After years of working 70 hours a week at jobs I detested, I felt like the proverbial "hole in the donut" - solid on the outside, but empty on the inside. Searching for meaning in my life, I abandoned my successful but unsatisfying career and set out on a six-month solo backpacking trip around the world to pursue my true passions of travel, writing, and photography. My blog features stories about the destinations I visit, people I meet, the crazy things...Read more here....
As I travel in developing countries around the world, I am often confronted by the lack of basic necessities that we take for granted in the United States. With each visit to Nepal I am reminded how difficult life is for residents of rural villages who walk miles each day, carrying large steel jugs of water on their shoulders for the needs of the family and their livestock. Children often miss out on education because their human labor is more important to the family’s survival than hours spent in a school.
Family collecting water in Haiti, courtesy of Water.org and Passports with Purpose
Being regularly exposed to these living conditions tends to deaden the shock while I’m on the road but each time I return to the U.S. and turn on a tap or bend over a drinking fountain for the first time and can safely drink the water, the reality socks me in the gut. That’s why I’m especially delighted that this year, Passports with Purpose, the annual fundraising effort supported by travel bloggers, will be raising $100,000 to build two wells in Haiti, where nearly half of the people don’t have a nearby source of clean water. PwP is working in tandem with Water.org, in my opinion one of the best charities in the world. Nicole Wickenhauser, a Senior Development Manager with the organization, explains the depth of the problem:
“Men, women and children living in Port-au-Prince gather their water each day by walking to a nearby water tank (filled sporadically by water trucks) and filling up a five-gallon-jug which they then carry back to their homes. This is typically the only water they have for the whole day, for all of their needs: drinking, bathing, cooking, laundry, cleaning, etc. Often, it’s contaminated. In the surrounding villages where Water.org works, the situation is no better. People walk miles or wait in long lines for unreliable water which is often not safe.”
Passports with Purpose is a unique effort, in that we don’t just ask you to make a monetary donation. Travel bloggers solicit sponsors to donate prizes that are then raffled off. Each $10 you donate buys one entry in the raffle for the prize you select. And the prizes are pretty darn fantastic, ranging from country tours to stays in luxury hotels, to top of the line travel gear. Check out this year’s catalog of prizes here. See more than one prize you’d like to bid on? No problem. Continue reading →
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.
Help PwP build libraries in Zambia
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.
A library in Puma, Nepal, built with the assistance of Room to Read
Plaque in Nepal school broadcasts the efforts of Room to Read
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 Continue reading →
Fellow travel bloggers Sherry Ott from Ottsworld and Meet Plan Go fame; Rick Griffin of Midlife Road Trip TV; and Dave Bouskill and Deb Corbeil from The Planet D are embarking on a 10,000 mile journey this summer in the Mongol Rally, during which they will drive a car from from London, England to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
Traditional ger on the Mongolian steppes
Although the foursome has secured a car, they are now looking to raise money for the $4,000 in fuel costs required to drive one third of the way around the world. To do so they have teamed with Intrepid Travel to raffle off a Trip of a Lifetime between now and midnight on June 12th, PST. Participants who donate $5 will be entered into a random draw that will be held the following week.
Donate $5 US to be automatically entered into the drawing. The more you give, the more chances you get.
For every $5 that you donate, your name will be entered. Increase your odds of winning by donating $25 and you have 5 chances to win!
The Rally Raffle runs until Midnight PST on June 12th.
The winner will be chosen in a random draw and announced the following week.
The Prize is Your Choice
The winner will choose from one of two incredible tours courtesy of Intrepid Travel.
Wild Mongolia – This 15 day trip will take in the sights of the country’s capital Ulaanbaatar before heading out for your great adventure. You will be staying in Ger Camps, hiking volcanoes and enjoying Mongolian barbecues. Follow the footsteps of Genghis Kahn and take a camel ride into the desert sand dunes of Khogno Khan.
Inca Trail – This 8 day trip takes the winner through Peru. Starting in Lima you will spend the day exploring the historic center of the city. Then it’s off to the charming city of Cuzco in the center of the country. Explore the Sacred Valley and the ancient city of Ollantaytambo before beginning your trek on the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Voted as one of the new Seven World Wonders, this is a trip you will never forget.
My friend Todd Wassel, who writes the great travel blog Todd’s Wanderings, was on the ground in Japan during the earthquakes and subsequent tsunami, visiting his wife’s family. Although his family was all safe and sound, they watched the news reports in horror as the tragedy unfolded. Todd also happens to be a conflict resolution specialist for the United Nations; as such he works with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) the world over, and has even set his fair share of NGO’s, so he knows how to assess such organizations to make sure they are legitimate and doing the work that’s most needed. And he’s been doing just that in the case of Japan, identifying the organizations that are doing the best work but that may not have access to tremendous fund raising abilities. He wrote the following article on his blog, suggesting which organizations are the best possible choices for support, and asked his fellow bloggers to reproduce the article, which I have done below:
This page is dedicated to helping the survivors of the Friday 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan by channeling international donations to local efforts.
The earthquake and tsunami have caused extensive and severe damage in Northeastern Japan, over 9,500 people have been confirmed dead and another 16,000 are missing, and millions more affected by lack of electricity, water and transportation.
The images of the destruction and suffering have shocked the world. However, with the World Bank reporting over 300 billion USD in damages and families torn apart there is a need for everyone to help both financially and emotionally.
A few weeks ago I posted about my Experience During the Japan Earthquake and made a plea to my readers to spread the word about helping Japan recover. My wife is from Tokyo and we are both professional aid and recovery workers with the United Nations. We have seen the recovery phase of the 2004 Tsunami up close and we know there is a tremendous need to not only raise donations but to make sure those funds are used responsibly and are in the hands of organizations with not only technical expertise but also local knowledge.
