By Lukas Ray, Community Collaboration Director at the Kingdom Trail Association in East Burke, Vermont
I love stories. Nothing excites me more than sitting down to listen to a good story and being present with anyone in an essential recollection of their life. I often find myself at traditional storytelling festivals back home in Tennessee and North Carolina when I visit. One of my favorite poets, Maya Angelou, once wrote, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” On my trip to Roatan to meet the beautiful community that lives here, I have found that stories continue to move us, breathe within us, and create new relationships that will be everlasting! Their stories inspire me, and I can’t wait to share them.
I should introduce myself! I’m Lukas Ray, and I work as the Community Collaboration Director for a nonprofit based in East Burke, Vermont, called Kingdom Trails, or KT. We offer 100+ miles of quality, non-motorized, multi-use, all four seasons, and all levels of ability trails with the mission to provide recreation and education opportunities through managing, maintaining, and building trails. We work so that our trails and organization foster the health of our local community, surrounding environment, and regional economy. We were honored to host Timna Varela in May, traveling to stay with us from Roatan, Honduras. Timna is the Executive Director of Partners in Education Roatan, or PIER. PIER works to bring inspiration and a solid educational foundation to students in the Bay Islands.
We quickly found correlations between our two communities and organizations built on tourism.
Timna and I took off from the first day we made it to Roatan! I was introduced to many remarkable people from local businesses, local tourism offices, recreation-based organizations, a few municipalities and their respective mayors, the local university, and PIER’s Board of Directors and volunteers! It felt like it went by in a whirlwind! One central theme I heard through numerous conversations was community support for each other! Roatan is a tight-knit community, and everyone is rooting for each other. There is strong support for sustainable tourism and educational programs for children, youth, adults, and tourists. PIER is working diligently to educate local students and hopes to aid adults in education regarding sustainable tourism. I found it inspiring that PIER supports numerous initiatives, as many locals recognize that sustainable tourism is the future. I truly enjoyed meeting a diverse range of people and coming away with a substantial vision of support, engagement, and connections that we may be able to provide as the community of Roatan pushes forward!
One story that truly inspired me was that of Island Honey, a local honey producer. I found it fascinating that the family that owns Island Honey had taken a new direction to support the tourism economy and set up a sustainable business for years to come. When commercial fishing dried up, they brought honeybees to the island and opened production in 2013. They first started with 12 bee boxes and have since expanded to 113. Island Honey can be found all over the island and is an organic product. They produce honey and an array of unique products such as lotion, soap, and a honey eucalyptus-infused drink. Island Honey has developed a new way to support the local economy, community, and themselves. At the same time, many islanders work in the heavy tourism industries such as diving, restaurants, and cruise ports. They continue to grow, including seeking more property to purchase more bee boxes while they find funds to develop a website to sell their honey across the globe! Their inspiration and success story are why it’s so important to support community initiatives that help promote sustainable tourism.
So, keep sharing each other’s stories. Keep taking the time to listen. Remain curious, remain open. Keep looking for inspiration to help others. You never know what collaboration is around the corner and the impact you could have! Keep going! I can’t wait to return to my friends in Roatan and explore more avenues on how we can help each other succeed! I’ll take what I learned home to continue my own growth and inspire growth in our community.
All opinions expressed by the program participants are their own and do not represent nor reflect official views from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State, or of the Institute for Training and Development, Inc.