Culture and Nature

Culture and Nature

It often turns out that in order to motivate local communities to protect natural environment, one needs to seek arguments that are first of all pragmatic, and second of all, have a reference to the local identity: symbols and elements constituting the character of a given region and its residents. Elements of cultural heritage in particular are the distinctive factors or symbols of the region’s image that are most identifiable for residents. It is easier to persuade people to protect a work of art, a monument or a historical memorabilia, etc., than to protect the surrounding landscape, forest, meadow, and a fauna or flora species. Cultural products are something concrete, a tangible proof of the past which no one wants to forget. The surrounding nature, in all its vastness and elusiveness is in a sense abstract, immeasurable and it is harder to translate its resources into calculable sums. Hence, the idea for a new way of engaging local communities in preserving their natural home environment is to refer to the elements of cultural heritage. It invites a more global perspective on the surroundings, and enables the residents to realize that nature and culture coexist in harmony and balance. Then it appears that it was nature that had a decisive impact on the creation of the form and image of a given element of material or non-material culture.

Natural environment which created the cultural values that decide about the unique identity of the regions can be effectively preserved through cultivation and protection of the local cultural heritage, be it in the form of material goods, or traditions, customs, and folklore. Development combined with heritage preservation can provide local communities with a number of profits, both financial and those associated with the quality of life. Therefore, the process of “ecological” activization of local communities, outlined here, that refers to the elements of local cultural heritage has a pragmatic dimension since it encompasses the quest for motivation to preserve local heritage other than aesthetic or “sentimental” one. An element of utilitarianism is necessary for nature to be efficient for a longer period of time. It turns out that there are plenty of economic, social and other arguments that enable the initiation of practical “ecological” thinking of local communities.

The main impulse to engage local community is concentrating the action around the local culture considerations that distinguish the identity of a given region. References to common history and tradition, and the approach emphasizing that the local community is a true full-fledged host to the area offer a chance to find solutions for numerous local problems, including above all the ecological issues. Often, knowledge and engagement of individual leaders and decision makers does not suffice fot the efficient nature preservation and local development. The local community’s participation in the planning and realization of tasks concerning a given region is crucial for the residents’ identification with the results.

Nowadays, nature preservation is no longer understood as a task reserved for nature specialists, but is a widespread cultural and social phenomenon that is characteristic of the contemporary highly developed civilization. Jan Gwalbert Pawlikowski, one of the first Polish pioneers in nature preservation, made this observation at the beginning of the last century in the famous essay Culture and Nature, but his concepts had to mature for a rather long time before realization stage today.

Collaborative, community-based approached to development planning help local people advance strategies that make sense for their communities and that incorporate environmental and cultural considerations. Approaches to planning that engage local people from all sectors do, however require creativity, dedication and patience, and, usually, good facilitation and appropriate leadership. Proceeding step by step, from the bottom up and on a cooperative basis with neighbouring  communities, does not often produce the kind of early, visible results that a large commercial development project might. However, such a step by step, local and cooperative approaches avoid most serious mistakes; and the results are that local people have a better chance to define and realize their own development vision for their community and region”.

William Moody, Rockefeller Brothers Fund

Little travelers

Little travelers


Little travelers on trails across the globe

by: Dominika Zareba

Kids are natural and grateful travellers. Their needs are small compared to those of grown-ups, they don’t require any special conveniences, they show a natural curiosity for what goes on around them. They also love to be outdoors, like camping, watching animals in the wild, searching for hidden treasures and counting stars… Is it worth taking youngsters along on your travels, getting to know the world and all its tastes with them by your side?

The world hidden in details

Children can get interested in anything, especially if it has its own story or history. And if you can touch it, all the better. Kids have a great way of feeling the climate of a place, a natural sensitivity and curiosity toward the world. They teach us to discover details which often go unnoticed or seemingly carry little or no meaning to us adults. Following what the child discovers means seeing the world in a different dimension, color and perspective. What are some of the things they see and we don’t: flashes in the window of a castle tower, dolphins jumping over the waves somewhere on the horizon, a boy flying kites in the shape of a galley, a cat fast asleep behind a geranium, rock lion sculptures in front of the palace which remind them of Aslan from Narnia, strange shadows on the cobbled street right before sundown, a pointed hat of a vendor selling peaches on market day, the largest pumpkin and the smallest crab in the world… – Mom, why is the moon sometimes sad and sometimes happy?… – Why does a mange have green skin but inside is yellow? What about a watermelon? Why do cats have whiskers and alligators long snouts? What’s the difference between an alligator and a crocodile? … You should be prepared to answer the young traveller’s difficult questions and give your imagination free rein…

