One of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the world, the Raja Ampat Islands, or the “Four Kings,” sits just to the northwest of Indonesia’s West Papua province at the tip of Bird’s Head Peninsula. But despite its natural beauty, the communities of Raja Ampat have long struggled to support their families and send their children to school. Now, many who turned to illegal fishing, timber and wildlife trading to put food on the table are adopting ecotourism as a new livelihood and a way to protect their islands for generations to come.
By developing homestays – simple tourist accommodations on plots of land their ancestors farmed – Raja Ampat communities are keeping control of the shores they have lived on for years. Through homestays, families can afford to work their own land, stave off commercial resorts and housing development, and be their own employers – safeguarding their cultural identity along the way.
For over three years, the Raja Ampat Local Homestay Association has not only been helping homestays thrive, but also connecting island economies, inspiring youth and empowering women to be community leaders. To date, homestays and the opportunities they create for fishermen and farmers to supply fresh produce have generated more than 600 local jobs across Raja Ampat and more than $1 million in revenue – a substantial sum for rural indigenous areas.
And homestays are not only regenerating Raja Ampat communities, they are also helping protect local marine health. Communities and families across the islands know their businesses depend on a healthy environment and are embracing conservation as a part of their journey to lift themselves out of poverty. “I was an illegal logger,” one homestay owner in the village of Sawinggrai explained. “Then I discovered this homestay business and my life changed completely. I now stand on the front line trying to defend our environment.”
To help ensure the Homestay Association and its more than 50 family-owned homestays continue to grow, Seventythree – with support from the Walton Family Foundation – provides business and management guidance to members. Through providing problem-solving and practical skills training, Seventythree is helping Raja Ampat communities create a new future. For some, like one homestay owner from the village Korbekwan, that future is already real. “This homestay has made it possible for me to send four of my children to college,” he explained. “If I had stuck to fishing only, that would never have been possible.”