SARSI (South Asian River Skills Institute)
By : Nora Dunn
Deep in untouched northeastern India in the state of Arunachal Pradesh, a mighty river known as the Siang flows. This trans-Himalayan river features some of the best white-water in the world, yet few tourists have ever seen - much less rafted - this piece of Himalayan splendor. At less than 200 visitors per year, this state's many local tribe members have rarely (if ever) seen foreigners.

And until recently it may have remained this way; locals who are uneducated about environmentalism throw their garbage directly into the river, and planned damming and hydro projects threaten the way of life of hundreds - if not thousands - of tribal families and communities who survive and thrive on the banks of the Siang.

But there is hope yet. With advocacy, community action, and education, SARSI and River India are changing this dreary outlook.

SARSI (South Asian River Skills Institute) is a charity guide school which teaches local youths to be whitewater river guides free of charge, helps locals build their own rafting businesses, and reaches out to the community to emphasize environmental issues and education. It is the right-hand of River India, an award winning commercial rafting company that takes tourists on whitewater adventures and exposes them to an area of the world that so few people ever see.

SARSI aims to build up the industries of whitewater rafting, kayaking, and fishing, and they encourage local leaders in the community to develop their own business plans and join the industry. Their community outreach program takes environmental issues (such as damming and proper waste disposal) to local residents who can take control of their river and work to protect it.

Communities in Crisis
Ponging is one of many villages that are at risk of being demolished with the damming planned for the Siang; the residents have mourned their village which would be completely drowned. Through the SARSI outreach program however, these villagers have now become educated advocates with a voice, working to find alternatives and protect their village from destruction.

With the positive role that tourism plays in creating both jobs and awareness, these people are slowly demonstrating that the area is worth preserving, and can be an income-producing and financially viable place.

SARSI's Positive Effect
SARSI is the first school of its kind, offering free tuition to local youths in the community. This creates jobs, businesses, and even enterprises which increase the overall financial health of the area. Students are encouraged to start their own whitewater businesses, and SARSI gives them financial and logistical help to do so.

For example, Tsering Chotak works as a safety kayaker (thanks to SARSI) and is receiving further help from them to order equipment from the United States so he can start his own company in Ladakh.

Oken Tayan is another tour operator in the area who is receiving help from SARSI to buy two rafts so he can start his own rafting company.
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