In all honesty, when we engage in travel and tourism, we do it wholly for personal fulfillment. Be it for leisure or visiting friends and relatives, we never miss a chance to see new places, try new and exciting adventures, and make new friends. It is an opportunity for us to get out of our daily routine, or like the Englishman says, to let our hair down. Imagine yourself doing all this for a good cause. Yes, tourism for a cause is possible and I’ve recently taken part in a version of it at the Forest Challenge in Kenya.
Travelers today are not missing the opportunity to do good in society and for the environment. They are taking travel and tourism to the next level by engaging in acts of service at destinations. Voluntourism is the most relatable practice of tourism for a cause.
However, travelers in Kenya today are venturing into more activities for leisure travel other than the mainstream safari experiences. The emerging small tourism businesses are influencing people to take on experiences like hiking, gastrotourism, and coffee or tea tours. Travel and tourism for a cause is not quite new, but it is a less-practiced concept in Kenya. Conservation used to be tourism’s child of a lesser god, but now it no longer.
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The East African Wildlife Society, in collaboration with the Kenya Forest Service and the Kijabe Environment Volunteers, hosts the Forest Challenge, an annual event to enhance awareness of forest conservation.
Every year, the East African Wildlife Society hosts the Forest Challenge, and there are different ways of participation: physical participation and participation by donation.
The primary aim of the Forest Challenge is to raise funds for the restoration of Kenya’s water towers by planting indigenous tree seedlings. This annual event is the epitome of wanderlust in the deep and thick Kereita forest, part of the southern Aberderes Water Towers block. Each year, different partners come together to ensure this noble initiative is successful. It has become an excellent opportunity for companies to engage and fulfill their corporate social responsibility while encouraging tourism for a cause.
I had to experience it myself to understand what it truly is. The Forest Challenge is thronged by organizations and individual teams that are excited to undertake. Many corporate organizations, not to mention the African Wildlife Foundation, The Ministry of Environment, Kenya Medical Research Institute, Safaricom PLC, Base Titanium, Madison Group, The Kenya Wildlife Service, Sustainable Travel and Tourism Agenda, Kevian Kenya Limited, and TransAd, to name a few.
To get the whole experience, participants need to get to the venue early to familiarize themselves with the venue. Whatever it is they say about the early bird… well, we are all aware of this common saying. Early risers get to have a media moment, where you communicate your message and have your voice heard. As young change-makers, we arrived prepared as a team, and did not shy away from relaying our message.
Participants are divided into various groups of four to five members each. Before the challenge begins, there is a series of warm up activities and aerobics. The teams are then flagged off to begin the challenge by partaking in a series of nine total obstacles. Some of the competitive activities include mud walk, archery, slippery hill, and tyre crawl; all designed to strengthen leadership and teamwork skills among the participants.
For the competitive foes like #teammangrove, we didn’t let a little mud and gloomy weather deter us from participating in these activities. The exciting and adrenaline-filled series of activities will for sure test your fitness level. But first, we had to charge up and get our game on.
To quote the East African Wild Life Society: “You do not need to wait until you are older to make a difference. You can make real change now. Sometimes you just need to know it is possible.” The Sustainable Travel and Tourism young change makers embody this practice and do it with great honor and pride. As our mentor always says, “Once a change-maker, always a change-maker.”
After completing the obstacles, participants can engage in planting seedlings. Event organizers brief the participants of the event’s success and the top teams receive awards and certificates.
Completing the obstacles almost feels like a return home where warm embraces await. Ultimately, we are all winners because we are working towards a mutual goal: to replenish our forests.
This year again, we’re counting down the days until we say, stop the count: #theforestchallenge is here. Therefore, when it comes to tourism for a cause, let’s leave no one behind. Let’s preserve and conserve the lungs of our earth because our forests are our future. My experience at the last year’s event was exhilarating, challenging, and fulfilling. The Forest Challenge is the kind of adventure I didn’t know I needed and our planet needs, and it could be your uncharted adventure too.
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