Barbara Savage was inspired to establish the Tribal Trust Foundation while on a trip to Nepal in 1996. Barbara explains; I am forever changed by my stay in Chitwan, Nepal. It was here that I took an elephant ride that opened my heart and eyes to the importance of indigenous culture. My Thuru guide, whose Ancestors were the First Peoples of the land, and I had so much to share that we talked nonstop during our three-hour trek through the Chitwan National Park. While we chased wild rhinoceros, stopped to observe many rare birds, and listened to the melodic songs of the Thuru women gathering food, I learned about the value of his ancient culture. For example, when crossing the river, he pointed out some of his family members harvesting snails. I was reminded of the fact that the Red Cross discovered it was the Thuru diet of eating snails that saved them from dying from a malaria epidemic in 1955 that killed everyone else.
As we continued to compare our lives, I was surprised to learn that my young guide had never ridden in the basket on the elephant in his charge. With encouragement, we switched places and I found myself straddling the neck of the elephant with my feet on the elephant’s ears, in an awkward attempt to direct the huge animal. My guide and I laughed when the elephant lifted his trunk full of dirt and blew it over his head at me in blatant disrespect. On the ride back to camp, relaxing once again in the comfort of the basket, I learned more about the culture of his once nomadic tribe and the prejudices that are threatening their survival, including sex slave trafficking of unmarried Thuru girls. Upon my return to the camp, I invited the staff to join me for dinner. I wanted to initiate a plan in which I could help the indigenous people of Chitwan. I expressed my desire to give them hope and to help them preserve their rich culture. A grassroots sustainable project was soon to be identified and the Tribal Trust Foundation was soon to be born.