Lucy Fleming is the founding co-owner of The Lodge at Chaa Creek, a multi award winning eco resort set within a 400-acre private nature reserve along the banks of the Macal River in Belize.
I’ve previously written about the importance Chaa Creek places on investing in our people, and how fostering a happier, more attractive and productive workplace has produced tangible benefits not only for our people, but to our business’s bottom line as well.
An earlier piece talked about programs we have in place for our staff, but investing in people can also extend to local communities as well, and with equally positive results. There is, of course, an overriding moral imperative to give back to our land and local communities, and the good news is that this has a positive effect on business success as well. It’s clear that by contributing to our society’s physical and economic health, as well as to education, environmental awareness and in other areas, we contribute towards a more attractive tourist destination.
It’s just one more example of how the benefits of true eco tourism and responsible travel extend to the people and land that support our industry.
I was thinking about this while organising the final details of this year’s Eco-Kids Environmental Summer Camp, a weeklong educational experience that Chaa Creek has sponsored for Belizean school children since 2009.
Officially known as the “Eco-Kids Camp” or more formally “Eco-kids Scholarship Environmental and Cultural Exchange Camp”, the annual event gives twenty-four young Belizeans between the ages of nine and twelve a chance to learn about their natural world through a mix of adventure, social interaction, fun, and hands-on education. Our goal from the outset had been to instil the same sense of wonder and responsibility for the environment that my husband Mick and I have felt ever since moving to Belize nearly 40 years ago.
This year the event ran from the 17th to the 24th of July at our Macal River Camp, just downriver from The Lodge at Chaa Creek, where the young Belizeans learn about biodiversity, conservation, the ancient Maya, sustainable agriculture and other subjects by participating in structured learning activities, games, and teambuilding exercises designed to foster an awareness of our natural world and the need to protect it.
During the week the kids enjoy hikes to ancient Maya archaeological sites where they take part in actual excavations, horseback rides to study the flora and fauna and Maya medicinal plants of Belize, song writing sessions and talent shows, hands-on learning about sustainable organic farming techniques, supervised water games and other stimulating learning activities.
The kids find the Camp’s bungalow style accommodation in a rainforest setting comfortable and exciting, and with three healthy meals and snacks each day, structured educational activities, arts and craft materials, tee shirts, 24 hour camp counsellor supervision, and guided tours conducted by licensed naturalist guides, they have a idyllic summer camp experience while acquiring skills that will stay with them for life
The Camp is free of charge and open to all Belizean children aged nine to twelve. All they need to do is write a 300-word essay on why they want to be an Eco-Kid. The essays are shortlisted by our educational committee with additional readers choosing the 24 lucky winners going on to attend camp.
The energy among our staff, counsellors and guides rivals that of the children, and it’s become something we all look forward to each year. As with our Pack-a-Pound program, which helps needy school children by encouraging guests to add a pound or more of school supplies to their luggage, or post them when they return home, the Eco-Kids project provides tangible results that leave everyone involved – students, staff, teachers, parents, visitors, and the community at large – feeling better and more connected for having participated.
And from Chaa Creek’s perspective, we’re making a sound investment in the future. By inspiring even one child to work towards environmental sustainability, we hope to create a ripple effect that will resonate throughout Belize’s future generations.
Personally, I can’t think of a better ROI.
Lucy Fleming said that she is happy to share Chaa Creek’s experiences in organising projects such as Eco Kids, Pack-a-Pond and other programs under “Chaa Creek Cares” – an initiative that see ten per cent of all room revenue going towards environmental and social programs, and invites other tourism industry colleagues to contact her to learn more.