The TAT continues to show its commitment to genuine voluntourism by supporting a number of excellent projects in its pioneering “The Little Big Project.” Among these are caring for wildlife, responsible ecotourism, and in this case, community development along with community-based tourism.

The great tsunami of 2004 had a huge and devastating effect on the west coast of southern Thailand. Before the tsunami, most Andaman Coast communities lived a traditional fishing lifestyle while many young, talented people would leave the region to find work in larger cities. There is very little economic diversity in the area, so as tourism slowly makes its way north from Khao Lak, it presents a real economic opportunity.

This opportunity comes with real risks however, and great care and planning need to take place to guard against the threat of large and exploitative tourist developments. There is a danger of local communities being unprepared, both in terms of job skills and cultural resilience that could lead to rapid community and natural degradation.

Some communities did seize opportunity from the great losses that the tsunami wrought, especially in the area of community-based tourism and responsible development. Andaman Discoveries, formerly the North Andaman Tsunami Relief (NATR), is one of the key organizations working closely with villages to develop sustainable and integrated tourism projects.

Through a dedicated network of supporters, volunteers, and donations, NATR successfully implemented over 120 projects in 12 villages by listening to and working with the villagers themselves. All projects have focused on long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability and creating realistic economic opportunities through training and marketing.

Andaman Discoveries is continuing to reach out to conscientious travelers, making it possible to have a meaningful village experience through exceptional service and comprehensive support materials. Their 14-day volunteers give travellers the opportunity to experience and participate in numerous worthwhile activities.

These include sea grass monitoring and conservation; mangroves seedlings collection and planting; learning the Moken people’s cultural “Ronggeng Dance”; and conducting services at a Burmese school in the area.

On the leisure side, tourists learn to cook Thai food, explore the beautiful nature of Koh Phratong, and immerse themselves in local village life through the village homestay program. This is an unusual opportunity for visitors to immerse themselves in the lives of the local people, as well as to contribute to the sustainability and conservation of their culture.

Andaman Discoveries bridges the gap between the outside world and the villagers in terms of communication and locating funding to make community-led projects possible. They provide the service and support for a meaningful exchange between the villagers and the tourist.

Andaman Discoveries is also managing a long-term scholarship program to provide financial support for underprivileged children to complete high school. They further facilitate community empowerment by providing vocational skills and ensuring that communities benefit directly from tourism.

The organization acts as the bridge between communities wanting to participate in tourism and travelers wanting to experience southern Thailand’s traditional culture and pristine eco-systems.

Those tourists are willing to spend their time and money to observe their natural environment and traditional ways of life affirms to the communities the importance of preserving these assets. Some of these activities have also created new jobs and revenue for people who previously had no employment.

TAT encourages travellers from around the world to come and participate in this exceptional example of community-based tourism, one that takes environmental, social and cultural sustainability into account.

For nature-lovers, this is the perfect opportunity to learn about the natural and cultural resources of southern Thailand, and to reap big rewards from contributing just a little.

Please go to www.thelittlebigprojectthailand.com to learn more about this special project and other voluntourism projects supported by the TAT.