About Woodlands Network

Woodlands Network

Centre for Hill Country Eco-tourism in Sri Lanka

The origin of Woodlands Network lies in the work of a Dutch priest called Father Harry Haas. Father Harry settled in Sri Lanka in the mid-1980’s and set up a spice factory run by local people. He provided the workers with machinery and training and negotiated fair-trading of the spices. His aim was to cut out the ‘middle man’ so the factory would receive as much of the revenue as possible. Over the next decade he set up other local initiatives which cumulated in the founding of Woodlands Network.

Woodlands Network was established as a woman’s group to offer poor , unskilled women in the Uva region employment with training. Once they had gained experience at the network they could go and get good jobs outside the network with prospects for the future. The two most important goals were: self-development (financial independence, development of skills) and networking (ideas, methods and skills shared to create bonds of trust and efficiency).

The women generally earned their income from information services for tourists, and the sale of tea, spices, herbs, cooking demonstrations and cookery books. WN took a ‘holistic tourism’ approach with the aim of giving tourists a rich experience of Sri Lanka’s landscape and culture. It was ‘bottom-up’ tourism which utilised existing local features and infrastructure – public transport, the surrounding countryside, local products, guest houses and homestays (staying with local people) – in contrast to the ‘top-down’ tourism approach favoured by many large tour companies which often prevented regional programmes, and caused a loss of independence.