Living next door to Dr Seuss as a child gave Daniel Groshong a head start into caring for the environment and utilising nature to help less-privileged people. By Jeremy Torr.
Dili, Timor Leste. 15 June 2011. The Hummingfish Foundation is a Hong Kong registered charitable organisation dedicated to supporting "Green Entrepreneurs," including community-based nature tourist operators, organic farmers and basically any nature friendly business that helps to "add value to nature." Founded just over a year ago by Daniel Groshong, Andrew Gun, and Brian Francisco, it also has two honorary members, Mrs. Isabelle Demenge and the President of Timor Leste, Dr. Jose Ramos-Horta.
The goals of The Foundation are to protect environmental resources, while at the same time creating economic opportunity for local stakeholders. Groshong calls it community based ecotourism (CBET).
“Community-based nature tourism can relieve some of the pressure on natural resources by generating jobs and income for local people by making unspoiled nature itself a thing of value,” he says.
Hummingfish believes that if a community of fishermen is getting 20 times more income from dive tourism than they do from fishing, then they will have a strong financial incentive to protect their marine environment. “Heritage sites when well preserved and maintained are labour intensive income generators for local communities,” he says. “They can draw huge quantities of heritage-loving tourists.”
Hummingfish focuses on two areas. The first is community-based nature tourism and the second is Green Entrepreneurs. This means potential beneficiaries for support could be fishermen in Haiti who want to create a community-based dive tourism destination, a group of women making natural soaps in Timor-Leste, or ethnic minorities in China interested in creating a home-stay association.
“We understand that CBET adds value to nature, giving local stakeholders a financial incentive to protect natural resources and enjoyment to visitors,” says Groshong. “And most importantly, you can't sell tourism without pictures!” As he says, anyone can sell oil, timber, fisheries, or factories without pictures, but no one will come to your eco-lodge if you can't show them an amazing photo.
So Hummingfish works with communities to brand and promote their destinations, as well as offer advice on how to provide the best possible experience for guests.
“We first look at the product branding,” says Groshong. “Great branding can actually add value to a product.” For instance, a bar of handmade, soap will sell in the local market for $1, but with great packaging and PR, that same bar of soap can sell for $5-10.
For the ethnic minority home-stays in China, Hummingfish is setting up a website called www.chinahomestays.com, where people can go to find a home-stay in Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. Through the site, people can also comment on their experiences, upload photos from their visit and find other locations via Google maps. The foundation also offers the owners simple advice on what guests might like and not like, and offers 24/7 to help liaise between families and guests, should any problems arise.
“With all of these projects, it's simply trying to help people communicate the beauty and wonder of their nature/product/culture to potential customers, and in doing so raising incomes and protecting the environment.”
On a recent visit to Haiti, Groshong realised this could be a critical moment in Haiti's history. “Like most people, I have heard stories about how devastated Haiti's environment is, but on this trip, I was amazed to see that there are many beautiful areas still intact,” he says. He was impressed with the way many Haitian people are determined to protect their unspoiled natural environments, while at the same time creating a tourism economy which values and protects nature.
“If you consider the fact that the Dominican Republic (part of the same island as Haiti) is making more than $4 billion a year in tourism revenue, then it's safe to assume that Haiti can also build a viable economy based on nature-based tourism.”
If as Groshong says, tourism is the world's largest employer and the interests of tourists are shifting to more nature-based adventure destinations, it’s a great industry for the creation of sustainable jobs. “And if nature is a major income generator for local people, then government also has a stronger incentive to legislate protection of those national resources,” he adds.
Now just over one year old, Hummingfish is branching out from supporting only community-based ecotourism to including what it calls “green entrepreneurs,” or people working with nature friendly businesses. Like the women in Timor-Leste making hand-made soaps, which use all natural ingredients (Soap making Co-op in Timor-Leste)?
“We would like to build up our capacity to develop and manage more projects like this in countries such as India, Indonesia, Bhutan, Philippines, Laos,” adds Groshong. But it will have to work progressively. “We need funding and lots of expertise in many areas as we implement new projects. We will need a new office, as well as some full time staff, not to mention travel and other logistical expenses,” says Groshong. It will all take time.
As he says, the foundation’s job is to work with the local partners to help them best realise their full potential, from building to packaging to marketing. “We will do whatever it takes to help them add value to nature,” he adds.
“As the founder of The Hummingfish Foundation, I really feel that there is a calling to protect nature that we must answer. Our hope is that the charity has a destiny to fulfil by becoming an important force for conservation of nature and culture, while at the same time giving people dignity.”
Photos courtesy D. Groshong
"The name of the Hummingfish Foundation has two sources. One is from the Dr. Seuss book, The Lorax (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lorax) and the other is from the Toad fish, which scientists say points to the origins of all vocalizing animals on earth, including us humans. When I was a kid growing up in the US, my grandmother lived next-door to Theodor Geisel, who most people know as Dr. Seuss. One summer, my grandmother took me over to Dr. Seuss's house and needless to say, he became an important person in my life. Fast forward about 40 years to Hong Kong when I was reading my kids The Lorax, when I realized that the book was in a figurative sense about me. At the end of The Lorax a little boy is given the last seed of the last of a kind of tree, implying that he would go out and reforest the area in the story. I felt that the name for my soon-to-be charity was in there somewhere and I chose the name of the walking fish in the story, which was called Hummingfish." - D Groshong
Daniel J. Groshong is a professional photographer who, in 25 years on the job, has covered countless international news events and had a front-row seat to some of the most important events of the last quarter century. Being a photographer took him to East Timor to cover the war in 1999, a job which eventually led to where he is now, director of The Hummingfish Foundation. Contact him at:firstname.lastname@example.org; www.hummingfish.org; Skype= tayophotogroup