Today’s post comes to us from Adrian Reif from Friendly Planet. He is doing wonderful things combining his two passions, travel and making the world a better place. I love this post so I won’t make you spend any more time reading my words. Enjoy what Adrian has to say.
Your Own Two Hands
“I’m gonna make it a brighter place. I’m gonna make it a safer place. I’m gonna help the human race…with my own two hands.”
- Ben Harper, With My Own Two Hands (listen if you haven’t heard it before)
“Will we in the West realize our potential or will we sleep in the comfort of our affluence with apathy and indifference murmuring softly in our ears?”
- Bono, in foreward for The End of Poverty
Let’s start with a quick thought experiment. It’s simple. I want you to stop reading for 15 seconds and pretend that you were born in another country, somewhere less developed – Peru, Bangladesh, Zambia, Haiti. Now, imagine what your life would be like today.
I wasn’t born in Bangladesh. I was born in a developed country as a member of the racial majority. I’ve had amazing parents and friends who have always supported me. I’ve received educations among the best in the world – both practical and academic [not that I exhibit it ]. I have the opportunity to travel! And I’ve realized at a young age that happiness stems from being a good person, not making stacks of money. I humbly say all of this, but I say it to point out a basic assumption – that I’m one of the luckiest people in the world. I’ve lived a life a sheer joy. I have everything I could ever want (or reasonable access to it). If you ever hear me complain, slap me – hard. Life is good.
A sad reality is that billions of people face the consequences of bad luck – they don’t have the same opportunities you and I have. Should ‘luck’ continue to determine how their life plays out? As Bono says in his foreward for Jeffrey Sachs’ The End of Poverty,
“We can be the generation that no longer accepts that an accident of latitude determines whether a child lives or dies – but will we be that generation?”
My Basic Argument
Consequently, my fortunate life leads me to believe I have a responsibility to help others seek the same. I want them to have what I have, to experience what I’ve experienced. That’s it – I have no great ethical or philosophical argument to prove my point. It just feels like the right thing to do. And it feels good.
The Beginnings of a Lifetime Wanderer
In 2005, I traveled to Guatemala as a member of my university’s Alternative Spring Break for a week of volunteering. It was my first international trip – an eye-opening and addictive one. We swam in volcanic lakes and hot springs and survived on cheap, delicious foods. The main goal of the trip was assisting Primeros Pasos Medical Clinic, a clinic giving basic health care to rural, impoverished school children. We repainted a building, built makeshift soccer goals from 2x4s, taught a lesson on brushing and flossing teeth, and played lots of soccer with children. Here I began to realize that everyone has the same basic needs, but not everyone has access to them; and to opportunities that could improve their quality of living.
The adrenalin of immersing in a foreign culture, receiving the warm hospitality of the people, witnessing miraculous landscapes - it was addictive. And I was hooked on travel. But my interaction with the children helped me take my new wanderlust mentality a step further. I knew I could not consciously continue to travel without returning the favor. I set out to design a way to travel that was not only enjoyable, but also helps to enrich the lives of the people who would enrich mine.
Launching Friendly Planet - The Intersection of Passions
Friendly Planet was a tangled web of thoughts for many months after leaving the States in January 2009 to travel. While fighting for sleep one night, the ideas swirled so intensely in my head that I finally sat up at 2am and mapped out Friendly Planet. It seemed like I’d finally found a way to combine some of my passions: being a responsible global citizen, wanderlust travel, and entrepreneurship. Its a chance to share my travels, but also give back while I travel. Similarly, I wanted people back home to be able to give half-way across the world while raising awareness for issues we rarely give thought to back home. In the spirit of Ben Harper’s song, it’s how I use my own two hands, but I hope it also shows that each of us have a unique way to give back.
At Friendly Planet, we talk about:
Here’s the cool part – and most rewarding for me. We give 50% of ALL revenues away to non-profits or needing souls each month in the countries traveled through. It’s a small ‘thank you’ – thank you for allowing me to experience your culture and landscape, for pointing me in the right direction when I was lost (which happens a lot!), for opening your home, for teaching me how to smile.
Another goal is to build a small business that does good while making money, in turn flipping the assumption that capitalism and being a responsible corporation are opposing ideas. They are not. In the future, the most successful companies will see the world around them not as something to fight against, but as a partner that will fruitfully give back the more they give to it.
The Fruits of Travel
At the beginning of August, I made the first donation from Friendly Planet. I had just spent three grueling weeks working my way down western Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, near the Tibet border in China. While strongly controlled by the Chinese government, the Tibetan communities and villages provided an immense experience different from the rest of the country. The landscape was captivating – snow-capped mountain peaks, lush river valleys, and endless grasslands pocked with nomads’ tents and shaggy black yaks.
The only thing more captivating is the greeting smile of a Tibetan. Thanks to them, I learned to truly smile.
