For the six Paliyar tribal youths who went on their maiden trek through Kiluvamalai Reserve Forests on Sunday, the experience of leading a group of enthusiasts was one they hoped would pave the way for a steady livelihood.
The tribal youths living in Kurinji Nagar in Usilampatti were approached by the forest department on the suggestion of Collector L. Subramanian as part of the developmental activities for their uplift.
“Sixteen youths volunteered to participate in the initiative and formed Vanakuil SHG following which they were trained to act as eco-guides for community-based eco-tourism (CBE) initiative over the last two months.
They were trained in basic etiquette, confidence, conversational skills and given motivational classes and basic first-aid training,” said J. Mary Praveena, coordinator of the CBE initiative.
V. Solairaja, SHG president, said they were collecting and selling forest produce including tubers and herbs for their livelihood. “We were hardly making Rs. 500 every week depending on whatever produce we could find,” he said.
Nineteen-year-old P. Eswaran, the youngest of the group, said by involving themselves in the CBE initiatives, they would be assured of a fixed income. “Today we enjoyed interacting with the trekkers who asked us about different plants and birds and we told them whatever we knew about the forest,” he said.
A. Vasiappan, another eco-guide, said they had learnt a lot from their maiden trek and interaction with the eco-tourists.
Explaining their method of working, the SHG members said the fee of Rs. 600 collected from the trekkers went towards paying for the travel and food expenses after which, the rest was shared between them. “At the end of the trek today, we were able to save Rs. 6,000, half of which will be shared among us and the rest will be used for the development of our SHG,” they added.
While the forest department plans to have six eco-guides on every trek under the CBE initiative, the officials also consider involving the tribal youths in fire watches and anti-poaching watches.