How You Can Help
A lot of people around the world want to help and have been donating to various international organizations (mainly the American Red Cross). I think this is great and with the money being transferred to the Japanese Red Cross this money will be used well. However, we also believe there is a need to donate funds directly to local Japanese organizations and NGOs that don’t have access to this type of fund raising. There are also many scams out there trying to benefit from this horrible disaster. We know that language barriers and lack of knowledge can also prevent people from donating to the right place. As such we have put together a list of Japanese Organizations that we know, trust and recommend to channel your donations to.
If you are unable to donate we ask that you Share this Page with your friends, family and coworkers through e-mail, facebook, twitter or any other outlet you can think of. The more people who see this page the greater the donations will be.
If you are blogger, or have your own website. Please see the Blog4Japan page to learn how you can utilize this appeal on your own site and help us reach even more people.
Japanese Organizations We Trust
Please consider donating to one or more of these organizations. All are local Japanese organizations and we have found the English Pages for you. Even a small amount like $10 is useful, but we hope you donate more! Continue reading →
My life changed for the better when I deserted corporate America to pursue my true passions of travel, writing and photography but over the past few years I’ve often felt there was still a piece of the puzzle missing. There was something more I was meant to do; I just wasn’t sure what it was. And then I arrived in Nepal.
As my three week visit stretched to three months, I became acutely aware that behind the veneer of beauty lay excruciating poverty. Here was a place where I could do some good, I thought. I began researching NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) and learned it was quite simple to create and register one in Nepal. Combining an NGO with a 501(c)3 non-profit organization in the U.S., which would allow people to make tax deductible donations, seemed the perfect way to help Nepal and satisfy my desire to give back.
As I toured the country I broached the subject of NGO’s and volunteering with everyone I met. My first inkling that all was not as it seemed came from a guide in Chitwan National Park. Morally opposed to riding elephants, I instead opted for a walk through a nearby village to learn more about the local Tharu people. My guide, who lived in the village, warned, “Maybe 75% of orphanages are not real.”
He told me about a group of Polish tourists that had established an online relationship with an orphanage prior to traveling to Nepal. Upon arrival, they hired my guide to help purchase bulk food and supplies, in addition to a cash donation they planned to make. Although he warned of potential fraud, the Poles insisted that this particular orphanage was legitimate. Several weeks later, long after the donors had returned home, my guide stuffed his pockets with chocolates and returned to the orphanage. As the children clamored around him, fighting for candy, he quizzed them. What had they been given to eat over the past few weeks? Had they received new clothes? School supplies? None of the children had new clothes or supplies and they had been fed only dahl bhat (rice and lentil bean stew), as usual. He later learned that all the fresh foodstuffs and a good deal of the bulk non-perishables had been sold off, with the cash distributed among the orphanage owners.
My guide explained that many orphanages solicit funds through websites that feature photos of destitute children and inspiring stories of rescues made possible by donations. Yet in truth, many of these same orphanages are non-existent. In the rare instance that donors travel to Nepal to meet their sponsor children, the owners of the “orphanage” collect children and put them on display for a night or two in a local home.
At this point in our walking tour he pointed to a decrepit house next to a brand new three-story concrete building painted in a trio of turquoise hues. The sign on the chain link fence surrounding the two structures declared that a new orphanage would soon open.
“I assume that’s one of the good ones?” I asked.
“No, the owner built the orphanage with money from donations but now that it is finished, he is turning it into a hotel.”
Two days later I boarded a bus with a slew of Brits who had come to Nepal to volunteer. After a weekend tour of Chitwan, they were headed back to Pokhara, where they were helping out at local orphanages and teaching English in government schools. After extensive research on the Internet, each of them had booked their trip through Personal Overseas Development (POD), a UK firm that facilitates volunteering opportunities around the world. Valerie Jamiason of Newcastle paid 750 British Pounds ($1087 U.S. dollars at the time) for an eight-week stint. Her package included pick-up at the Kathmandu airport ( I was picked up for free by my hotel), one night’s stay at a Kathmandu budget hotel (~$10), her bus ticket to Pokhara (~$6), and eight weeks stay at the Castle Guest House in Pokhara at what Val was told was POD’s special rate of $6 per night, for a total of $352.
Val reinforcing prepositions with the students
Volunteer Michael Anfield reviews homework
POD does not require volunteers to have any prior teaching experience and they are given no orientation upon arrival. With no formal turnover process, fresh arrivals have no idea what the children have been taught previously and each new group is left to decide for themselves what to teach their classes. Tom, who had opted for a summer of volunteering prior to entering university as a pre-med student, focused on teaching his students how to tell time.
Two of my volunteer friends invited me to visit Annapurna Primary School with them one day. As I wedged into a miniature desk at the rear of the classroom, Val established a modicum of order among the raucous pack and began drilling the students. She placed a chalkboard eraser on the floor and in her thick Newcastle brogue instructed:
“Repeat after me. The duster (DOH stah) is next to the desk.”
“The duster is on the desk.”
“The duster is in the desk.”
“The duster is under the desk.”
Meanwhile, Michael reviewed homework assignments, explaining errors in his very proper Londoner accent.
Volunteer Val Jamiason drills English prepositions
Though the raggedly clad kids had level one English workbooks, the school administrator told me in broken English that they were lacking even the most essential supplies: pencils, erasers, and lined pads were all in short supply and since there were no funds for lunches, the students went hungry. As for assistance from POD, I was told that only the teachers were provided. With Continue reading →