I will fondly remember the families we stayed with during our trip in Kyrgyzstan. Hospitality being part of their DNA, it is not surprising to hear that a homestay in a Kyrgyz family is something special.
One time we came home from an exhausting and memorable trip to the hot-springs of Altyn-Arashan and we were welcomed by the two year old daughter of the family, shouting ‘Ata, Ata… (Daddy, Daddy)’ at the top of her lung, running with open arms and pure joy towards us to greet her father, who had been our guide for the day and returned home with us.
The best Kyrgyz food I have ever tasted was cooked by Micha’s mother, whom we stayed with in Tamga at the Southern coast of Lake Issyk-Köl. We kept telling her to open a restaurant, because her food was the highlight of every day we spent with them.
All these unique experiences were made possible, because of organisations like Kyrgyz Community Based Tourism (KCBT).
Decentral Organisation - a Core Feature of KCBT
KCBT is an umbrella association with 15 communities (CBT groups) in the whole country. The central office is located in the capital Bishkek, where we met Aisha, the Marketing Manager of KCBT. She tells us that KCBT is based on a project of the Swiss organisation HELVETAS. Analysing the structure of KCBT this is not surprising. Like the federalistic system of Switzerland, KCBT’s organisation is decentral, meaning the local community has substantial control over and involvement in its development and management. Furthermore, the financial benefits remain within the community. They use it to improve their living conditions, build infrastructure and conserve natural and cultural heritage.
There is a general meeting once a year during which all CBT groups meet, exchange experience and knowledge, and plan the next year. The central office is also responsible for marketing activities and represents their interests during negotiations with the government. Moreover, they organised trainings and study tours for the local CBT groups about business, environmental protection, ecology, protection of their heritage.
Responsibility Towards Nature
Here another key principle of KCBT stands out. They follow strict ecotourism principles. They have realised that Nature is a precious gift for Kyrgyzstan. It is essential to preserve it, Hayat tells us. We meet Hayat in Arslanbob, where he manages the local CBT group. Hayat is an energetic man with lots of ideas and the willingness to implement them. Backed up by the central office he initiated regional cleanup days with schools to keep the area clean. He makes proposals to the local government, hoping they will accept their responsibility towards Nature. He is a role model for people in the area and beyond. Thanks to personalities like him, people are made aware and it also makes them advocate for their believes and traditional customs.
What I liked most about KCBT is the involvement of the local communities. Their connection to Nature and their customs are highly valued. The organisation’s goal is to make sure rural areas can develop at their own pace and by their own rules.