Three thousand metres above Ethiopia’s famous Great Rift Valley lie small rural villages complete with shepherds, goat herders – and some of the kindest businessmen around.
Working as part of non-profit organisation TESFA (Tourism in Ethiopia for Sustainable Future Alternatives) locals put together travel itineraries for tourists that involve visiting a number of established camps and trekking through Ethiopia’s astonishing mountainous landscape for a mere £25 per night.
The growing trend of ‘eco-ethical’ holidays attracts tourists from all over the world. Now they can visit the highlands of Ethiopia and give back to its vibrant community. TESFA’s mission statement says it seeks to work in partnership with local communities to enable them to generate sustainable improvements in their livelihood through the development of their own tourism-related enterprises.
These affordable trips come at a fraction of the price of the more upmarket resorts in Kenya or South Africa, but claim to offer much more in the way of experience. Set amongst volcanic peaks, dusty canyons, green meadows and arid acacia trees, guests get to sleep, eat and dance with the villagers.
Set up in 2003 by English-born Mark Chapman, there are now six different sites for tourists to visit. 60% of the fee is paid directly back to the locals, whilst the rest is distributed to other local groups and used for promotion and support offices.
“TESFA also means hope in Amharic, the most widely used language across the country,” Chapman explained to WideWorld. “TESFA has been working with local communities in the mountains around the World Heritage Site of Lalibela, developing facilities with these communities for them to host guests.”
The one to six day itineraries involve trekking between different villages and include a guide, porters and donkeys to carry your luggage, traditional highland meals and comfortable accommodation in tukuls – circular homes with conical thatched roofs.
As well as enjoying this once-in-a-lifetime experience living within this private culture, you are helping the Amharans build their community for themselves. The profit made by these micro-businesses is shared between its managers, cooks, housekeepers, guards and guides, and funds grain stores and wheat mills to enable the villagers to survive through difficult periods of drought.
“My life has seen a good progress from before,” said Dassasche Enanaw, 30, cook and housekeeper at the site of Mequat. “Previously I faced shortages at home of food items for the family, but now shortages are reduced.”
These holidays allow tourists to experience life in Africa away from high-rise hotels and expensive safari holidays. Sit on the edge of the ‘rock bar’ and take a sip of the locally fermented barley as you soak in the phenomenal sunsets over the Great Rift Valley, watching gelunda baboons scrambling over the cliff edge. Feeling closer to the natural splendours of the world and its people, a trip with TESFA is a conscientious holiday worth more than any resort. And with Brad Pitt as Mequat Mariam’s village’s first guest – this promises to be a trip everyone wants to be a part of.
For more information, visit TESFA at www.community-tourism-ethiopia.com