A long term tsunami-recovery program aimed at assisting southern Thailand tsunami victims create new and sustainable futures in the tourism industry ? opened its doors on 4 August to the first students of the program.

The Ecotourism Training Centre (ETC), Khao Lak — a long term tsunami- recovery program aimed at assisting southern Thailand tsunami victims create new and sustainable futures in the tourism industry — opened its doors on 4 August to the first students of the program. A media Open Day will be held at 4pm on 20 August at the Khao Lak centre.

The ETC was developed in response to the devastation wrecked upon the lives and livelihoods of the people of Khao Lak region — the worst hit area of southern Thailand in the 26 December, 2004 tsunami and a former thriving international eco-tourism destination for diving and nature lovers. The idea was to provide professional industry training and to create awareness of the region’s plight, the recovery effort and a brighter future.

ETC founders and local expatriate residents Reid Ridgway, of San Francisco, and Pascal Hernikot — a Swiss national and himself a Khao Lak tsunami survivor — worked tirelessly, during the tsunami aftermath, helping survivors and delivering aid to the devastated region. Many of their friends in the Khao Lak diving industry were tragically lost. Others lost everything to the giant wave; homes, possessions, jobs, businesses - and their town - all washed away.

Ridgway and Hernikot hatched an idea for the future welfare of the region’s young dive and tourism workers and set about to make it a reality. Eight months after the tsunami, the ETC is an exciting hub of youthful vigour as the first 16 students enthusiastically embrace their new tourism careers.

The program trains young Thai men and women in three integrated areas of study: computers, English and diving — all part of a curriculum focused on environmental education and sustainable tourism. The diving education takes the students to the professional rating of divemaster over a 9 month period, and if the candidate is already a PADI divemaster they will be upgraded to PADI open water instructor.

The ETC has the commitment of many professionals and experts from the local community to design and instruct workshops for the students (aged 16 to 41) including PADI — an international association for diving professionals.

“PADI was one of the first to stand up and support the program and has been a major force in gaining momentum, but getting the program fully supported has been a long uphill battle,” said Hernikat.

The ETC now has a fully accredited English language component supplied by the TEFL Teacher Training (TTT) language institute (Phuket) and a custom curriculum designed to stress the vocabulary of environmental tour leadership and computer technology. The centre now is decked with an Apple computer lab, a professional video editing suite, a class room with a projection screen, a dive gear maintenance lab, two long tail boats specially equipped for diving and research operations and the students initially funded and starting to learn.

As the program progresses, the students will document the entire experience on video, producing a film to be released on the one year anniversary of the disaster.

“The film will contain the compelling story of what happened here and the remarkable resilience of this culture as we rebuild and recover,” says Ridgway. “It will highlight and showcase the beauty of the natural environment here in Thailand, both on land and undersea, and it will be a testimony to what these young people have achieved in the face of overwhelming circumstances”.

“We both feel that our program is going to help the young Thai people find meaningful employment and a greater stake in the ecotourism industry. The English component is very important to their success and value in the industry and the computers are helping them learn skills that make them valuable in nearly any business environment” says Ridgway.

The students are paid a student allowance of 6000 baht a month by the ETC to assist in living expenses during the program.

“It [student allowance] gives them immediate income starting today for 9 months which is vital and important to create employment at this time,” said Hernikat.

ETC is a not-for-profit organization and is privately funded. The program is still looking for help and commitments from individuals and businesses to help fund the students scholarships and to help create a permanent program that runs each year.

ETC Open Day Schedule
67/7 Bang Niang, Khao Lak
(20 August, 2005)
4pm Arrival
4:30pm Boat launch ceremony
5pm Refreshments
6pm Introduction of the students, presentation of the program and goals
6:30pm Presentation of Sponsors and announcements
7pm Dinner and music

For more information see:
http://www.etcth.org
http://projectaware.org


CONTACT:    

Duane Lennie
Mango Nation Marketing Group
Phone: 66 76 290-465

OR

Reid Ridgway
Managing Director
Ecotourism Training Center
Mobile:  66 (0) 7263 6016
Office: 076-420-258
Fax: 076-420-362
reid@etcth.org
http://www.etcth.org

67/7 Soi Had Baan Bang Niang
Moo # 5, Pechakacem Road
Tamboon Khuk Khak, Amphur Takuapa
Phang Nga Province, 82190
Thailand