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About the TCVC

About the TCVC

The Tsaatan Community and Visitors Center (TCVC) is a dynamic facility owned and operated by Mongolia’s Tsaatan (or Dukha) reindeer-herding community. Located in the village of Tsagaan Nuur, Hovsgol province, Mongolia, the TCVC is designed to be a hub through which 100% of visits to the Tsaatan and their home taiga region are channeled. It is essentially a “gateway” through which visitors are able to engage fairly and respectfully with the Tsaatan, and obtain goods and services needed for their visit.

The establishment of the TCVC was initiated at the request of the Tsaatan community, and implemented as a project of The Itgel Foundation NGO. The TCVC was developed in response to the following problems:

  1. The lack of sustainable income sources compatible with the reindeer-herding lifestyle of the Tsaatan community, who rank among Mongolia’s poorest inhabitants.
  2. The increasing trend of irresponsible and exploitative tourism that negatively impacts the Tsaatan and their environment, and brings little or no benefit to the community.
  3. The wider problems of marginalization and disenfranchisement that markedly affect the Tsaatan

In 2005, members of the Tsaatan community approached The Itgel Foundation with a request to launch a project that would mitigate the problems named above, and build on Itgel’s existing efforts in the areas of sustainable community development. A project plan was developed using participatory methods and community-wide decision-making, which came to be known as the “Tsaatan Community & Visitors’ Center,” or “TCVC” project.

Aware of the potential risks and benefits of various livelihood opportunities, the Tsaatan identified tourism as a path they wished to pursue. Based on the principles of community-based tourism, the TCVC is designed to maximize economic benefits to the Tsaatan community as a whole, protect natural resources and the environment, and advance the long term goals of the community, such as improved access to health and education, greater representation in the public sector, and community empowerment. Much more than a “tourism project,” the TCVC is a hub of educational and communications activities for community members, a means of organizing and mobilizing collective action, and a mechanism for placing Tsaatan individuals and Tsaatan interests at the center of activities affecting their community.

Project Timeline:

2005

The Tsaatan request support from The Itgel Foundation to establish a community-based tourism Center and advance long-term community development goals.

Itgel conducts baseline studies to evaluate current economic conditions and opportunities in the community, and gather community ideas and concerns on the proposed project.

2006

Extensive community input is gathered through household surveys and interviews. Community meetings are held to shape TCVC project goals and objectives. The Tsaatan elect fellow community member Bayanjargal to serve as a manager and accountant for the Center. The TCVC Community Fund is established.

A Tsaatan herder, Hurelgaldang, loans a small log cabin to the project and a temporary TCVC facility is established.

2007

Stakeholder meetings are held with tour operators, travelers, project advisors, and government representatives to gather input and identify partnership opportunities.

Extensive meetings and workshops are facilitated allowing the community to develop comprehensive financial, operational, logistical, and administrative systems for the TCVC. A six-member Tsaatan management board is elected by the community.

Itgel obtains land rights in Tsagaan Nuur to establish a permanent facility. Construction on the current TCVC begins.

Trial-run trips are hosted through the TCVC, with operational support provided by The Itgel Foundation focusing on capacity building among Tsaatan managers and service providers.

2008

Itgel's hosts a community-wide conference on long term development goals, yielding action plans on how the Tsaatan seek to utilize the TCVC to advance goals in the areas of education, environment, health, and livelihoods.

Intensive guide, cook, and first-aid training workshops are facilitated, equipping community members with the skills necessary to provide goods and services to visitors.

Construction and interior work completed at the TCVC. Official ribbon-cutting ceremony marks the hand-over of the Center from Itgel to the community association "Tsaatan Zon Nohorlol." The TCVC becomes 100% independently owned and operated by the Tsaatan community.

Formal policies and procedures are adopted by the TCVC management board. Contracts are signed with officially-endorsed tour operator partners. Full-service trips take place with limited support from Itgel.

2009 and Beyond

Project monitoring & evaluation activities continue. Volunteers are posted as-needed at the Center to assist the community with operational duties, stakeholder relations, and trip activities.

Results

Since its establishment, the TCVC has brought unprecedented benefits to the Tsaatan community. Aside from the direct benefits of income generation and training opportunities, the Center has triggered outcomes such as improvements in nutrition due to increases in household earnings, improved access to health care, access to information and communications via two-way radio and telephones established at the Center, and improved access to education through scholarship funds (see below). The Center has also become a powerful mechanism for community organizing and empowerment, by serving as an outlet for the Tsaatan to voice their concerns and engage with government agencies, the media, international visitors, and the private-sector.

  • Revenue earned through the TCVC has increased household incomes for many Tsaatan families by as much as 400%, bolstering them above the poverty line and helping achieve economic self-sufficiency for some families.
  • When surveyed, 99% of Tsaatan respondents reported that the TCVC has improved conditions in their community noticeably.
  • As of September 2008, 80% of women in the community who are single-heads-of-household had been employed through the TCVC, often earning more in four days of work than in the entire previous year.
  • In 2008 alone, more than 75% of Tsaatan households participated in one or more educational program at the TCVC such as guide or first-aid training or family budgeting workshops
  • Between September and December of 2008, the TCVC Community Fund distributed more than $2,000 USD to community members in the form of micro-loans, grants, and scholarships.

To learn more about making a donation to support this important project, click here.

To start planning your trip, click here.