March 25, 2012, Ashoka, Ethiopia – Newly-trained tour guide Nagash Gemachu in the Lepis Community Conservation Area of Ashoka, Ethiopia. Trained through Counterpart partner agency ANCEDA to lead tourists into the CCA, Gemachu is one of six local guides now qualified to handle tour groups through the Counterpart Ethiopian Ecotourism Development Program.

Nagash Gemachu has a new profession, as a tour guide for the beauties of the Lepis Forest – its growing network of trails, its beautiful waterfall, and such wildlife as warthogs, mountain nyala, colobus monkeys and hundreds of species of birds.

“We take language class and also birding. There is a script to guide tourists, and we learn about presentation and making a good first impression,” he says.

But if not for the training and other support provided by ESTA’s partner agency, the Arsi Nature Conservation and Environmental Development Association (ANCEDA), Gemachu and his fellow guides might well be making their living by burning the forest for charcoal.

Residents of the area have long relied on the Lepis Forest – about four hours from Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa – for survival through environmentally damaging practices. Now they are beginning to embrace the idea of conservation and ecotourism. And the tourism industry is discovering the Lepis Forest.

ESTA and ANCEDA are working alongside the community to build trails and are training residents as guides and horse handlers to provide sustainable livelihood opportunities.

Gemachu says that if his community preserves the land, the forest will continue to thrive, attracting tourists and providing a steady income for the entire community.