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Tourism helps the environment

A story told by Martha Ruiz Corzo Sierra Gorda, Mexico

Martha ‘Pati’ Ruiz Corzo lives in Sierra Gorda in Central Mexico. Around thirty years ago, her family decided to turn their lives around and live a simple life in the middle of a natural reserve. Martha is the pioneer behind the Grupo Ecologico Sierra Gorda project, which aims to protect the region’s natural heritage and foster the economic development of the community. Tourism plays an important role in this process.

According to Mexican activist Martha Ruiz Corzo, tourism can be a powerful driver of local development. Martha is the pioneer behind the Grupo Ecologico Sierra Gorda project in a remote nature reserve of towering mountains and deep canyons. The area’s unique microclimate facilitates the growth of a huge variety of flora and fauna. In this protected nature reserve, the Grupo Ecologico helps organisations and residents move towards an economic development which respects the needs of the environment. Tourism is a significant lever for this development, as Martha explains.

 

“Introducing sustainable development projects is a complex challenge in our region. The land is owned by a large group of extremely poor, small-scale farmers. You can’t just turn up and demand they start protecting their natural environment. You need to give people a chance to reconnect with their environment. When they realise that the quality of the environment can affect their quality of life, then something changes. Environmental education is the Grupo Ecologico Sierra Gorda’s main task. We organise Mother Earth festivals where the whole community takes part. We sing songs about the beauty of the land, the gifts the earth has given to us. That way, people realise increasingly that they came from the earth and will return to it. Then you can clearly see people’s opinions and behaviour start to change.” 

Micro-businesses run by women 

"Without careful economic development, there can be no sustainable environmental improvement. We are investing a great deal in tourism as a means for reviving the economy. There are already 83 micro-businesses in the regional tourism sector, mostly run by women. There are 24 different places in our region where tourists can sleep in cabins and take part in workshops run by these female entrepreneurs, where they learn skills such as pottery, cheese-making, herbal medicine and even local traditions. Tourists can enter into our world and enjoy a unique experience. They often say how great it was for them to spend time with local people and share a meal with us. They can drink everything in, enjoy new smells and tastes and become a member of our community for a while. A holiday here allows you to immerse yourself in all the wonderful gifts Mother Earth has to offer.” 

Tourism inspires new ideas 

“Our holiday options are clearly popular with tourists as we’re getting more and more every year. This is a great encouragement to our entrepreneurial women to get creative, developing new skills and products. They improve the quality of their guest accommodation, embroidery, ceramics and home-made food. In the end, the whole community benefits!” 

An improved economic situation 

“It’s so rewarding for me to see people’s living conditions improving. They now have an income. Our enterpreneurial women are respected by their husbands and families. That little extra bit of money they earn from their activities makes a big difference.” 

A deep bond with the land you’re living on 

“After working together with these people for many years, we have seen them develop a new love for their land. Their roots go deeper. That’s special. Lots of people have been to America for a while, and when they return their bond with the land is lost. We help them rediscover their Mexican identity: and remind them what a joyful community we are!"

Authored by Griet Bouwen Bilzen