A Village EcoGuide’s Journey

Building a Sustainable Future for the Sundarbans

Shakil Ahmed

In partnership with the Greater Sundarbans Ecotourism Society (GSETS), Solimar International organized a six-day Village EcoGuide Training for 20 local guides, generously funded by the USAID Ecotourism Activity. From December 10-15, 2023, the Banojibi Campus in Dacop, Khulna hosted an impactful training program for aspiring village EcoGuides (sixteen men and four women) living adjacent to the Sundarbans Reserved Forest. The program aimed to enhance participants' skills, knowledge, and collaboration for effective ecotourism practices in the Sundarbans. Through classroom sessions and field activities, participants honed their abilities in professional development, communication, and community engagement. This initiative empowers them to become not just tour guides, but also guardians of the Sundarbans, sharing its wonders with the world while ensuring its sustainable future.

Why is Training Village EcoGuides Essential in the Sundarbans?

The Sundarbans, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest single-tract mangrove forest in the world. Imagine a future where residents become guardians of the Sundarbans, not just leading visitors through its breathtaking landscape, but also protecting its intricate ecology. This
is the vision that village EcoGuide training brings to life. It offers a triple win, a symphony of solutions that resonates with people, nature, and the future of this remarkable ecosystem. 

📈 Empowering livelihoods, diversifying income

For generations, communities around the Sundarbans have relied on practices that, while vital, can sometimes strain the forest's resources. EcoGuide training provides a sustainable alternative, equipping locals with the skills to become tourism and conservation ambassadors. This diversifies income streams, reduces dependence on harmful practices, and fosters economic prosperity within communities.

🌿 Strengthening conservation, whispering wisdom

Trained EcoGuides become more than just tour leaders; they become educators. They weave tales of the Sundarbans' ecological significance, instilling a sense of respect and responsibility in visitors. By minimizing disruptions and steering tourists away from sensitive areas, they act as the forest's silent protectors, ensuring its treasures remain safe for generations to come.

🤝 Preserving traditions, bridging cultures

The Greater Sundarbans region goes beyond the forest. It's a tapestry of vibrant cultures. EcoGuides become bridges between these communities and visitors, showcasing their unique traditions and stories. This cultural exchange fosters mutual understanding and appreciation, creating a ripple effect of respect and responsibility towards the Sundarbans and its people.

Village EcoGuide Training Schedule

Twenty eager village guides, hailing from cottages around the Sundarbans, embarked on a transformative journey. This intensive training program, a blend of classroom sessions and field immersion, equipped them not only with the skills of expert guides but also with a profound appreciation for the Sundarbans' ecological and cultural treasures. 

A group of Sundarbans EcoGuide trainees presenting their break out discussion results.

Day 1: The program began by polishing their storytelling and guiding techniques. From fascinating narratives to engaging visitor interaction,  participants learned the art of making the Sundarbans come alive for travelers.

Day 2: Delving deeper, they plunged into the heart of the Sundarbans' ecology. They learned to identify diverse species, understand the interconnectedness of the ecosystem, and grasp the potential impact of climate change. This knowledge would become the foundation for their role
as responsible guardians of the forest.

Day 3: From the depths of nature, the focus shifted to the rich cultural tapestry of the Sundarbans. Participants explored its history, traditions, and customs, gaining insights that would allow them to share this unique heritage with visitors. They also learned to design immersive tour experiences that would resonate with responsible tourism practices.

Sundarbans Village EcoGuides training, December cohort during a field trip to Karamjal Ecotourism Center.

Day 4: The culmination of their learning arrived with a field trip to the Karamjal Crocodile Breeding and Ecotourism Center. Here, they witnessed firsthand the delicate balance of conservation efforts and sustainable tourism. Afterward, they returned to the Dhangmari area for practical training, putting their newly acquired skills to the test in designing village tours that showcased the Sundarbans' beauty and cultural richness.

Day 5: Cruising silently through the Sundarbans' canals, the village EcoGuide learns to lead an eco-friendly boat trip. Mastering the art of navigating the intricate waterways, the EcoGuide imparts knowledge about the delicate ecosystem, emphasizing the importance of conservation. This immersive experience fosters a deep respect for the environment and equips the guide to share the wonders of the Sundarbans with future travelers.

Day 6: Embarking on an enriching eco-guided tour, participants explore the charm of a rustic village while indulging in a captivating storytelling session. The itinerary includes a two-hour bird-watching excursion, offering a glimpse into the diverse avian life. Additionally, visitors visit fish and crab farms, gaining insights into sustainable aquaculture practices. The fusion of village exploration, bird watching, and immersive storytelling creates a holistic experience, providing ecoguides with valuable insights for future tours.

This immersive training program went beyond equipping guides with technical skills. It fostered a deep connection between the participants and the Sundarbans, instilling a sense of responsibility for its preservation. By understanding the ecology, appreciating the culture, and embracing sustainable practices, these village guides are now poised to become ambassadors for the Sundarbans, ensuring its continued protection and wonder for generations to come.

Village EcoGuide Training Feedback and Results

The village Ecoguide training program sown in the Sundarbans blossomed into a vibrant tapestry of success, echoing with the whispers of positive feedback from the participants. 88% found the environmental conservation message clear and resonant, 99% gained practical hands-on experience, and 100% were awestruck by the instructors' expertise. The impact was undeniable, with 96% feeling their guiding skills soar.

But the harvest wasn't just about numbers; it was about the unique experiences that nourished each participant's growth. For some, it was the fertile ground of peer-to-peer exchange, where ideas blossomed during group work. Others thrived under the warm sun of the trainers' experience and cordiality. And for many, the Sundarbans' wildlife knowledge, once a bud, bloomed into a mind-opening revelation.

The seeds of confidence took root, with 94% ready to weave their newfound knowledge into their tours. When asked about sustainable practices, the responses were as diverse and vibrant as the Sundarbans itself. One guide envisioned a future where local products, like woven baskets and honey, adorned his boat, showcasing the community's artistry. Another, inspired by the delicate balance of the ecosystem, planned to create a clear code of conduct for responsible tourism. And a chorus of voices echoed the importance of educating visitors about reducing plastic waste in the forest.

Silent, eco-friendly canal boat trips as educational voyages led by certified village EcoGuides into the Sundarbans.

This training wasn't just about equipping guides; it was about empowering guardians. The Sundarbans, once a distant dream for these village residents, now flowed through their veins, a responsibility etched in their hearts. They emerged not just as skilled guides, but as ambassadors, ready to share the Sundarbans' magic with the world while ensuring its continued bloom for generations to come.

In conclusion, the village EcoGuide training program in the Sundarbans has not only equipped participants with essential skills but has also cultivated a deep sense of responsibility for the conservation of this extraordinary ecosystem. The positive feedback and diverse outcomes demonstrate the program's success in fostering a connection between the guides and the Sundarbans. As ambassadors and guardians, these trained guides are poised to share the magic of the Sundarbans with the world while ensuring its sustainable and flourishing future for generations to come.

Contact GSETS if you are interested in hiring one of our trained and certified Sundarbans EcoGuides!

Email us at admin@greatersundarbans.org.

About the Author

Shakil Ahmed

Shakil Ahmed, a dedicated Forestry graduate student at Khulna University, is passionate about sustainable forest management. His internship experience at Bangladesh Ecotourism and Conservation Alliance (2022-2023) and Solimar International (2024) fueled his interest in nature-based tourism and protected area management. Currently, Shakil is actively involved in a research project exploring innovative governance strategies for sustainable forest management in Bangladesh.