The untapped potential of Beheloke
Wandering between wooden huts in Beheloke, on the Southwestern shores of Madagascar, you are chased everywhere by the smell of fresh fish cooking on old, rusty stoves and the curious eyes of the children watching your every move. This charming village has the massive potential to welcome passing tourists, but it faces many obstacles restricting its development. Part of our work as volunteers is to support committees involved in developing eco-tourism, an essential new income-generating activity for the village.
We are told by our project officer, Gaëtan, that many tourists pass through Beheloke from the nearby village of Anakao on the way to the park in Tsimanampetotse. But after visiting the park, most of them return to Anakao. He says that the tourists are attracted to Anakao due to its proximity to the port and its better-developed resources. This may be true, but Beheloke can offer visiters an experience of real Malagasy village life.
Right now, without developed tourism programs and infrastructure, Beheloke is dependent on fishing. Its expert fishermen follow the sea, venturing out with the falling tide and returning around later as it rises. Patient wives welcome the men back home, taking their catch to be weighed, prepared and sold. Such a lifestyle is totally dependent on Mother Nature. Often the fishermen return home tired and empty-handed, and on those days they cannot feed their families. The community, especially the women, have expressed to us their desire for additional sources of income. The hope is that eco-tourism can provide a solution.
As volunteers with the Explore Program, we are currently trying to solve those problems that are barriers to tourism flourishing in the village. One of the first challenges is cleanliness and hygiene. Right now human and plastic waste can be found on the beach and around the village. We are working with the community to plan, publicize and promote beach clean-ups as well as communicate how best to maintain public rubbish bins that are being installed by WWF.
We are also encouraging the villagers to use toilets instead of the more traditionally used forests and beaches. Teaching English, training local tourist guides, promoting artisanal crafts and founding a dance club are among other projects we volunteers are involved in to kick-start the development of tourism for Beheloke.
As students of the environment, we volunteers are all too familiar with the possible drawbacks of introducing tourism to underdeveloped areas. Increased pollution, overfishing and loss of the local culture can outweigh the advantages found from welcoming more visitors. In time, the natural beauty of the area that once drew these visitors may be lost to all. However, with creativity, motivation and the support of the WWF, we are certain that beautiful Beheloke can embrace the growth of tourism and conserve its natural environment and impressive way of life.