Adventures in Philanthropy
One of the greatest gifts of travel is connection: Time and again, people journeying to distant lands and cultures find commonalities that they never expected, and that end up transforming their lives.
The members of the Adventure Collection know this phenomenon well. In addition to their own rigorous preservation and conservation efforts abroad and at home, the member companies have contributed immeasurably to the global good by forging connections between their travelers and their destinations, connections which have subsequently inspired those travelers to undertake extraordinary philanthropic activities on their own.
I asked each member of the collection to share one such tale of connections they have been instrumental in forging. Their answers below illustrate the grand vision, inspiring energy and exemplary ideals that characterize the clients who travel with the AC -- and the companies themselves.
Experiencing new and extraordinary cultures, engaging in exhilarating physical activity, and stepping out of your day-to-day boundaries bring a joy and richness that is simply undeniable. And sometimes, it goes beyond enlivening and into life-transforming.
Take the case of Eric Hemel and Barbara Morgen, who traveled with us to Vietnam in 2003. “While walking through a number of rural villages,” says Eric, “we learned that a considerable number of school-age children were not attending school for economic reasons. It was unclear to us at the time why, exactly, this was the case. But, regardless, we viewed it as tragic that children were not receiving a full primary education when their lives could be so greatly enhanced by even a few years of additional schooling.”
On their return home, Eric and Barbara embarked on an exhaustive mission to determine how they could help. Less than a year later, they launched a scholarship program through the East Meets West Foundation (the largest American non-profit in Vietnam) aimed at keeping impoverished children in school. “Traveling to faraway places can change both your perspective and your role in the world in unexpected ways,” says Eric. “The Backroads mode of travel – getting away from crowded tourist spots – provides insights that would not be remotely achievable otherwise. We feel very grateful to Backroads for having started us on a path that is both intellectually challenging and emotionally rewarding.”
For more information about the East Meets West Foundation and its various programs, visit www.eastmeetswest.org.
While enjoying trips in the world’s most unspoiled places, Bushtracks’ largely American travelers have seen firsthand the challenges children face in developing nations. The following effort exemplifies the results of these encounters, and has been incorporated as a highlight of our Family Adventures program.
Bushtracks and Ebenezer School in Livingstone, Zambia, have an ongoing relationship that began almost two years ago. Livingstone is a focal point for many Bushtracks trips, since it is close to Victoria Falls and also home to a Bushtracks office. While Bushtracks had assisted other Livingstone schools previously, Ebenezer School came to our attention in January 2007 as particularly needing our assistance. The school is a part of the Ebenezer Child Care Trust, which provides services to orphan and vulnerable children in Livingstone. The primary school has 350 students affected by HIV/AIDS.
Prior to Bushtracks Family Adventures’ departures, our travelers’ children are matched with children of a similar age at the Ebenezer School and begin a penpal relationship. During the trip the children and their parents visit Ebenezer School, the penpals meet and exchange gifts, and then get to know each other through activities including a soccer match. Many penpals remain in touch after the visit. Through Generosity in Action, a US based charitable foundation, a designated fund has been established for the school, and Bushtracks’ travelers can direct their donations toward improvements in the Ebenezer compound, including a babies’ home, a security wall, a medical center, school buildings, and administrative offices. Our travelers have been very excited about the ability of meeting the people and visiting the place their donations have transformed.
Travelers on Geographic Expeditions trips have been moved to give back to the people and places they have encountered in a wide variety of ways. Some have returned to volunteer teach at local schools or help out on local building projects; others have singlehandedly given the funds needed to restore monasteries or fund health programs in remote areas.
Inspired by their example, GeoEx this year has begun pledging 1 percent of our net annual tour sales (as opposed to profits) to organizations we’ve carefully vetted in order to reduce the natural and cultural footprint of our office, our marketing, and our trips, including the carbon footprint of all trips. The initiatives we are supporting include a wide array of conservation, cultural resource protection, education, and health care organizations, including the Central Asian Institute, the Snow Leopard Trust, the American Himalayan Foundation, the Solar Electric Light Fund, and the Trust for Public Land.
In 1997, Lindblad Expeditions established programs for its guests to contribute directly to local conservation projects in the Galapagos Islands that will preserve the islands for generations to come. The full amount of the donations received is allocated by an independent Board of Advisors to various conservation and education or social projects implemented by the Galapagos National Park and/or the Charles Darwin Research Station.
Since the project’s inception, as of December 2007, Lindblad Expeditions in conjunction with its guests had raised more than $4 million for conservation projects in the Galapagos. Some of the projects that have been supported include helping to eradicate feral pigs and goats on the archipelago, prioritizing the restoration of native plants throughout the islands, and tracking giant tortoises.
