Ahmedabad: The next time you visit Junagadh, and find a person of African origin telling you about Panthera Leo Persica (Asiatic lion), do not be surprised. Gujarat government is training some 20 youths of the African Siddi tribe, settled in Gir forest, to speak English and become tour guides. They will also be trained in driving and hospitality management as part of the eco-tourism development initiative. Officials said that tribal development department might also finance vehicles for them and attach them to hotels so that they can ferry tourists.
The Siddi community has claimed that there had been no move to bring them into the mainstream. This initiative promises to make them self-reliant.
The training is part of the project initiated by state tribal development department in order to improve livelihood, housing, access to safe drinking water and electricity, literacy, health facilities and roads to five major Primitive Tribal Groups (PTG) of Gujarat, namely Kolgha, Kathodi, Kotwalia, Padhar and Siddi.
"Looking at the concentration of Siddi tribe near Gir forests in Junagadh, we thought of training them to become ecoguides, which will help them take advantage of growing ecotourism in state, especially around Gir forests region," said an officer from the tribal development department. The project for Siddi community was designed with focus on the potential of eco-tourism in the area. This project is also aimed at conservation and development of Siddi community, said the officer.
The Siddi population, which is roughly 8,816 in the state, is largely concentrated in Gir area of Junagadh district in Saurashtra with some settlement in Bhavnagar, Rajkot, Jamnagar and Amreli districts as well. "Since Siddis know Gir forest well, they could become good guides and could provide information to tourist and also could earn a livelihood," said the officer. He said that for training purpose, they approached Gujarat Education and Ecological Research (GEER) Foundation, an autonomous body under Forests and Environment department.
"The first batch of 22 men from Siddi community completed 15-day training last week. Besides theoretical lectures, practical sessions were also organised which included field trips to Gir forest and other nearby places," deputy director (environment education) at GEER foundation NK Nanda said. He said that the Siddi community members were not only told about trees and animals found in the area, but also about local history.
He further said that GEER has given them training on how to interact with tourists and the dos and dont's of being in a forest area. He further said that not just Gir but these people would also be trained to make tourist circuits.