Have you ever dreamed of exploring rural India and making a difference? United for Hope is an international nonprofit that offers intrepid travelers the opportunity to discover the real India through their social tourism venture in Tirmasahun, India. Alongside their development work in education, social entrepreneurship and community programs, United for Hope’s social tourism is helping to truly transform the lives of both the villagers and the travelers who meet them.
Strategically located less than 30 minutes away from the popular tourist destination of Kushinagar (a famous Buddhist pilgrimage site) in the Uttar Pradesh region of India near Nepal is the tranquil village of Tirmasahun. Here tourists can enjoy the comforts of a guesthouse or do a day trip to the village through United for Hope’s social tourism program. This unique program is pioneering sustainable development and tourism in one of India’s poorest regions. During each visit, travelers will be able to embrace village life, enjoy a delicious home-cooked meal and experience meaningful cultural exchange, while also nurturing positive environmental and social impact in the community. The impact of these visits is powerful, creating a socioeconomic ripple effect throughout the entire community while also affording travelers a magical glimpse into rural Indian life.
I had the opportunity to interview United for Hope about their sustainable tourism project and here is what they had to say.
Tell me more about United for Hope.
United for Hope was founded by Tara McCartney in 2014 and is a registered tax-deductible NGO in Germany, France, India and the USA. Motivated by her love for development work and certainty that she has the skills to drive real change in rural India, Tara quit her corporate career to found United for Hope. The organisation launched its first pilot Smart Village in Tirmasahun, Kushinagar district (UP) in 2014. Just like in other areas of the world, rural populations here face a complex web of challenges: access to health, education and energy, income generation, lack of infrastructure, corruption, and bad governance. These aspects are all inter-connected and cannot be addressed separately. For this reason, after a process of testing, improving and learning, we developed a structured approach which aims to tackle all these issues.
Tell me a little more about Tara’s background.
Tara McCartney is an ex-corporate manager turned social entrepreneur with multiple projects and companies based out of India. From basic services for the rural poor such as water, solar energy and clean cooking stoves via her non-profit United for Hope and its partner for-profit, Shakti Empowerment Solutions to sustainable farming and dignified working conditions for farm labours via Grow Good Farms to ethical textile production for European retailers through her full service agency, Fairfactia, Tara has an in-depth knowledge of the challenges and the opportunities of social entrepreneurship in India. She has extensive experience in holding workshops, giving presentations, contributing to panel discussions and speaking to the media. Tara also works as a consultant for other international agencies.
What is your mission?
Our mission is to build sustainable Smart Villages with programmes that improve the lives of people living in rural India, especially the disadvantaged, and build stronger, supportive and inclusive communities in the long term. Through our programmes in the areas of Education, Social Enterprises and Community Services we aim to influence mindsets, open up new perspectives for citizens and empower them to build a dignified future for themselves. In particular, within the area of Social Enterprises, we identify products and services that can be produced or distributed in rural communities.Then, we create go-to-market plan to ensure that the enterprise will be successful and grow into a flourishing, long-term business. Our projects in this area include the following products and services: Clean water, solar energy, menstrual hygiene, social tourism, arts and crafts and village transportation.
Tell me more about your best tours.
Our Social Tourism project has two components. One component is Village Trips which is a day trip tour that we offer to people staying in Kushinagar. It includes round-trip transportation from Kushinagar (pick-up and drop-off from hotel or Guesthouse) to our community centre in Tirmasahun. The aim is to give tourists a glimpse of rural village life in India on a day trip basis. Some of the highlights of the village trip include taking an Ox cart ride through the village, watching a local woman make Indian traditional chai and hearing her story, lunch at the United for Hope Community Center, visiting a local farm and people to gain an insight into village life. (You can find a detailed description of our Village tours here).
The second component is United for Hope Guesthouse. We have two modern, high-quality, furnished rooms with private bathrooms in our Community Centre for guests to stay in. Facilities in this fully sustainable building include Wi-Fi, an onsite water plant, solar energy and a child-friendly garden area. Guests have the opportunity to learn about rural development work and get involved in our projects in a variety of areas, according to their interests, expertise and skills. (You can find a detailed description of our Guesthouse here.)
How do you book these tours?
What makes you unique in the field?
We are the only social tourism experience offered in the area, tapping into a niche sector which has an immense potential to become a source of sustainable livelihoods, especially for communities whose income is still heavily dependent on seasonal agricultural labour.
The venture creates an empowering circle of sustainability: The host community enjoys the social and economic benefits deriving from tourism and profits are re-invested into the organisation’s development projects, which contribute to uplift rural populations in the area.
Furthermore this kind of unique experience makes for a great alternative to mainstream tourism circuits. Visitors who book their stay at the United for Hope Guesthouse enjoy life in the Indian countryside, but they also get to understand how a nonprofit operates, what living and working in remote rural areas entails for both local and international staff, and how simple everyday actions can have a life-changing impact on the people we serve.
Guests have the possibility to experience first-hand the organisation’s work with rural communities by getting involved in projects ranging from solar energy social enterprises to English, computer and STEM classes, as well as Menstrual Hygiene Management and Gender Sensitivity workshops. They can taste homemade local cuisine, drink chai with friendly neighbours, discover traditional trades and crafts, and learn more about Indian culture and lifestyle in the village. They can also explore the nearby tourist spot of Kushinagar, one of the world’s top Buddhist pilgrimage sites.
What makes you a sustainable tour company?
United for Hope’s Community Centre, the heart of the organisation which hosts its office, staff accommodation, the classrooms and the tourist Guesthouse, is a fully sustainable building powered by solar energy. Unlike in other infrastructures in the area, access to energy is available 24/7; water, waste and transportation are also managed taking into consideration environmental concerns.
United for Hope Social Tourism project is part of the organisation’s Smart Village approach — falling within the Social Enterprises pillar. Besides creating an empowering circle of sustainability (as explained above), the project also cross-subsidises the other social enterprises around basic products and services that the organisation launched. It is thus a fundamental element within the larger financial structure of the entire organisation.
Besides supporting the organisation’s economic sustainability, the project is aimed at helping to expand the tourism industry beyond the usual hubs; in the long run, the goal is to speed up tourism’s contribution to alleviate poverty and create opportunities in underserved and often forgotten areas.
What to learn more?
Help Me Build My Sustainable Travel List
Do you know of any amazing travel organizations and/or nonprofits that are doing good and giving back to the local community? If so, please let me know. I’m building a growing list of these amazing organizations as a resource for my readers on sustainable, responsible travel companies. Thank you!
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