework can learn how to sew in a sewing workshop. They also create the main supply of cloths, sheets etc. for the children home. Children which are interested in mechanics can go to the repair shop and in the bakery, the children learn how to bake bread.


In addition, there are a very well equipped music room where the children can learn how to play traditional or modern instruments, the dance hall, a playground as well as football, basketball and takraw fields.

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A very nice idea is the little shop where the children can by sweets. Every child receives a weekly pocket money which they can spend how they want. This is to teach the children how to handle money. In the shop there is also a donation box. Günter wants to teach the children that even though they do not have a lot, they can always donate and share. Once the donation box filled, Günter doubles the amount and the children can chose for what the money is used for. They have decided to support a children home in Myanmar.


Teaching the children sense of responsibility, self-reliance and brotherly love is an important part of the daily life in the children home. Every child has a weekly task, for example kitchen duty. The children cook, wash and iron for themselves and the others – under surveillance of course. A nice side effect is that the children from different village tribes dissipate ancient dislikes. Certain mountain villages have quarrels which have been going on for years. In the children home, they live, eat, play and go to school together. This promotes the understanding of other cultures.

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The day we were visiting, one of the team members celebrated her birthday and was given a beautiful cake. Günter tries to bring workers from Germany to the children home in order to improve certain manual abilities of the staff and the children. Thus, a German baker is currently living and voluntarily working at the children home for one month.

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We had the impression that the children are happy in the Children Home Phrao. Despite over hundreds children living there, everything is very neat and organised. Regarding Günter, we had the impression of a loved and respected father. The children will come and hug him, but be all quiet as soon as he talks.

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The Children Home Phrao has a couple of guest accommodations and we definitely recommend a little holiday there. In addition to the warmhearted team and children which alone are reason enough for a stop, the children home is in the middle of Northern Thailand’s beautiful mountains and surrounded by rice paddies, a very nice and appeasing atmosphere. When we were visiting, a family of five was staying for several days. Fear of contact or language barriers are not an issue. If you are interested in a homestay, you can write an email to Hoffnungsfunke. Hoffnungsfunke also offers children sponsorships.


There is much more to say about our day at Children Home Phrao. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us or Günter directly.

We have visited a similar project some weeks ago. A shelter for women called Wildflower Home.

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.

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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.

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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.

Women empowerment at Wildflower Home

We had an amazing visit at the Wildflower Home, thirty minutes East from Chiang Mai. Wildflower is a “Good Shepherd” run foundation which offers women in need and their children a place to stay. Wildflower currently hosts nine women and seven children with a maximal capacity of hosting twelve women.

Violence against women remains a severe problem in Thailand, especially because many do not talk about it. We met with Sister Siripawn who told us that many women do not come from the Chiang Mai area itself. It would be embarrassing for the women if their friends and family learn that they feel the need to move out from home into a women community. Most women come to Wildflower by themselves, but sometimes Wildflower is contacted by hospitals.

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We were amazed by Wildflower in so many ways. One main goal of Wildflower is to make women strong and independent. Community is an important point, too. The women work and life together, share daily tasks and look after each other’s children. For women who come from an unstable background this environment helps them to build new self-confidence.

Wildflower is also a farm. The women grow vegetables and fruits. There are pigs, ducks, chicken and fish. The whole farming process is all organic and no chemical products are used. Wildflower is not only good for women, but also for the environment. The institution is pretty much autonomous and can even sell some farming goods.

 

The women learn how to farm vegetables and livestock, but Wildflower also puts a focus on the creative side of the women. The women make embroideries, had bags, create handmade cards and paint. Thus, they learn that they can do something and earn money with it. One volunteer at Wildflower told us however that the marketing process can be improved.

Wildflower further teaches the women English, administrative skills, problem solving, business management and the legal situation of women in Thailand. This gives the women self-confidence and the strength to deal with problems once they have left Wildflower.

Wildflower has a small kindergarten and school. Starting in high school the children can go to the local school in Bor Sang.

Usually the women stay between three month and one year in order to get back on their feet. Sometimes they can go back to their home villages, but sometimes they start a whole new life. Siripawn told us about a woman who lived with Wildflower and has now a chicken farm with 50 animals.

The women have learned about organic farming, recycling and law. When living on their own again they keep these good habits and can even spread the word among the rural population. The environmental impact of farming in Thailand is really bad as there are hardly restrictions on chemicals and no awareness within the population.

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We wondered beforehand if Wildflower, as a Catholic institution, only takes in women with the same believe. Siripawn assured us that religion is no point of criteria for Wildflower. There are currently Catholic, Buddhist and Muslim women living with Wildflower. Everybody can life their believes and is free to pray to their god and celebrate their rituals.

From our visit, we can only say that Wildflower makes a very good job in empowering women. Community and strength are promoted. They offer volunteer positions if you are interested.

We will keep in touch with Wildflower and maybe can support one or more of the women in their future projects.