After entering the Hospitality and Tourism Management program at San Diego State University, it was difficult to find the right direction until I took Dr. Jess Ponting’s Sustainable Tourism class. This class allowed me to better understand how tourism could be used to not only enhance the lives of traveling tourists but also those who inhabit a particular area of the world where these tourists visit. Sparking an area of interest I began to direct my attention on using tourism as a means for sustainable development whereby all parties benefit. It opened up a new and desirable area of the tourism industry, which I had not yet focused on.
Once acknowledging my growing interest to Dr. Ponting, we began to seek out suitable internships that would allow me to implement the theory that I had learned during the above mentioned Sustainable Tourism class. What transpired was a six week period in the New Ireland Province of Papua New Guinea where I was given the opportunity to work with local villages through various focus groups and workshops to develop their guest house network. Catering to tourists who wanted complete cultural immersion, the guest house network provided the perfect platform to facilitate the benefits of a sustainable approach so that socio-culturally, environmentally, and economically resources would only be enhanced. At the end of my time in New Ireland, these same workshops and focus groups created individually shaped opportunities for their specific needs. Some of which are as follows:
1. Socio Cultural Sustainability- Chiefs in the area, illustrated evidence that cultural values were diminishing so we developed an organized period where guests would have an opportunity to spend time learning about local culture through various mediums. This helped to preserve the local culture as traditional rituals (e.g. dance, art) were practiced more often.
2. Economically Sustainable- Ensuring that money stayed in the local villages rather then exiting through other enterprises run by expatriates, local tours and hands-on gardening workshops were organized and ran by locals.
3. Environmentally Sustainable- In conjunction with the local fisheries college, strategies were developed so that guest house operators would better understand reef management and the desirable aspects that it held in the eyes of tourists.
Immediately after returning from Papua New Guinea, Dr. Ponting noticed two things-my growing interest for community development and my mangy beard! Understanding that he could do little about my mangy beard, he put me in touch with Zack Park who had recently started Walu International- a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the hygiene and sanitation in the coastal communities of Papua New Guinea. After meeting Zack, a strong working relationship was formed and I soon found myself on the Walu International Operations Team and preparing for a second trip to PNG. With focus in the Lido Village, where open-defecation is the norm, village participation made it clear that toilets were an area of concern and required immediate attention. Walu’s underlying theme is to provide knowledge and expertise whilst the village agrees to provide all manual labor and funds necessary to cover the costs associated with the current project. Lido now has a group of local natural leaders that oversee the toilet project and maintain an amazing fundraising scheme with 100% of its profits going to the construction of toilets for the village. During my two years with Walu I have gained many friendships, grown close to a very different culture and spent a year in the field while volunteering in varying capacities at home in the US. And my appreciation for community development is still growing.
Through my time with Walu International I have been given the opportunity to manage the Vanimo Surf Lodge in Papua New Guinea, which is also located in the same village that Walu works in. In this position I will be able to stay involved with Walu when new volunteers are working in the village and also focus other efforts on managing the operations of a very promising new business that will create new jobs for the local population in a beautiful environment with really fun waves!