Philanthropic travel is a form of voluntourism. A growing movement, voluntourism is “the conscious, seamlessly integrated combination of voluntary service to a destination and the best, traditional elements of travel — arts, culture, geography, history and recreation — in that destination,” according to VolunTourism.org. Tourism Cares recently published “Good Travels – the first study on the motivations and practices of charitably inclined travelers.” The infographic below highlights some of the report’s key findings.
Good Travels Study
How would you describe meaningful travel? Is it something you think about? If so, do you include yourself as part of the 41% who “had some form of meaningful interaction with a local community”? Do you agree with the 64% who “felt giving back greatly contributed to trip satisfaction”? I certainly do. Here are a few examples of what that has meant to me.
Meaningful Travel In Guatemala
After joining The Ties Program team, I traveled to Guatemala with Adoptive Family Travel. At the time, my daughter sponsored a child, Catalina, through Children International. The organization kindly arranged for me to meet Catalina at the hotel where I was staying. Shortly after she and her mother arrived, I learned they had left their home very early in order to arrive at the agreed upon time. In fact, it was so early that they had not had time for breakfast. So with the help of Children International’s translator, I invited them to join me for a bite to eat at a local Burger King, a first for Catalina and her mom.
After our meal, I gave Catalina the gifts my daughter sent. While appreciative for the items she received, I sensed from Catlina’s quiet conversation with her mother that something else was on her mind. The translator seemed reluctant to share what was being said. After some gentle prodding, I learned that Catalina dreamed her madrina, or godmother, was going to bring her a bike. Clearly embarrassed by this request, the translator apologized for Catalina’s behavior. Apologize? Really? How often does one have the opportunity to fulfill a child’s dream?
Thanks to the support of the translator and others at the local office, we headed to a local bike store to make a little girl’s dream come true. As the bike was loaded into a pick-up truck, Catalina’s mother invited us to join them on the ride home. Driving up the mountainside, I prayed for Catalina to quickly learn how to work the bike’s brakes, while wondering if I should have purchased her a helmet. Eventually, the truck parked on a plateau overlooking a steep mountainside. An entire community of small of dwellings built of cement blocks and corrugated metal packed the area. As the bike was unloaded, a gaggle of excited children surrounded us. Proud of her new possession, Catalina led us down the mountainside, cutting through a few houses, as the driver followed carrying her bike.
I have returned to Guatemala several more times since then. While there, I’ve enjoyed peaceful moments sailing on Lake Atitlan, people watching and shopping in Chichicastenango’s colorful market, and climbing the temples of Tikal – Guatemalan sights one shouldn’t miss. It was fun to see Catalina a couple more times, each time remembering our first visit and the trip to the bike store. My meaningful interaction with Catalina and her mother continues to enrich my memories of traveling to Guatemala.
Philanthropic Travel Benefiting Local Communities
Travel that engages your mind and heart leaves lasting impressions. For a number of years, I coordinated a group travel program for families to Paraguay. The tour often included a visit to a rural school. Many of the school’s students were children of area artisans associated with Paraguay Hecho A Mano. Over the years, families on the tour donated books, school supplies, and sports equipment to the school. They also donated funds used to build a library, bathroom facilities and an outdoor kitchen.
Thiodosia – a Paraguayan potter
The Good Travels study reports that 48% of travelers find “its very important for their spending and donations to benefit local communities” as part of their pre-trip planning. This certainly was the case for the families mentioned above. Meaningful travel opportunities for the group continued while visiting the home of Theodosia, a local artisan. Arriving by ox-cart, a typical form of transportation in this area and provided by local farmers, families sat in a circle around Theodosia as she created clay sculptures. Afterwards, they were invited to create a piece of pottery with Theodosia’s help. A great example of meaningful interactions with a local community member in a very hands-on way.
After this very authentic travel experience, families were able to “give back” by purchasing pieces of Theodosia’s work. Truly a win-win situation: Theodosia received direct support for the work she had done and travelers received unique souvenirs reminding them of the places they visited and the people they met.
Staying Involved After Travel
Last January, I traveled to Peru in preparation for Ripple Effect Journeys, a group travel program combining tourism and philanthropy. I have been to Peru many times, but wanted to visit with a focus on philanthropic travel.
From a tourism standpoint, the city of Cusco is an ideal place to stay. Nestled in the Sacred Valley, an area surrounded by the Andes Mountains, Cusco was once the capital of the Inca Empire. From here it is possible to visit a number of Inca ruins, including Machu Picchu. The area was eventually part of the Spanish Colonial Empire adding another dimension to it’s history, culture and traditions.
Equally important, my time in Cusco allowed me to spend several days with Danny Dodson, the executive director of Peruvian Hearts. Ana, Danny’s sister and a Peruvian Ties – Adoptive Family Travel alum, founded the organization in 2003. (She truly is an example of the 40% of the people mentioned in the Good Travels study who stay involved in a cause after traveling.) Peruvian Hearts recently expanded their mission to focus on Peruvian Promise. A women’s leadership and empowerment program, Peruvian Promise strives to break the cycle of poverty through the education of young women.
Peruvian Promise Scholars
During my visit, I met a number of the Peruvian Promise scholars. They are bright young women encouraged by Peruvian Promise to dream about a future (something not supported for many girls around the world.) But dreams happen only if goals are established and achieved. Peruvian Promise is there to provide the framework. The importance of education, as the key to success, is stressed. Leadership workshops, the guidance received from mentors, and opportunities to serve empowers the girls. Getting to know them, visiting their homes, meeting their families and hearing their stories greatly enriched my Peruvian travels. These genuine conversations and authentic experiences gave me insight into the country beyond the sights.
As a result of my experiences, I have introduced a number of people to the mission of Peruvian Promise, encouraging them to join me in supporting their work through periodic donations. Doing so allows my trip to Peru to continue with meaning and purpose. According to the Good Travels study, I’m not alone in my desire to maintain connections as these after returning home.
*What does meaningful travel mean to you?
*How do you feel about traveling with a purpose?
*What are the causes you’d like to learn about or the activities you wish to pursue?
We look forward to hearing from you!
By Bea Evans
Founder, Ripple Effect Journeys
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