In the local rhythm

Children are great at adapting to local circumstances such as the local lifestyle, because they don’t require special amenities, aren’t exacting when it comes to conditions required to get some rest, like to sleep in tents, caravans, on a hammock, on the grass. They inadvertently break down cultural barriers and stereotypes in a natural way. When we travel with a child we’re not as much different and foreign, we in effect have the chance to get an inside look at the atmosphere in the community and its traditions. In the process it turns out that all mothers, fathers and guardians the world over have much more in common with one another and often the exact same concerns and joys.

Indonesia, a busy day at the market in Ubud, a mountainous town in Bali famous for its artistically gifted inhabitants. The stalls are full of exquisitely colorful fabrics, hand-painted mahogany & teak furniture, hammocks, multicolored garments, jewelry, wooden masks, paintings, spices. An Indonesian mother who is selling at the market with her younger daughter shows me how to carry my six-month old Staś in a colorful sarong: – Do you feed him rice? Is he your Wayan or Made? (on Bali, Wayan is a frequent name of the first child, Made the second child, Nyoman the third child…) – she has many questions for me and looks on with tenderness at the youngest traveler she has ever seen here. Little children on Bali are held in very high esteem, the natives believe the younger the child the closer it is to heaven and to the kingdom of good spirits…

Outside is the Andalusian spring, we’re in Sevilla, at a tapas bar on Alfalfa Square, the aroma of rosemary and saffron wafts from the kitchen. Almost all the tables in the cafe garden are occupied, local residents have come for the meal of the day before the start of the siesta, when all restaurants will be closed. A Spanish mother is surprised that Jagódka doesn’t want to eat today’s menu del día which is paella de mariscos with seafood. What would cariño like to have? – she asks. – Pierogi ruskie! (Polish dumplings with mashed potatoes) – my 5-year old cries and runs over to the slide to play with her new-found friend María, who just finished gobbling up the paella. – When I grow up, I’m even going to eat crabs like Uncle Jose – she adds. Uno, dos, tres, quatro, cinco… that’s how many crabs I’ll eat – responds Jagoda suggestively and both girl burst into laughter.

A hot summer in New York. We’re eating an American-style dinner with our host family in the residential neighborhood of Jamaica. The family participates in couchsurfing, and is especially fond of offering overnight stays to visitors with children. The dinner table has hamburgers straight from the garden grill, kidney beans for vegetarians and California wine. The American mother goes through her kids’ extracurricular activities for the next day: First, I’ll take Ethan to skateboarding class in Queens, then I’ll drop Sharon off in Broadway for dance lessons. We could meet up in the afternoon on the playground in Central Park …- What did you like most about New York? – locals ask us – I think the places we got to know best were the playgrounds and the Natural History Museum. Jagódka is just now drawing the Wawel dragon for Sharon and says – This was like the funnest day I’ve ever had in my life!

Hot-dog and coke, or what gets parents worried when they’re on the road

The most difficult topic when travelling is: what are the kids going to eat? After all, your average family won’t be packing chicken soup, crepes, or anything else the kids like on the trip with them. It is true, this is the hardest part about travelling with kids. How will you convince them to try samosa in India, garbanzos with spinach in Andalucia, burritos and quesadillas in Mexico or other local delicacies? If they had it their way, they’d be eating hotdogs, french fries and sipping on sugary coke or iced tea all day long. But a vacation abroad or a weekend outing doesn’t last forever. Anyway, every child is different and has its own taste for what’s good and what’s not, so you might as well help it discover those foods and dishes which it might like – maybe an exotic fruit, a new soup or some local bread? I’m always jealous and somewhat in awe when I see my friends’ kids enjoying Hindu curry with cauliflower and potatoes spiced up with ginger, or Moroccan tagine with coriander and cumin. My little one, on the other hand, will settle for a banana pancake three times a day, and at most a small bowl of white rice. „Just no vegetables or spices with that rice, OK, mom?”… I’m encouraged by the fact that the journey is not going to last forever, and we’ll sooner or later get to a market where there are bound to be fruits on sale, plus a diet on rice, bread and water never hurt anyone, did it? The most important thing is that we’re together and we’re each in their own way tasting the world around us – I’m getting more out of the culinary side of it, while my son or daughter is experiencing more the untangible climate of the places we visit, their colors and smells. I really think it’s those flavors that will turn into lasting memories, even if they don’t remember the places they went to when they were young.

