When I look back on the years when I was immersed in the culture of corporate America, my biggest regret is that I didn’t do more to help others. Though I earned a healthy income, I am ashamed to say that I never volunteered and rarely gave to charity. Strangely, now that I am a struggling travel writer with barely enough income to keep me on the road, charity and volunteer work have become a much more important part of my life. More often than not, my philanthropic efforts occur when I am in Nepal, since that is the country where I spend the most time each year. After months there last year, I discovered that many of the orphanages and programs that place volunteers into the schools were totally corrupt; in many cases not a penny of the money donated actually reached the children who need it the most. I learned that the most important part of giving is choosing a worthy organization and began writing a series of articles about agencies that provide voluntour opportunities or raise money for charitable organizations, both the good ones and the corrupt ones.
One of the programs that I have been most impressed with is Passports with Purpose, the joint effort of travel bloggers who raise funds once each year around the holidays. In 2009, we raised almost $30,000 to build a school in rural Cambodia and last year we raised over $58,000 to build a village in India for “untouchables” who might otherwise never have a place to call home. This year our goal is even bigger and I am even more excited by it. We hope to raise $80,000 for Room to Read, an agency that builds schools, bilingual libraries and provides scholarships around the world. Communities receiving schools or libraries must pay for a portion of the materials or provide “sweat” equity to build facilities. Why am I so excited this year? Because I have personally witnessed the effects of Room to Read. During a home stay in the high mountain village of Puma, Nepal, I toured schools that had been the beneficiary of a Room to Read library and spoke to kids who were learning to read in Nepali, Gurung, and English as a result of the reading material supplied. I believe that education is the single most important thing we can provide our children, and that education creates the best and longest lasting benefit to our world.
So lets get down to the nitty-gritty. Am I asking for a donation? Well, yes, in a way. But there’s a twist in this campaign. Travel bloggers around the world have solicited prizes and gift certificates from travel related companies around the world, which are being offered as prizes in this year’s effort. The impressive list of prizes can be found here. Donors choose which prize or prizes they want to have a chance to win by placing a number in the box aside their preferred prize. So for example if you want to register to win the 5 Night Stay in Budapest, putting “1” in the box will buy you one chance and cost you $10. Putting “5” in the box will buy you five chances and cost you $50. You can also type “1” in five different boxes for one chance each to win five different prizes. Your total donation is tallied at the bottom of the prize list, giving you an opportunity to make modifications before proceeding to the payment page. At the end of the campaign, one winner will be randomly drawn for each prize from the total number of entries for that particular prize. The prizes add a little fun to the process, but even if your name isn’t drawn you can be sure that all donations are benefiting an excellent cause.
I hope you’ll join me in supporting Passports with Purpose this holiday season. Wishing you and yours, and all less fortunate people everywhere, a holiday season that is just a little bit more merry than usual.