Just outside the villages to the north is the Galibi Nature Reserve. It is 11 miles long and a mile deep. It was designated as a reserve in 1969 thanks to the effort of STINASU, the Foundation for Nature Conservation in Suriname. It has four mandates: the coordination of scientific research; education and awareness; the stimulation of eco-tourism; and sustainable community development. In fact, it was the founder of STINASU, Goop Schultz, who originally coined the term “eco-tourism” back in the 1960’s.

Located in Paramaribo, STINASU offers two-to-seven-day tours to different nature reserves around the country. Brownsburg Park, Raleighvallen Falls and Galibi are the three main destinations. The first two are located inland. Galibi was set aside specifically because it is a sea turtle nesting ground. There are three species of turtles that use the area: the Olive Ridley, the Green Turtle and the Leatherback. As the government does not provide any funds for the preservation or management of the park, STINASU is responsible for the management and for the coordination of the turtle research. There is a camp located 30 minutes upriver from the Carib villages, called Babunsanti. It houses a research station, a lodge for the STINASU workers and volunteers, a tourist lodge that can sleep up to 20 people, and a lodge for the management team. Electrical power is provided through solar panels, the cleaning and shower water comes from a well, whereas the drinking and cooking water comes from vats that capture the rainwater. All the food and goods are transported in and all the waste and recyclable materials are transported out. The organic material is buried, as the Carib don’t use compost. With the exception of the camp manager, all the other STINASU employees are Carib from the villages.

The eco-tourism venture came about six years ago when the two sides agreed to negotiate. It marked a new direction for dealing with the native people. Before then, the natives were only dictated to. STINASU opened up a dialogue with them, giving them the opportunity to state their wishes and stipulations for the venture. Together they decided that as part of the tourist trip to Babunsanti, there would be a trip to the villages. STINASU helped to renovate a building to house the Welcome Centre, which would be run by the women’s organization, and train the guides. STINASU asked if a road could be built from Albima to Galibi, or if a helicopter landing pad could be built, but the Carib refused. STINASU has respected the Carib decision. The Carib guides compiled a code of conduct for the tourists in the villages regarding dress and where they can walk. Because the nature reserve is within their traditional hunting grounds, it was stipulated that the Carib could still hunt and gather as they always have, with the exception of turtle eggs.

The trips offered by STINASU consist of a two- or three-day stay. The guests are driven from Paramaribo to Albima, then by boat to Babunsanti. At the Warana Lodge they are given the rules of conduct around the turtles: it is forbidden to walk the beach at night without a guide, not to shine light on or take flash photos of the turtles when they are nesting. Afterwards, they are free to explore. It is a chance to relax in a hammock and try fresh coconuts and cashew fruits straight from the tree. There are walks into the jungle to explore the vegetation and a guided walk along the beach at dusk to search for hatchlings. Another guided walk is offered around midnight to witness a nesting and again at 4 am. With over 30,000 nests a season, it is one of the largest Leatherback nesting grounds in the world. They are gentle giants that come in droves, 7 to 10 times a season, which is from April to August. The nesting process takes between 60-90 minutes. If lights or camera flashes are seen, it will scare them back into the water or draw them away from the water inland, where they will die.

On a two-day trip, there is a three-hour stopover in the Carib villages on the way back to Albima. Here tourists have a chance to walk through the villages, only if accompanied by a guide. They visit the Welcome Centre for souvenirs and attend the cultural show before returning to Albima.

The members of the Women’s Organization make the souvenirs: jewellery, pottery and woven products. Each woman brings their wares to the welcome centre, where a tag is attached stating their name and the cost. When an item is sold, the information is noted in a ledger. At the end of the month, each woman collects what she has sold, minus 10%. The cultural groups also receive a stipend for the shows that they provide. For every tourist who visits the villages and the nature reserve, the equivalent of $3 CDN is put into the village account. STIDUNAL (Carib Non-government organization) then decides what will be done with the money. About 4,000 tourists a year visit the area.

By most accounts, the venture has been welcome and successful. But there are a handful of people who are not happy, including some elders of the community who see it as an invasion of privacy. The guides are aware of who it bothers and try to stay away from their territory. It has proven to be a viable, money-making enterprise. Now almost every one in the community benefits directly or indirectly from the venture. STINASU has funded other projects in the villages, such as the replacement of the school’s roof and building a new health clinic. Other projects that STINASU and the communities are looking into are ceramics training and exploiting the abundance of fruits and nuts that are so readily available. The cashews, mangos and honey could be turned into lucrative products such as jams or chutneys.

The Carib are not only deriving incomes from STINASU. One of the spin-offs is that some families have built tourist lodges. They offer boat transport from Albima and lodging in the village. The lodgings are very rustic and minimal, consisting of covered hammocks, or beds, with access to a kitchen, showers and toilets. Guests must bring their own food and bedding. The cultural show was also their initiative. The shows they put on for the tourists are considered rehearsals for ceremonies. In a sense the venture has spurred them on to preserve traditions that are in danger of being lost.

Within three years, STINASU hopes to hand over the management of the nature reserve and the eco-tourist venture to the Carib. STINASU will remain as the umbrella organization. The Carib have to learn about management reports, regulations and how to deal with the government, and organizational structure. The tours still do not bring in enough money to cover all the costs of running the lodge and managing the nature reserve, but the Carib seem ready and willing to take on the task.

The eco-tourist venture here works very well. The locals are pleased with the income that it generates and with the input they have been given. It has allowed them to preserve their traditions, learn new skills and develop a network, locally and internationally. Their goals for the future are to obtain the rights and title to their traditional lands and keep preserving their language and culture.

Cida Funding in Suriname

Canada has a long history of providing funds for development in Suriname. Since 1974, over $2 million has been disbursed through CIDA channels. The CIDA-funded Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI) disbursed over $200,000 for nine projects last year alone. The year before, that amount was $188,000.

An example is Tangi Na, a women’s organization in a remote community that had inadequate medical care and school facilities. $19,000 was allocated for the construction and renovation of the kindergarten and medical clinic. Foundation Harmikrosbe received $20,000 for the construction of a community centre in Coronie District, which has traditionally been neglected by the Surinamese government. Basic life skills, agriculture and crafts-training sessions will be given in order to integrate women in the development process and strengthen their economic productivity.

These are just two examples of CFLI’s goal to contribute to the fulfillment of basic human needs and sustainable development. CFLI pays particular attention to projects that benefit those areas that do not receive adequate attention or funding. These include those that pertain to the youth, health issues, the environment, remote communities, the elderly and women.

Of the nine projects funded in 2002-2003, one was for the protection of the environment, two were to improve water supply and sanitation, two were for women and development, and the remaining four were for health and education development.

Beesum Communications, The Nation Magazine and the author wish to thank the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) for their support with making his project a reality. A special thanks to Harry of STINASU for facilitating and entertaining, and to the Carib for their cooperation and hospitality.

Tsa recently traveled to Suriname to study indigenous economic initiatives, eco-tourism projects in particular.

Produced with the support of the Government of Canada through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)

Be sure to pick up a copy of the next Nation in two weeks time, where we’ll feature Equador indigenous eco tourism ventures.