It’s a rare person who doesn’t like to travel. It’s exciting and fun to see new things, whether it’s a natural phenomenon or a man-made wonder. Some like to travel for the food: local specialties and exotic fare. Travel is good: it broadens our horizons, gives us new ways of seeing our world and often leads us to new friendships.
But can travel be more than that? Can it do more good than simply what we gain from it? Yes, it can.
Medium recently published Travel As a Force For Good: Social Enterprise and Community Impact, part of a series on travel and social enterprise. Two of Medium’s writers, Audrey Scott and Daniel Noll, explored various parts of the globe, seeking new horizons, but also see how travel can positively impact local communities.
Many homes in the developing world use oil to heat and light their homes. It’s easy to get and inexpensive, but it creates thick black smoke, which in turn creates breathing issues. Medium’s travelers were in a Maasai village near Arusha, Tanzania, to visit a local family. Unfortunately, it was a short visit:
We followed Kisioki into the hut’s central room and I was accosted by acrid smoke. Within seconds, I could barely see. I labored to breathe. I blinked repeatedly, trying to clear the smoke and sting from my eyes.
Our host, Nagoyoneeni, clearly accustomed to these conditions, made a pot of porridge for her family. In an effort to hide my discomfort out of respect, I attempted to suppress a cough. It was impossible. Within minutes, I had to excuse myself outside to recuperate and breathe some fresh air.
We were in the village of Enguiki not far from the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro to witness in action a newly launched social enterprise project between Planeterra Foundation and the locally run Maasai Stoves and Solar Project. Earlier that morning, we visited a hut outfitted with a clean stove from the project. Although we expected some improvement, the contrast was staggering. The difference: being able to breathe, or not.
A travel agency has teamed with Planterra and Maasai Stoves. When a person books a trip through this agency, a portion of their travel fees goes to help put stoves in local homes.
Another upside to travel as social enterprise is the ability to teach and to break stereotypes. For instance, most people who are traveling would not choose to spend time in a “slum.” Yet Medium’s travelers were cheerfully brought to the Dharavi slum, a well-known area of Mumbai. Why travel to a slum?
Slum. It’s a loaded word, one that conjures up all manner of negative imagery and stereotypes. But there’s one characteristic that rarely comes to mind: industry and education. That’s where the Dharavi Slum Tour run by Reality Tours and Travel enters the conversation in order to dismantle some of the prevailing narratives about slums and the people who inhabit them.
The second goal of the Dharavi tour is to provide support and opportunities for education and training for that local community through Reality Gives, its sister NGO.
The journey through Dharavi allows the travelers to see local recycling, health and nutrition classes, and far more important, “the program changes the relationship visitors might have with the term slum, a place — now humanized — where people, live, work, eat, play and learn.”
This is yet another example of win-win-win: organizations and businesses make money and provide jobs, those who wish to travel have a very personal experience with the places and people they see, and problems (like clean burning fuel in homes) are solved. Pack a bag and change the world!