The donations our journeys have inspired span a tremendous range. Multiple donors have given more than $10,000; equally significant and in some ways even more moving, a recent 13-year old traveler decided to have his bar mitzvah gift be a donation to Lindblad’s Galapagos conservation efforts. As always, the generosity and goodwill of our travelers inspire us to re-double our own efforts.
While many say that charity begins at home, for Bernard Wharton and his family, it actually began in Africa. While on a safari to Kenya with Micato Safaris last July, Bernard (or B., as he is commonly known), along with his wife, Jennifer Walsh, and their four children visited the Mukuru district of Nairobi through Micato Safaris' Lend a Helping Hand on Safari program.
Inspired by that experience, B. and his family decided that they wanted to help the many women and children affected by the HIV/AIDS virus who call Mukuru their home. B. contacted Micato upon his return and offered his long-term assistance to their nonprofit arm, AmericaShare. When he learned that AmericaShare was working to build a new multi-purpose facility, the Harambee Home and Women’s Centre, for the inhabitants of Mukuru, B. offered to underwrite the entire costs for the construction and furnishing of the facility.
An architect and partner at Shope Reno Wharton Associates, B. recognizes perhaps more than most what kind of impact a new structure can have on a community.
An unprecedented endeavor in the heart of the country’s largest informal settlement, the Harambee Home and Women’s Centre was custom-designed to provide many much-needed resources at its multi-purpose facility. The three core buildings will be utilized as a dormitory for 32 AIDs orphans while they are home from boarding school during school holidays, as well as a community centre where all are welcome.
The complex will also house AmericaShare’s women’s group food program, a prime example of self-sustainability. The food program contributes greatly to the community at large by supporting upwards of 450 people twice a week, many of whom are either living with HIV or living with an affected family member. The opening ceremony for the Harambee Home took place in June of last year; B. and his wife were there for the dedication.
We like to think that Thomas Cavanagh exemplifies the effects that NOLS can have on its participants. Cavanagh has participated in three NOLS programs: Baja Sea Kayaking, Semester in the Rockies, and Wilderness First Responder. Now he is the financial and technical manager at Amazon Watch, a nonprofit outreach and advocacy organization for the Amazon rainforest and its indigenous people. Cavanagh’s role is one of oversight, to serve “as a glue for Amazon Watch campaigners, indigenous communities, legal teams and the press,” he says.
Amazon Watch monitors large-scale industrial development projects (oil and gas pipelines, power lines, roads) in the many Amazonian countries, but its larger role is pressuring for change in social and environmental policies in relationship to those projects. One of the organization’s main objectives is to give voice and opportunity to the indigenous peoples of the Amazon to protect their own rights to the land. “The indigenous communities think of us as partners,” says Cavanagh. “We don’t go in [to help] unless we have a partnership with the community first.”
Atila Rego-Monteiro, program manager of the NOLS Semester in the Amazon, confirms evidence of development and deforestation in some of the regions where NOLS operates in Brazil. He reports, “On our drive to the river section [of the course], we basically pass through the transition zone of savanna land that has been converted to large-scale agriculture. Then we pass through the area that is recently denuded rainforest where they leave standing only one type of tree in a whole hectare, the protected Brazil nut trees. We generally see active burning while en route to the put in.”
Development in, and the consequent deforestation of, the Amazon is very much a local and global issue. Rego-Monteiro’s impression is that by witnessing firsthand such an immediate issue, the student experience on a NOLS Semester in the Amazon is strengthened overall.
To learn more about Amazon Watch and the development projects currently underway in the Amazon, visit www.amazonwatch.org
Last year OARS ran an 8-day rafting/sea kayaking/cultural tour in Fiji for a group of 21 fathers and sons. As a result of the places visited and people met during that trip, the group was inspired to solicit the donation of 1,639 books from classmates and friends in the States. Together with Air Pacific and the Save the Children Foundation, OARS successfully shipped the books to Fiji, where they were delivered to the villages of Nakavika and Navunikabi in the Namosi province on the island of Viti Levu. The books were all textbooks and children's reading, and they are now being used every day in the classroom.
End note: The imaginative and energetic traveler behind this book donation program, Frank Headen, wrote a letter to George Wendt, the head of OARS, describing how the project came about. That letter is so inspiring in and of itself – and such a great example of the way a chance encounter on a trip can change lives and bridge continents – that I have reproduced it in the Responsible Travel section of Don’s Place. Please give it a read. And consider the profound effect every traveler can have on this planet we share.