The Programme
Why I founded Youth For Shangri-La
The Program

Youth For Shangri-La (YFSL) is a non-profit organization established to improve the livelihood of remote communities in southwestern China through training-based poverty alleviation programs. This is carried out in partnership with The Eastern Tibetan Training Institute (ETTI), a non-profit organization backed by the local government. This program is implemented jointly by YFSL and ETTI. This is an intensive training program focused on training students with skills which will enable them with access to employment in the rapidly developing tourism economy in the Shangri-La regions. Students receive training in conversational English, tourism and hospitality training, computer literacy and life skills training. In addition, local business people and tourism entrepreneurs deliver seminars designed to prepare students for future employment in the tourist industry. Towards the latter half of the training, students participate in on-the-job workplace training with local hotels, travel agents, and restaurants. Selections of participating students, aged between 15 and 22, are from low-income families and are all middle school graduates who for social or economic reasons have not been able to continue with their formal education. This training program (including room and board) is free to all eligible students. All graduates will receive training in:

  • how to handle interviews
  • how to negotiate with employers about their employment terms and conditions
  • how to manage their personal finances

Employers are identified prior to the launch of each training session. This assures that our graduates will be placed with employment after their graduation.

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Background and the Cause

Home to three of Asia's mightiest rivers, its greatest snow-capped mountains and an astonishingly diverse mix of flora and fauna and ethnic minority communities, Yunnan province has always been an ideal spot for those who like to look for their earthly paradise. For most of the past 50 years, this fertile land was designated as Zhongdian, a county in the Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of northwest Yunnan province. Inspired by James Hilton's 1933 novel, Lost Horizon, local officials lobbied the central government to change the name. They faced stiff competition from other Himalayan regions, which also claimed to be source of inspiration for Hilton. The ensuing contest to be the official utopia lasted the better part of a decade, until the state council of the Chinese government announced in 2001 that Shangri-La was to be marked on all maps in the place where previously occupied by Zhongdian.

Traditionally, people in this part of the Himalayan region are mostly subsistence farmers and herders, practicing a mixed economy of upland agriculture and animal husbandry. A lack of effective control on herd sizes and an erroneous belief amongst the herdsmen that big herd size of cattle symbolizes wealth deteriorated much of the fine natural meadows. The primary cause for the degradation is overgrazing. Figures from the local government suggest that 73 percent of the meadows in the prefecture have degraded to a moderate level and 4 percent of them are in severe degradation. There are too many cattle for the available meadows, which destroy the normal life cycles of feeding grass. This paves the way for an unwelcome intruder known among the locals as "Langdu." Langdu literally translates to mean wolf poison, a plant belonging to the euphorbia fischeriana family. Despite its charming beauty, this tiny fiery red flower is a ferocious killer in disguise. Its appearance signals the degrading of meadows. The degradation, in return, fans its growth because the plant flourishes in dry environment. Hence a vicious cycle is set in motion.

However, the local government and its people are determined to save their natural meadows and preserve the charm of the unique landscape of Shangri-La. They concluded that the best solution lies in leaving the natural grassland intact. Mother Nature have proven that given a period of time for recuperation, degraded meadows would take a turn for the better, with good grass overgrowing the bad one and ecological balance restored. As of 2003, 17.8 percent of the total meadows were restored, of which 25 percent of the restored meadows are completely banned for grazing, 43.8 percent are to lay fallow, and the rest for rotational grazing.

Because of the high altitude and limited access to land and markets, most farmers in the rural communities subsist on an annual income of one dollar a day. People in this region have always been living close to nature, close to spirituality and precariously close to starvation. It is not unusual in this northwestern corner of Yunnan province, where, such is the sense of the mystic, the beautiful landscape and the remoteness of the location, local people believe that they live in a real-life Shangri-La despite enduring the most wretched poverty. To date, there is still 24 percent of the population in the prefecture living below the poverty line. In recent decades environmental policies have further restricted traditional economic practices of farming, thus forcing a need for alternative livelihood strategy.

Now the local officials eye tourism as a new alternative and welcome the economic benefits that tourism brings to a formerly impoverished area. Although the service industry offer new income-generating opportunities for poor farmers and herders, sadly, the local communities are ill equipped to take advantage of these opportunities. The primary reason is a lack of education. Illiteracy in the rural community regions are among the highest in China. To profit from tourism and successfully take advantage of alternative livelihood, villagers need education, new knowledge and useful skills.

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The Opportunity

Youth For Shangri-La (YFSL) program gives you the opportunity to make a positive change in the lives of those who live in this untouched part of the world. Whether you are a student, teacher, parent, or friend of the needy, YFSL program offers you the opportunity to learn and understand other people's culture, to help improve the livelihood of those less fortunate, and to make a difference in someone's life by volunteering your time and expertise or by giving a monetary donation.

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Upcoming Sessions

Interested? Here is a list of upcoming sessions. Please click on one for more information.

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