For a long time, I’ve been on a soapbox about how international travel can be a force for good in the world.
I bookmark stories about the positive, transformational impact of travel experiences. Here are three of my favorites:
Several years ago, a young college graduate was deciding between a real-world job or grad school.
While visiting the Rhode Island School of Design, she connected with a professor from India and was tempted by the prospect of traveling the world. She chose the latter route, and an academic trip to India changed her life – and that of countless women and children.
During her time in India, Colleen Clines met the founder of a local non-profit that provided night shelters for children in Kolkata’s red light district while their mothers “worked.” The kids did homework, ate dinner, and slept – in relative safety.
Colleen was horrified by the dark and dangerous world of an Indian brothel, the pimps, and the shady customers and was outraged at the atrocities the women were forced to endure. She learned that many women are forced into the commercial sex trade due to poverty, lack of education or skills, and extreme gender inequality.
Those women and children became her friends. Friends worth fighting for.
Returning to the U.S., she launched the Anchal Project in 2009 – combining her passions for creative design and social entrepreneurship.
In the Hindi language, the word “anchal” refers to the edge of a sari used to provide comfort and protection to loved ones. More than 100 women have escaped sexual slavery and have become seamstresses, creating gorgeous hand-stitched quilts, scarves, and pillows for a fair living wage. Every unique piece is signed by the artisan who created it.
Looking for a unique gift? Look no further!
Etta Turner was a normal 16-year-old high school student with an extra measure of compassion.
Curious, adventurous and fiercely independent, she applied to be a Rotary International exchange student. Bolivia wasn’t her first choice, and she cried when she heard she would be going there. But she got over it, sucked it up and, immersed herself in the community, endearing herself to old and young, rich and poor.
Three months into her yearlong stay, Etta was traveling on an overnight bus on a narrow mountain road. She fell asleep, huddled against the chilly air. Unfortunately, the driver dozed off, too. Etta died in the crash, along with six others.
A few months later the family got a call from Etta’s Bolivian host family. They said the local church and Rotary club wanted to start a nutrition program for children at the church in Etta’s memory. So, seven months after Etta’s death, the project began feeding 100 children a day at the church’s comedor (dining room).
Organizers quickly figured out that the best way to help children in Bolivia, the poorest country in South America, was to help their mothers. They discovered some old sewing machines in the church basement and started sewing classes and the formation of “Mujeres Sin Limites” — Women Without Limits. Class offerings expanded to baking, jewelry-making, cosmetology and more. The mothers volunteer their time at the comedor in exchange for food for their kids, and they learn skills to supplement their family’s meager income, which can make the difference, literally, between life and death.
But Etta’s family didn’t stop there. A nonprofit called Etta Projects was established to provide rural communities in Bolivia with clean, filtered water, proper sanitation, and health care to address public health issues. Nothing is a handout. Instead, the communities come to them with proposals that the locals will help finance and maintain, therefore ensuring that projects are sustainable and community is engaged for the long term.
The headline got my attention: “These Badass Women Are Taking on Poachers – and Winning.”
I had to read further.
The Black Mambas, the world’s first all-female anti-poaching unit, and, together with 30 other local women, they are saving South Africa’s endangered rhinos and elephants.
An eight-pound rhino horn can reap several hundred thousand dollars on the black market. Poachers killed a reported 1,054 rhinos in South Africa in 2016.
Each month, every Black Mamba spends 21 straight days patrolling Balule Nature Reserve by foot or jeep – four hours at dawn and four hours at dusk, searching for snares, human tracks, gunshots, and other suspicious activity. While they don’t make arrests, they do call in backup to seize troublemakers.
The award-winning nonprofit, which launched in 2013, has significantly reduced incidents of snaring and poaching by as much as 76 percent. Their success has garnered global attention, including a collaboration with Extraordinary Journeys, a trusted partner of mine, that specializes in safaris and supports community, conservation, and sustainability initiatives.
The Black Mambas are role models, teaching their communities that the benefits are greater through rhino conservation rather than poaching, and addressing the social and moral decay that results from the false economy of rhino poaching.
The moral of this blog post: seek out opportunities to support local communities with your travel dollars whenever possible.
Also – check out my favorite philanthropic organization: Dining for Women. They are a global giving circle dedicated to eradicating poverty and gender inequity among women and girls in the developing world. Small groups (giving circles) around the country meet, eat and learn about grassroots NGOs that are already doing great work – like Anchal and the Etta Project! Whatever we might have spent on a dinner out at a restaurant, is collected and significant grants are given each month to established organizations that are doing great work.
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