The Ladakh Project
"Our work is not about putting a wall around cultures. On the contrary, it is about establishing closer contact between the most and least industrial parts of the world. We have found that this contact is genuinely empowering, and can help to strengthen communities in both North and South."
—Helena Norberg-Hodge, Director, ISEC
Set deep in the Indian Himalayas on the western edge of the Tibetan plateau, Ladakh, or 'Little Tibet', is one of the highest and driest inhabited places on earth. Yet for centuries it was home to a rich and self-sustaining culture. Then, in the 1970s, came 'development,' which undermined the local economy and eroded cultural self-esteem. The result has been increasing community and family breakdown, unemployment, sprawling urban slums and pollution. Since 1975, ISEC has been providing Ladakhis with information about the impact of conventional development in other parts of the world while exploring more sustainable patterns of development in Ladakh itself, based on the use of local knowledge and resources. ISEC has helped to establish several important indigenous organisations in Ladakh, including the Ladakh Ecological Development Group (LEDeG).
Our work in Ladakh has also included hosting a wide range of meetings, from 'hands-on' village workshops to international conferences. We have produced community theatre, radio shows, Ladakhi language schoolbooks, the first Ladakhi-English dictionary, and an educational comic book, 'A Journey to New York', that has been used in schools throughout Ladakh.
ISEC has also supported farmers in resisting the pressures of industrialised agriculture. We have organized tours for Ladakhi farmers to visit sustainable farms in other parts of South Asia and abroad, supported local campaigns about the hazards of pesticides and chemical fertilisers, and introduced solar greenhouses that enable villagers to grow vegetables year round.
As a means of tempering some of the idealised impressions of the industrialised world that come from advertising and the media, we have also run "reality tours" that bring Ladakhi leaders to the west to see firsthand the darker side of the consumer culture, as well as initiatives underway to make western societies more sustainable. During the summer months we also run a Mindful Travel/Tourist Education program that helps travelers to the region minimise their impact on both the environment and the self-esteem of young Ladakhis.
To find out more about the effects of development in Ladakh and our work there, please read the following articles:
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