Bringing Volunteerism and Sustainable Tourism together: a Case of the Great Baikal Trail Project

The 25th IAVE World Volunteer Conference just came to the end yesterday.

Held since 1970, this event brings together the third sector practitioners from around the world and serves as a main meeting point to exchange ideas and experiences around volunteerism. 

This year about 700 people who share the same commitment for civic engagement and community involvement gathered in the German city of Augsburg on a week of 16-20 October. Prior to the main Forum also the Youth Volunteer Forum took place that enabled young people up to 30 to be heard, too.

 

“The International Association for Volunteer Effort (IAVE) strongly believes in the power of volunteering in the development of youth. In this sense, the 2018 Global Youth Volunteers Forum, developed with the local partner Freiwilligen-Zentrum Augsburg GmbH (Augsburg Volunteer Center), is meant to be an opportunity for young people committed to promoting volunteering at the local and international scale, to connect and explore present and future projects and initiatives (IAVE, 2018).”

 

This was done through numerous presentations and interactive sessions. Topics discussed varied from social & corporate citizenship to participation of disabled people by using virtual and augmented reality.

Among others, a Berlin-based organisation Dekabristen e.V. which fosters activism and civil society engagement in the Post-Soviet countries carried out a workshop on sustainable tourism development through volunteerism.

 

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It presented its newly launched project Baikal Calling that aims to develop infrastructure around Baikal Lake, Russia through trailbuilding and international volunteer exchange.

Thus, a Great Baikal Trail Project was introduced here as an illustrative example, too. As an operating organisation in situ with 15 years of experience a former interregional NGO and today an Association of Leadership, Ecological Education, and Trailbuilding Great Baikal Trail runs similar programmes and transfers its expertise throughout all Russia.

 

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About GBT and its impact on sustainable development

As GBT mainly practices and promotes eco- and volunteer tourism, in its actions it also addresses the major sustainability principles such as economic, environmental, and socio-cultural aspects.

Not only its projects evolve around environment that is a primary field within the discourse of sustainable tourism development, but they also clearly reflect the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities.

Thus, the local region is a home to Buryats, the largest ethnic minority in Siberia, mainly concentrated in the Republic of Buryatia and Irkutsk Oblast. Every trailbuilding project involves introduction to this culture, including cuisine and traditions. Hence, such projects raise awareness about the unique local population domestically and internationally.

On the other hand, through its projects GBT also works on local engagement. Communities in more distant rural areas are often in need of physical labour and equipment. GBT functions as an intermedium that brings volunteers aka tourists together with the groups in need. Works performed include ancestorial springs repairs, firewood storage for winter, bridge’s elements construction, etc.

On the economic side, GBT also facilitates development of small villages. If prior to trails a community was cut off from civilization, with trails laid on a local community gets a direct access to the tourist flow (for instance, 300 tourists per day on a summer Sunday). Such an access mobilizes local resources, f.e. guest houses and hostels are opened, local products like berries and jams, smoked fish, pickled mushrooms, and various pastries are sold.

Additionally, GBT has several cooperations with other representatives of the third sector. For instance, a Moscow-based initiative ‘KTO’ that sells paintings of children with autistic disturbance. Spreading sells of such paintings across the whole Russia gives more jobs for such kids. To see and buy these works, please visit a GBT’s souvenir shop “Lesnaya Lavka” here. Not only it showcases partner’s items, but also authentic works of local craftsmen.

 

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© 2018 Elena Bubeeva, All Rights Reserved.

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