Face of Indawgyi (ဗမာစကား) is focused on four main pillars: educational opportunities, cultural preservation, environmental conservation, and community development. With the revenue from sustainable tourism, we can fund projects in each category so they become fully realized while also creating a space for new and even better ideas to come together.
All of these ideas will come together in the Lon Ton Social Impact Guesthouse which will provide new career opportunities that exist nowhere else around the lake. Through partnerships with local families and experienced hospitality trainers, the hotel school will draw in additional foreign and local visitors to the region to effectively prepare the local economy for future growth not only in Lon Ton but around the entire lake. Since July 2017, we have been working towards getting the guesthouse built while pursuing goals in each of our four pillars.
Tourism is growing rapidly in Myanmar. A good indicator was in 2014 when Travel+Leisure listed it as the "Destination of the Year", and just this year Lonely Planet called it one of the top ten countries to visit in 2017. Nonetheless, one problem that is consistent here and throughout Southeast Asia is plastic waste and a lack of both waste management and education on the issue. This is an acute problem for Myanmar's Indawgyi Lake, a wildlife sanctuary that is home to endangered endemic species, migrating and globally threatened birds, as well as 45,000 people.
Although it was recently designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, more can be done to clean up the lake and make it even better. Near the largest tourist sites, Shwe Myintzu Pagoda and the Bamboo Buddha, trash and debris can be seen floating near the docks and along the walkways. In addition, discarded fishing nets float randomly through the waters while parts of the shoreline near villages are covered in a thin layer of oil from motorboats.
Indawgyi is still something of an undiscovered gem, but as its visibility increases, there are many ways that it can be developed. We want to ensure that it is done sustainably and maintains the natural harmony and beauty that the lake's residents have enjoyed for countless generations. We work with the local villages, forest rangers, schools, environmental groups and volunteers to make this vision into a reality.
Education is the key to success in creating environmental awareness. We partner with local schools to empower children to help them understand that where they live is special. We have already started to invest in sustainable, locally-made trashcans and educational signs for the villages that surround the lake.
Currently, we are in the process of expanding this program to all the villages in the area as well as developing presentational materials and hands-on projects for students to get involved. Ultimately, we hope to help create a community of informed individuals motivated by their own ideas and actions of how to best protect the place they come from.
The lake is home to three predominant ethnic groups: Shan, Kachin and Burmese. There are ten villages directly on the water and thirty-seven within the valley. Each of the three groups is unique and features different languages, cultures and religions. As a result of this diversity, the area has had a complex and sometimes contentious history. What ties them together is their reliance on the lake.
As Myanmar gets thrusted into this age of modernization, we find it especially important to preserve the local customs unique to Indawgyi Lake. These range from different cuisines, traditional medicines, architecture, music, crafts and textiles. We not only want to record these practices, but ensure that they get carried on to the next generation.
These projects will play an essential role in supplementing ongoing efforts at the lake. Fauna & Flora International (FFI), an international conservation NGO, has been a longstanding force in environmental work and sustainable practices around Indawgyi. They have had many success stories from opening Inn Chit Thu, the first community-based tourism group, to reaching huge milestones with the establishment of the region as a Ramsar site and just recently a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. We see FFI as a role model institution and aim to follow in their and other like-minded organizations' footsteps .
The Lon Ton Social Impact Guesthouse we are establishing is the cornerstone of our small social enterprise. Our goal is to use the revenue from sustainable tourism to fund different projects around the lake. Through effective marketing and partnerships with local families and companies, the guesthouse will draw in additional visitors to the region to stimulate the economy not only in Lon Ton but around the entire lake. The revenue generated from this will be put back into the community to further the projects we do here.
Our founding principle is to be as least intrusive as possible. There are many ways to do tourism. Instead of changing the social fabric of Indawgyi, we want to push it in the direction so that it has the resources it needs to maintain its unique identity. We don't want it to become just another tourist destination. Rather, we want tourism to help it preserve what it is.