Astrostays: Community Centric Astro-Tourism for Livelihood Creation is a presentation by Ramasamy Venugopal from the IAU Office of Astronomy for Development at the first SpaceUP Live Virtual Conference. These are the session notes by The Space Tester.
For a replay of the entire conference, I can highly recommend visiting the Space Up YouTube Channel >>
ASTROSTAYS: ASTRO-TOURISM SUPPORTING COMMUNITIES
Ramasamy Venugopal has an engineering degree in electronics. And a master’s from ISU (the International Space University – yes, it really exists!).
Since graduation, he has been working at the IAU-Office of Astronomy for Development. Their shared mission is to use Astronomy and Space for the betterment of the planet and the human condition.
WHY INVEST IN SPACE AND ASTRONOMY?
We all know the joke about the reason the dinosaurs got extinct: they didn’t have a space program. But of course the answer to the question of investing in space is more complex.
The goal of the Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) is to figure out how and where to use astronomy (and space) for social-economical development.
They fund small to medium-sized projects globally, reaching people in over 160 projects in 100 countries already.
Funding assignment goes through an open call for proposals, that anyone from anywhere in the world can apply to. No astronomy or space qualification is required.
WHY ASTRO-TOURISM IN REMOTE COMMUNITIES?
Communities doing astro-tourism is one of the projects the OAD funds through these proposals. Thus tackling problems faced by many remote communities around the world: the limited livelihood opportunities and lack of basic infrastructure.
The project had a pilot last year in the Himalayan Mountain Range in the Ladakh region in Northern India. The area is home to over 50 million people with another 450 million settles at the base of the mountain range. It’s one of the most fragile ecosystems on earth.
Because of the remote location, there is a lack of electricity, education and access to sustainable monetary income.
On the other hand, there is a rise in tourism in this area, which provides an opportunity. But how do you get tourists to go off the beaten path?
HOW TO USE ASTRONOMY FOR COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT?
The clear night skies is one asset of the Himalayas that could provide a draw of visitors to the area.
The social enterprise “Global Himalayan Expedition” is powering remote communities with solar energy. This creates a life-changing experience and a long-lasting impact on the traveller and the people in these remote areas.
They help set up home stays and train the villagers on hospitality and hygiene, ensuring there is a good overall experience for the visiting tourist.
On top of that, community members from some of these villages were trained basic astronomy and telescope operations. This includes many women, who were specifically targeted since they have less opportunities.
One village was selected to pilot a project called “Astrostays”.
WHAT IS THE ASTROSTAYS PROJECT?
With Astrostays, you don’t just stay in the home of one of the villagers, but you also get to experience the amazing night skies with the help of a trained, local astro guide.
The guide will tell you about their local folklore, their lives, making astronomy a gateway to an authentic local experience and provides much-needed interaction between remote and urban communities. Of course it also provides additional income for the locals.
In the four months the pilot ran in 2019, 5 stays were created, attracting about 700 tourists and opening the community to more than 5000 dollars, which is a HUGE amount for this region.
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
Interested in the work of IAU, the Office of Astronomy for Development? Visit their website: astro4dev.org
For the Global Himalayan Expedition website, click here: ghe.co.in
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