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For a long time, I’ve harbored a dream . . .

…to start a foundation that would, in essence, provide funds to a young person to travel far, far from home – to someplace remote and exotic and impoverished. The recipient would return home – transformed and inspired to do something good for the world.

Truth be told, it’s a thinly-disguised desire to replicate – for someone else – my own post-college adventure of traveling to remote, exotic and impoverished places. The experience catapulted me into a fun and fulfilling life. More importantly, it was the most substantive educational experience of my life and awakened empathy and an insight as to how most of the rest of the world subsists.

No doubt many of my customers have been transformed in some small way by the extraordinary travel experiences I’ve created. I’d love to leave a legacy of having offered transformational travel opportunities to young people looking for clarity, direction, and purpose for their lives.

One of them might start a non-profit, as did Colleen Clines in 2009 after returning from India, where she witnessed injustice and systemic poverty. Upon returning home, with just $400, she facilitated a project to provide sewing machines, training, materials, and a stipend for a small group of artisans who were eeking out an existence as an alternative to the commercial sex trade. Today, more than 200 artisans create beautiful quilts from vintage saris for Anchal, where profits are re-invested in supporting even more women.

Anchal

Artisans from the Anchal Project in Ajmer, India will be visited by WOWees in March 2018

But in between running a business, battling a cancer diagnosis and having a life, I’ve made little progress toward that goal. Two years ago, I wrote with passion about My Big, Hairy, Audacious Dream. I have periodic spurts of momentum, but get discouraged by the potential complexities (legal, financial, liability, etc.) of setting up a 501(c3) and everything else my dream seems to require. I don’t know where to begin, so I haven’t done much more than dream about it. But my dream is not going away.

I’ve long admired Nicholas Kristof, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author (Half the Sky, Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide) and op-ed columnist for The New York Times. I read about his “win-a-trip” program, launched in 2006 (the same year I started the WOW! Travel Club), with a simple idea: he would choose a college-age student to travel with him on a trip to the developing world to cover global poverty and social justice issues. His goal is to generate interest in neglected global issues and get young people writing about such issues. Students are required to submit a 700-word essay about why they should be chosen.

Kristof is a passionate advocate for solutions to child marriage, infant mortality, and (un)safe drinking water – issues that disproportionately affect women and children

The success stories are heartening. In June, Kristof traveled with this year’s winner, Aneri Pattani of Northeastern Univ, to rural Liberia, where they interviewed a family with three generations of clubfoot. An NGO called Miracle Feet had corrected their baby’s feet. It made a transformative difference in that child’s life, as well as that of Ms. Pattani.

Jordan Schermerhorn joined Kristof on a trip in 2012, eager to apply her bioengineering design skills to help solve global health issues. Since returning, she got involved in a project to develop a vaccine alert system for crowded refugee camps and started grad school, focusing on “implementing new health technologies” in the Middle East and North Africa.

There’s a parallel with our passion for travel and the developing world. While working in France after high school, Kristof caught the travel bug and began backpacking around Africa and Asia during his student years, writing articles to cover his expenses. His travel experience led him to become a famous writer and activist for social justice. My post-collegiate backpacking adventure to southeast Asia and India led me to become a successful (though not-yet-famous) designer of travel experiences.

Nicholas Kristof

(left) Nicholas Kristof, as a backpacking law student in Mali in 1982; (right) Me, as a Home Ec Education graduate in the Philippines in 1978

So I’m writing this blog to remind me of my dream – and deliver a swift kick-in-the-ass. If Kristof can do it, so can I!

If not now, when?


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