Lured by modern facilities, infinity pools and seaside views, many companies opt for new hotels and resorts as the setting for their teambuilding activities.
But what about heading 35 minutes north of Chiang Mai to Lisu Lodge. In this lush green valley and home of the Lisu tribal community, time stands still. This ancient tribe, originally from southern China, has managed to hold on to its rich cultural heritage.
Located within a Lisu village, the lodge offers traditional hill-tribe pavilions with modern comforts. Think thatched roofs, bamboo walls and floor mats, with comfortable beds, electricity, fans and hot water, overlooking rice fields and sprawling hills.
For the past 15 years, Asian Oasis has been running this community-based project. The lodge won several tourism awards for its sensitivity to local culture and respect for the environment.
The waiters, gardeners, cooks, drivers, and trek guides are all from the Lisu village. Aside from gaining employment, the village benefits financially through a revenue-sharing programme.
Guests at the Lisu Lodge are rejuvenated and enriched by their stay and interaction with the community. Bruce Hancock, director of operations at Asian Oasis, used his 19 years of experience in the tourism, training, development and wellness industries to create the EarthCare corporate programme.
It is a programme geared toward companies that wish to embrace Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) principles and designed for corporations which want to see their teams develop as individuals and learn as groups in a socially and environmentally responsible way.
Hancock explains that EarthCare is a multi-faceted programme, which includes immersion, action, two-way communication, and self-discovery. He says: “We can cater the programme to the needs of the group. But we recommend spending at least three days to fully reap its benefits.”
Days are packed with learning, discovery and awareness. Participants get a first-hand experience of village life, visit a shaman and a monks’ herbal medicinal garden, enjoy a 13km scenic mountain-bike ride to the Mae Tang River, take elephant rides through the forest, go white-water rafting, assess the water quality of the streams, plant seeds for the reforestation project, listen to talks on global warming and sing and dance by the bonfire. There are numerous opportunities to learn and interact with the tribal people.
The highlight of the programme is the community service project, where participants get to work hand in hand with the villagers to address a current need. It may be building a dam, creating recycling standards, cleaning up the village or teaching English.
Anton van de Walt, who helped build a dam last February, says: “I was way out of my comfort zone, but it was totally worth it. One of the best parts was when we were building dams. We were filling bags with sand and moving rocks. Around us, the villagers were listening to music, taking pictures of us, laughing and smiling.”
Summing up this priceless experience, van de Walt says: “Being able to help people in such a fun way made everything worth it. This trip will be hard to beat.”
While this programme formally rolls out to corporations in 2010, EarthCare has been a resounding success with a group of International School of Bangkok students, a group of Asian tourism officials, and small visiting groups.
Beyond five days of making a difference, many left with a deeper and lasting appreciation of life.
One student says: “I learned so much from this trip – not only about ecology or a culture and lifestyle so different from my own, but also about myself and what I’m capable of.”
Another student says: “Maybe the best and most moving trip I’ve experienced in my life. The contrast between suburban life and village life is absolutely fascinating. In suburban routine, life seems but a quick succession of being busy doing nothing. Village life is a slow chug towards happiness and fulfilment. Overall, this trip to me has redefined the meaning of what it is to be a human being living on this planet.”
Hancock points out that many corporate people are stressed out and burned out by the demands of the modern world.
He suggests they should learn a thing or two from the Lisu tribe. “The village people are really happy, even if they don’t have much in the way of material things. There is great balance in their lives. They truly listen and communicate. And they take care of the environment.”
This optimistic visionary believes there is much hope for the world: “EarthCare is a catalyst to reflect and reassess for many people and businesses, inspiring them to take a different path.” Taking a hill tribe adventure and going back to the basics is only the beginning of the journey.
For more details see, www.asian-oasis.com/earthcare.html