A Happy Side Effect of Travel
When we set out on our worldwide adventures, there’s no telling how they’ll affect us. Many GeoEx travelers and staff have discovered firsthand that their experiences abroad ignite a fiery passion to make a difference in the lives of the people and places they encounter. We’re endlessly impressed and inspired by their efforts to give back—which is not always easy to do. These engaged global citizens exemplify travel’s remarkable power to transform people and the planet for the better.
We remember the GeoEx traveler who ventured into Upper Mustang, Nepal (overnighting, he recalls, “at the last outpost of humanity” and then helicoptering “over a vast treeless, shrubless landscape for what seemed like forever”), only to come across an ancient temple ravaged by time. The American Himalayan Foundation reported: “The wall paintings, exquisitely detailed, were covered by soot and grime; earthquakes over the ages had damaged the gompa structures and roofs were caving in. . . . The Lobas wouldn’t worship the sacred images any longer; they’d been defiled by centuries of deterioration.” Our traveler was so moved that, working with the AHF, he assisted with funding the repairs. He explains, “We were so happy to be able to help the people restore and preserve these wonderful temples for future generations.”
Another guest, while exploring the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, opted to spend a few days teaching art at a school in the Bumthang region. She brought the supplies and showed the students how to paint wooden bowls. The children did a wonderful job and were able to sell the bowls to raise money. Then there was the couple who, while on safari, visited the Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi and fell so in love with a baby pachyderm they sponsored him. The stories of generosity go on and on.
When travel gives us so much, it’s only natural to want to give back. But finding the right channel to make that happen can be surprisingly difficult. Some of the organizations that do the best work are not household names precisely because their resources are focused more on the work and less on communicating what they do to the public at large. To add to the challenge, a global NGO that is effective in one area may not make as much of an impact in another.
Because GeoEx is passionate about the destinations we’re privileged to visit, we have made it our job to carefully evaluate organizations for inclusion in our Giving Back program. We’re lucky to have a team of savvy folks on hand—including our CEO, Jean-Paul Tennant, and ShanaChrystie, our Vice President of Operations—to find on-the-ball, locally clued-in nonprofits that make a real difference. They’ve volunteered countless hours to personally get to know these groups and craft an intelligent and sensitive philanthropy program, executed through the GeoEx Foundation.
We’re ever enthusiastic about Giving Back and see it as a group effort—and by group, we mean you and us; many of our Giving Back initiatives are the result of our travelers and colleagues in the field alerting us to opportunities to lend a hand. For example, a longtime GeoEx guide and friend in Myanmar, who also works to assess needs in villages, encountered a partially built school in the remote Shan State. An international nonprofit had started it, pouring the foundation and creating the structure, but it sat empty for want of furniture, school supplies, and a teacher. With funds from our Giving Back program, she filled these gaps. The Magwe Primary School opened in June 2012, making it possible for local kids to learn to read and write in their own village. Since then, with the continued support of GeoEx, direct traveler donations, and other local backing, the school has added three more teachers, bathroom facilities, and a “mini library,”and students have been helped with entry fees and uniform costs.
For those of us at Geographic Expeditions, our work is bigger than travel. We’re grateful that we can provide opportunities for our travelers to bring home not only memories of great places but also a heightened,palpable sense of the local challenges and a chance to participate in the solutions. As one GeoEx trekker who’d helped raise money to build a dormitory for students in rural Nepal said, “The people of the area made a huge impact on me. They greet each other with the word namaste. It’s a Sanskrit term. The way it was defined tome was, ‘The divine spirit in me honors the divine spirit in you.’ ”And as author Lillian Smith wrote,“No journey carries one far unless,as it extends into the world around it,it goes an equal distance into the world within.”
Eight of the worthy organizations we’ve carefully chosen to support are the American Himalayan Foundation, Conservación Patagónica, Wildlife Conservation Society, Global Fund for Women, Bhutan Foundation,Room to Read, Galápagos Traveler Conservation Fund, and Wild Aid. We invite you to learn more about them and GeoEx’s commitment to responsible travel (donations are always welcome) and to continue sharing with us your own experiences of giving back around the world.
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Photo by American Himalayan Foundation. Their Stop Girl Trafficking initiative is combatting modern-day slavery.