During a random and supposedly short stop in Manigango, a half-kilometer long Tibetan town, I was invited to home of three Tibetan boy monks after a chance acquaintance. There, their father, Gongga Tsering, and his wife welcomed me with open arms and stuffed my belly with endless bowls of home cooked food. We could only communicate through a small Tibetan-English schoolbook I had picked up a few days earlier and hand (and body) gestures. We spent hours pouring through that book pointing at phrases. One night after dinner, one of the boys pulled out an old Michael Jackson DVD and put it in. Gongga attempted an impersonation and one of the boys tried to moonwalk. Here I am in a remote village in western China sharing the joy of MJ’s tunes and energy! Yet, I had to somehow communicate to them that sadly, MJ’s heart had failed not to long ago – news they hadn’t received.
Later, Gong Ga insisted [by pointing to the phrase "Don't refuse"] that I stay with them instead of the hotel. I ended up staying in their beautiful Tibetan home for 2 nights. The boys took interest in learning some English. Each morning, they’d grab the book and begin practicing, consulting me when they needed help with pronunciation or reading, and would end the night by practicing phrases in their bedroom. By the end, they could say “good morning” and several other greetings, which I could return in Tibetan. Gong Ga wanted to buy the book from me for his sons, so when I left, I gave it to them as a gift. It was the least I could do…
Clicking on Donate
After an experience like this, I wanted to give so much to the Tibetan people. Thanks to Friendly Planet readers, we were able to donate over $50 to Machik.org, a non-profit that works to empower people on the Tibetan plateau through education and job training. Even though $50 is a small amount, clicking the “Donate” button was met with a rush of adrenalin knowing that we could, in some small way, improve life for someone. It amplified the joy of my time in western China.
Over the last month, we’ve also been able to give $60 to Green Watershed, an organization based in China’s Yunnan Province where I spent 2 weeks that deals with water management for ethnic tribes and has done wonders to fight the impending damming of China’s rivers. Their Executive Director is surveilled closely by the Communist Party, which let’s me know he’s doing something good. Recently, we purchased over $80 in books from Big Brother Mouse, an organization in Luang Prabang, Laos dedicated to making reading fun for Lao children and giving many children probably their first book ever. After spending a little time teaching English here and meeting with Sasha, a retired American book publisher and BBM’s founder, I purchased over 60 children’s stories to take with me during a 2-day trek into the countryside. As we stopped in the last village, school wasn’t in session so my trekking guide introduced me to the teacher, who dutifully inventoried the books with a few other parents and thanked me. Interestingly, other adults curiously picked up a book or two and began to intently read through, probably the first time they’ve seen a children’s story on a page! Also, the trek was guided by Tiger Trails, a local guide service known for its “sustainable tourism.” About 30% of the trek cost goes into the Village Development Fund for the rural villages we passed through and is only used for infrastructure improvements. If I’m going to hike through their back yards and rice fields and sleep in their villages, I’m going to make sure they get a good chunk of the money!
After China, I’ve spent the last month and a half in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. For August and September, Friendly Planet will be making donations to Green Watershed, an advocacy organization in China’s Yunnan Province, and Agir pour les Femmes en Situation Precaire (AFESIP), an organization working tirelessly to help women and children who’ve been or might be affected by sex trafficking in Cambodia.
After only 3 months, Friendly Planet has given away over $100 from ad-based revenue alone (i.e. readers clicking on ads to support the site). Another anonymous donor (even though I don’t solicit donations) has contributed $500 to be distributed over the coming months.
“Books for Laos” Campaign
Just like traveling, contributing to Friendly Planet continues to surprise and energize me. I recently learned about Big Brother Mouse, an organization that is increasing literacy in Laos by creating and distributing fun and educational children’s books. I’ve heard spectacular reviews of this country, but it continues to be one of the poorest in the region. Since I will be spending October in Laos and doing some work with Big Brother Mouse, I’ve decided to launch a small “Books for Laos” Campaign. For $250, we can sponsor a book party where Big Brother Mouse staff will go out into a village, teach 80-100 children how to use the books (probably their first ever books), and leave them with a small library. So, Friendly Planet will be giving all revenues for October up to $125 along with another $125 match to support this project. It’s an ambitious goal for such a small site, but I believe in the power of people.
Previous Articles from our Giving Back, Travel the World and Make a Difference Series;
- The Trail of Hope: A Motorcycle Journey – Tendai Sean of the Trail of Hope Foundation
- Impact of NGO’s and Voluntourism by
- Ranthamore National Preserve, A Tiger’s Haven by Akila and Patrick of The Road Forks
- Volunteering Global, A Valuable Resource by Sarah Van Auken of Volunteering Global.
- Villas Tranquilas: A Vacation Property Gives Back by Courtney and Tom Marchesani of Villas Tranquilas
- Make A Difference With The Global Volunteer Network byErin Courtenay of Global Volunteer Network
- Nicaragua, A First Time Volunteer Experience by Teresa Wilson of The Wellness is You
- This Global Citizen is Making a Difference by Rebecca Sweetman of The Paradigm Shift Project
- Teaching Monks in Nepal by Shannon O’Donnell of ALittleAdrift
- ARCAS Guatemala – a One in an Only by Marina Villatoro of TheTravelExperta
- Support Local Art and Help Communities Thrive Keith Jenkins of Velvet Escape
- Giving Back, Travel the World and Make a Difference