text & photos © Dominika Zaręba

English translation: Piotr Szmigielski

Taste of Bali

Taste of Bali


Slider - Ekoturystyka


Gado-gado, or learning how to make Indonesian dishes ///

Indonezja_Bali_Ubud_detale01_fotDominikaZarebaUngasan – a small village on the Indonesian island of Bali, not far from the Ulu Watu temple, is best known for the Indonesian cookery courses that take place there. A local family, all smiles, invites you to come in and visit their traditional home with its spatious backyard garden. First, a mandatory lesson in how to prepare offerings for good and evil spirits. We get busy right away with weaving tiny baskets from coconut and banana leaves, into which we place flowers, fruit and rice. Bali Hindus believe that the world is ruled by opposites – good and evil, day and night, gods and demons, and only a balance between them can guarantee the continuity of life and well-being. We place the offering in front of shrines inside the house. The gods have to be appeased first, and only after than has happened can you think of satiating yourself.


The hosts have created a unique school of Indonesian and Bali cuisine in their own home. „Taste of Bali” is an authentic local, ecotourism initiative. In the courtyard, underneath an awning, there is an open-air kitchen – a large table for making the dishes with a row of wok pans alongside it. The smell of spices and fresh vegetables, bought today at the local fair, drifts across the entire garden. – Coriander, ginger, garlic, lemon grass, nutmeg, galangal, cardamon, chili peppers, are only some of the spices which we use in our cuisine – mentions I Gusti Ngurah Gede Suarta, host, chef and the brains behind the culinary workshops in Ungasan. We spend the entire day in pleasant company (including some Canadian tourists) and under the watchful eye of our instructor we manage to cook some nasi goreng, which is rice with vegetables in bumbu sauce, as well as mee goreng – noodles with vegetables, corn soup, chap chay vegetables with chicken, and finally gado-gado – a delightful peanut sauce dressing which goes great with a mix of vegetables. Every dish has to be savored, so we end up being treated to a real feast, which pays off all the hard work. But that’s not all – we still have dessert – fried bananas and sweet potatoes – It’s no easy task to get the 1st level diploma, you really have to demonstrate you’ve earned it – the host’s wife eggs us on, handing us a collection of recipes which are in today’s menu. In the end, I succeed in getting a certificate signed by the instructor and I have something to paste into my taste & smell album. I Gusti Ngurah Gede Suarta presents me with a bag full of Indonesian spices – Take the scent of Bali home with you!

My rucksack and one of the drawers in my kitchen continue to hide these wonderful smells. In fact, I usually get to talking about my trip to Bali whenever I open up this drawer. These memories turn my thoughts to future trips in the rhythm of slow & local food.

Find out more about Bali’s unique cooking experience by visiting:

tekst & photos: Dominika Zaręba

English translation: Piotr Szmigielski

Slider - Ekoturystyka


Fair trade & ecotourism

Fair trade & ecotourism


text: Dominika Zaręba

Fair trade, which seeks to support small producers and local communities especially in developing countries, is become more and more popular around the world. It also is an approach to product sales which is closely tied to the idea of ecotourism and has the support of the ecotourist sector and of ecotourists themselves. The idea of fair trade is based on several premises: fair price for product, fair product, fair work conditions, direct sales (minimizing intermediaries between the producer and the end-buyer), support for the local economy and methods of production that are environmentally friendly.

The best known product sold in line with fair trade rules is coffee. An excellent example of a country benefiting from fair trade is Guatemala, where coffee, tourism and handicrafts are the main source of income for the local indigenous community.

