By Ryan Bastian
I failed. I had this great idea to promote ecotourism in a remote and developing part of the world, and I failed. I got an awesome team together. We launched a beautiful crowdfunding campaign to produce a documentary film, we ran out of time, and we lost all the money we had raised.
Growing up as a kid my favorite stories all told about heroes who never gave up. I decided to try and be like them, so I started it all over again. But this time I was going to do it with a more efficient, streamlined plan that would still have the same social impact I wanted to achieve in my first attempt:
Back up eight years before this painful (and educational) experience: I was an undergraduate student at Brigham Young University (near Salt Lake City, Utah). I met a beautiful girl from Tajikistan. We fell in love, almost immediately, and were married less than two years later.
After graduation, we ended up moving to her hometown in Tajikistan, along what was once a northern segment of the Silk Road trading route. Tajikistan is just northwest of the Himalayas and the Karakorum, and is home to the third highest mountain range on the planet. During the 14 months we lived there, I did several internships in international development and saw how rural mountain communities struggled with economic and geographic isolation.
In Tajikistan’s Pamir Mountains the people are especially isolated and many lack opportunities for stable employment. It was here that I, a small-town kid from Idaho (America’s “Potato State”), first saw community-based ecotourism being used to support a local economy and create jobs. I was inspired by the efforts of local individuals, as well as those of organizations like the Pamir Eco-cultural Tourism Association (PECTA) and the Mountain Societies Development Support Programme (MSDSP), which for over 20 years had already been doing amazing things to develop a sustainable tourism industry.
These people knew how important it was to guide the growth of tourism towards a sustainable outcome that would protect their fragile mountain environments and have a positive social impact on their communities. However, even with so much amazing work already being done, there were still very few tourists and adventure travelers visiting the Pamir.
I decided that the greatest thing I could do to contribute to the development of ecotourism in the Pamir was to help attract the world’s climbing, trekking, & outdoor enthusiasts to this amazing corner of the planet. So, I came to the conclusion that I needed to share this story with people back at home and I knew that film was the best way of doing it.
Now here I am today with numerous failures under my belt and several lessons learned. I’ve bounced back and am currently pursuing a streamlined strategy to produce a series of short videos. The goal is to showcase the Pamir’s stunning and untouched landscapes and it’s rich offerings for outdoor adventure. While doing this, each video will profile a family from these rural mountain communities and show how their lives will be impacted by a more vibrant ecotourism industry. These will be made available to AKDN, PECTA, MSDSP, and local Pamiri tour operators. We will also promote them on our website, Facebook, YouTube, as well as aiming for staff-pick features on Vimeo, etc.
Each video in the series will help the world to see how extremely warm and friendly the people of Tajikistan are. Through these powerful human stories, we want the audience to see and understand how the Pamiri people aren’t confronting poverty by using tourism just to turn a quick profit, but that they are thinking long-term, and taking bold steps to introduce tourism in a way that includes the local communities and protects the fragile alpine ecosystems they depend upon.
For more information about Ryan’s efforts check out his Indiegogo campaign page: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-silk-road-s-hidden-gem