Guatemala is ranked as the world’s 6th largest producer of coffee, with almost 3.5% of all coffee coming from this small Central American country which is only slightly larger than Iceland. Volcanic soil, tropical forests, humidity, relative elevation and temperature vary considerably across the country, with the result that Guatemala is able to produce 7 different types of coffee beans from the Coffea arabica species. One of the most important coffee-producing regions is the area of Lake Atitlán, the magical lake of the Mayas. Here, 95% of the coffee produced (mainly the Bourbon variety) is grown by small, local producers whose plots are on average 12 hectares. The indigenous peoples cultivate this crop with traditional, environmentally friendly methods, without using artificial fertilizer and with the beans being left out in the sun to dry. The small producers have joined forces to set up cooperatives which help promote and sell fair trade coffee products in Guatemala and internationally. Another means of supporting the local economy are ecotourism business initiatives which are developing in the Lake Atitlán region, including the more & more popular Spanish language immersion programs taking place in local schools. Several hour-long lessons take place out in the open, surrounded by tropical nature, with each student being assigned their own teacher. In local cafes, visitors and residents alike can savor the delicate taste of beans from plantations covering nearby volcano hillsides. After 1 week of intensive language courses combined with living with local families, the results speak for themselves. A special place that I would recommend to all those travelling to this corner of Guatemala is the San Pedro Spanish School, which is located in the village of San Pedro, on the shores of Lake Atitlán.


Read more information about the school in the jungle here:

On the global scale, several organisations are involved in promoting environmentally friendly products, including the Rainforest Alliance, which manages the more and more recognizable Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal, which features a green frog.


text and photos: Dominika Zaręba

English translation: Piotr Szmigielski


Ecotourism and Greenways

Ecotourism and Greenways


At a time when more and more local communities across the globe are struggling to maintain the uniqueness of the places they live and at the same time to balance it with the economic development, there is a need to implement and promote practical successful examples on sustainable tourism development. One of the effective practical tools – that were used in Central and Eastern Europe – are Greenways and heritage trails. They serve as innovative instruments for enhancing the quality of life and increasing economic and social benefits for indigenous communities through environmentally responsible tourism.

Kraina_Rowerowa_na_Lubelszczyznie_DSC07889_91_90_fotDominikaZarebaIn Central and Eastern Europe (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Belarus) for last 15 years greenways have been used to foster local economic development through ecotourism and heritage tourism. White Stork Trail linking nature, landscapes and rural communities in north-east edge of Poland, East Carpathian Greenway being created on the cross-roads of Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine, Moravian Wine Trails promoting responsible wine tourism in the rural areas of Czech Republic, Maramures Heritage Trail supporting green business based of the uniqueness of the Romanian wooden architecture, crafts and local food – these are only some examples of the interesting stories to share. Many of these examples have international, cross-border context presenting how the partnership beyond the borders can speed up economic growth of neglected regions rich in natural and cultural assets. They present that sustainable tourism can mobilize local communities – encouraging enterprise, creating jobs and additional revenue streams, restoring and protecting traditional vocations as well as fostering establishment of the green infrastructure in the region.

The focal points of greenways are green corridors – eco-trails linking different regions rich in natural and cultural heritage and building “bridges” between local communities in the region. Greenways are multifunctional trails for non-motorized users leading along linear green corridors, historic trade routes, rivers and railways. They seek to address needs of locals and visitors to provide a positive contribution to local economy. Greenways contribute to the development of local economies and encourage enterprise among local populations though initiating development of accommodation, food and guiding services. Trails promote establishment of of galleries and points of sale for local products, tourism information services, sport and tourism equipment hire services etc. All tourism products promoted along Greenways share the common principle of supporting local communities and using local potential and resources: tourist services, cultural opportunities, local products (food, crafts) and point of sale, as well as other community initiatives.

Greenways concept addresses directly the principles of ecotourism expressed in the “Quebec Declaration on Ecotourism” through increasing economic and social benefits for indigenous communities, contributing to the conservation of natural resources and the cultural integrity of local communities.

In principle, Greenways – natural and cultural heritage trails have four basic functions:

  • sustainable transport and safety
  • promoting healthy lifestyles
  • development of ecotourism and natural and cultural heritage conservation
  • supporting economic and social development of communities, including enterprise development.

MORAWY_Satov_uliczka_piwniczek_fotDominikaZarebaThe aim of Greenways is to contribute to strengthening a grassroots for bottom-up movement for sustainable development through establishing, nurturing and networking local partnerships involving civic, business and governmental organizations working together on community-based initiatives.

The experience in creating Greenways shows that they stimulate better relationships between local citizens and the environment, increase interest in heritage protection, and supports development of sustainable tourism – especially services based on wise use of local resources and community grassroots initiatives.

The Greenways concept in its essence rests on generally known approaches such as environmental community action planning, landscape stewardship and grassroots initiatives, sustainable tourism development etc. Its special contribution lies in its ability to translate these theoretical principles into practical and easily understandable guidelines for application anywhere where people walk, cycle, ride or boat or where people care for cultural heritage and the quality of environment. Greenways projects also present a good opportunity for demonstrating direct relationships between natural and cultural qualities, landscape preservation, sustainable use of local resources, community development and a healthy lifestyle.

text: Dominika Zaręba

see more:

Greenways in Czech Republic –

Greenways in Poland –

Greenways in Slovakia –

Greenways in Hungary –

Maramures Greenway – Romania –

Greenways in Ukraine –

epa_logoGreenways in Central and Eastern Europe were initiated by the Environmental Partnership Association


Women and ecotourism

Women and ecotourism


on the picture: Agnieszka Zach / Biebrza Witch /

The role of women leaders in supporting development of ecotourism in rural areas

text: Dominika Zareba, Poland


see: presentation at the 4th European Ecotourism Conference in Safranbolu, Turkey, EuroEco_2017_DominikaZareba

Ecotourism is a brilliant opportunity for women to grow both professionally and personally, while remaining to be a part of the local community where they live and work. Ecotourism can empower women in many ways. Its multidisciplinary concept can engage women with different skills, interests and passions. Working for ecotourism can be an important added value to everyday life.

Ecotourism is based on local resources, heritage, uniqueness of a place. That is why it allows women to find the sustainable livelihood that brings not only the economic benefits but also the joie de vivre and satisfaction. Ecotourism also links women with the place they live, which benefits the whole community and all its generations.

Women in rural communities are very often key leaders in addressing environment and development issues. Over 20 years of transition to democracy and civil society in Central and Eastern Europe, resulted in many women’s leadership activities, that had a power to make a change at the grassroots level. Many of these initiatives were focussed on ecotourism and sustainable tourism as a tool to promote sustainable rural development and preserving natural and cultural heritage.

Challenges that women encounter in the tourism industry

The everyday challenges that women encounter working at the local level are very similar elsewhere, such as isolation, lack of experience, access to know how and finances for investment, as well as the possibilities to travel and be inspired by initiatives in other regions and countries. In Central and Eastern Europe, especially in rural areas, women working in tourism face many challenges due to lack of experience in marketing: how to market the tourism product, select the target group and find the best way to reach the target. There may be many great ideas for tourism products and services, but they cannot become marketable without proper access to marketing knowledge, networking opportunities and business support.

Ecotourism creates the bottom-up approaches to women’s involvement in the industry

Women are very often the natural leaders in their local society, they are very sensitive to the issues related to the environment, society, heritage, and sense of place. Ecotourism in a broad context, connected with other activities (such as sustainable farming, handicraft, art, education, etc.), can provide opportunities for women to find a sustainable way of living. Participation of women in the development of sustainable tourism industry at the local level is very diverse – from running accommodation services, cafes, restaurants, and shops, to working with handicraft, art and food processing. Apart from running small businesses, many are involved in tourism development while working for cultural centers, municipalities, NGOs, and schools. Ecotourism can be a perfect tool to initiate women’s active participation in sustainable community development. Building international networks and projects is one of the best ways to overcome the challenges that women encounter, as it allows them to have access to more information, as well as the opportunity to show their work to broader audiences outside their local community.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Stories from Central and Eastern Europe

There are numerous practical examples from different regions of the Central and Eastern Europe where women were spiritus movens of development of ecotourism and heritage tourism. Women working as mayors, NGO activists, local government officials, teachers and entrepreneurs were able to initiate sustainable tourism, especially ecotourism and heritage tourism development. Creating the Amber Trail that links unique heritage of Poland, Slovakia and Slovakia. Transforming a wooden Carpathian village into a capital of angels and women’s leadership in Poland. Gathering over 150 mayors of villages together to promote South Moravia in Czech Republic as a wine tourism destination. Developing the network of ecotourism farms in Belarus in order to protect its unique traditions, cuisine, landscape and rural architecture. These are only some examples of the women creativity for sustainable tourism.

The stories from Central and Eastern Europe are universal, meaning that they can apply to and be inspiration for many rural regions all over the world. They show in practice how bottom up women’s initiatives are able to inspire, make a change and benefit local communities. How ideas and dreams can be changed into practical solutions. And how ecotourism, heritage tourism and the broader concept of sustainable tourism can empower local identity, educate and stimulate local development while protecting the unique character of the place, its community and environment.

More women stories from Cental and Eastern Europe – soon!

text: Dominika Zareba


Slajd 1

drawing: Kazimierz Wiśniak


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