Social Entrepreneurs

SOCIAL ENTREPRENEUR SPOTLIGHT

I wanted to share info on the Build A School Foundation.  The Foundation builds schools and bridges for underserved children mainly in remote region Vietnam right now.

The founders are fans & friends of ours on Facebook and they are husband and wife team who are U.S. citizens who immigrated from Vietnam.

Lilly Thai, the co-founder told me their mission is to build 100 schools by 2025 in Southeast Asia. They’ve invited us to come out and join them the next time we’re in Southeast Asia and I hope I can profile them on the show soon, but in the meantime, wanted to turn you on to them via our Social Entrepreneur Spotlight.

Below are some helpful links where you can find more information about helping them out yourself if you so choose. Keep up the good work guys!

http://www.buildaschoolfoundation.org/

https://www.facebook.com/BUILDaSCHOOLfoundationINC/

 

 

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Care For Wild Africa 

People say I have a great “job”, and I do, but producing Raw Travel is also a ton of work and sacrifice. I’m 99% sure I could make more $ doing something else, but I figured out a while back that old cliche about $ and happiness is actually true.  The impact of the show and feedback from viewers is one big part of the reason we carry on. At times I wonder if the show is having an actual impact other than entertainment, but then I hear stories like this Toronto gentleman who saw Raw Travel last year (we’re not licensed in Canada so I assume he saw the Buffalo or Detroit feed).

After tuning into our story on Care For Wild Africa/ African Conservation Experience this gentleman booked a trip to volunteer for them in South Africa and has returned a changed man. He’s telling others about his transformation and about this critical issue as rhinos near extinction. Here is his story and I thought I’d share it.  P.S. You can see our segment on the CFWA again this summer in “Amazing Animals” July 1st-2nd, 2017.

A link to his story can be found HERE:

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El Ninos Del Rio – Lima, Peru & Paris, France 


Lima Peru is one of my favorite international cities. Yes, it’s large and congested, but the atmosphere is relaxed, people are friendly, the food is amazing and there is loads of culture around every corner.

But of course, like most of Latin America, there is also crippling poverty. To me at least, poverty is especially heartbreaking when it impacts children.

However, in all my travels, even in brutally poor areas,  I’ve found that the youngest children do seem outwardly happy, even in what we in the developed world consider mind-numbing poverty.

They are born incredibly resilient and their needs are pretty simple. Something as simple as a bag on a string or a discarded roller blade, can serve as a distraction.

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But as they get older, the temptations in poor areas are intense as the reality of their situation begins to dawn.

There are estimated 120 million children living on the streets around the world with almost half estimated to be living in South America.

Young boys (typically ages 5-17) in particular are drawn to gangs, violence and drugs. Many, for whatever reason, either run away or are abandoned by their parents and become street children, forced to try to get along with their peers on the harsh streets of Lima Peru. They are young, vulnerable to abuse and scared.

Many of Lima’s street children live along the Rimac River. In 1999 a young French student traveler got to know some of these children and decided to do something about their situation. He created the Ninos Del Rio (Children of the River) organization  in 2000.

Today, years later this Paris & Lima based non-profit association continues to works with street children, establishing trust, providing food, shelter and mental counseling and when the time is right, promoting their return to their own home or  reintegration into another home.

They also work with the children currently on the streets in the district of San Juan de Miraflores, and help provide these kids an afternoon or so of diversion, where the kids can be kids.

We were able to stop by and meet some of the kids at the shelter, local staff and (mostly) French volunteers during our final day filming in Lima. I’m used to seeing young children in various situations in my travels, but I was surprised at moved I was by meeting these adolescent, teen boys.

Despite their harsh situation and past, I could literally feel their need for love. It was a similar feeling I’d had when visiting the really young Restavek (Child Slaves) at Freedom House in Haiti.

Kids need food, shelter, medical care, structure, discipline…. yes, but mostly they need love. Without it, their future is bleak. With it, their lives can completely change to a future capable of anything.

Ninos del Rio is a non-profit so they rely on donations and volunteers.

If you’d like to volunteer or donate please visit HERE. (Their web site is in Spanish  but Google Translate can translate to English for you).

I’ve seen first hand the good work the folks at Ninos Del Rio are doing. I can tell you that I don’t think you’ll regret helping.

I know I don’t regret visiting, and I hope I can come back soon and spend more time with these brave kids and the big hearted staff and volunteers.

Look for our “Give Back” segment on Ninos Del Rio coming up in our Lovable Lima episode set to premiere in the USA in May 2017.

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RED CLOUD INDIAN SCHOOL & RE-MEMBER 

You may recall our “Raw Travel – Pine Ridge: Tribal Tourism” episode from Season 3 about travel to the Lakota Sioux reservation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota.

Through your generosity via buying T-shirts and/or supporting our crowdfunding efforts, I’m happy to report we raised over $3k for the Red Cloud Indian School after school arts programs.

These kids grow up in the poorest county in the U.S. and have a ton of challenges facing them unlike anywhere else in the United States. It does my heart good to see the work Red Cloud Indian School does on the reservation and the support you so generously gave when we asked for it.

If you missed it and are looking for a cause to support this holiday season, there is not better organization than Red Cloud Indian School or Re-member which were both featured on our Pine Ridge show. I hope the episode will be available digitally in the not too distant future, as we continue to try to raise funds for these guys.

You can learn more about Pine Ridge and our fundraiser HERE:

Please enjoy this bit of Holiday Cheer from our little pals at Red Cloud Indian School.

2016 Red Cloud Elementary Christmas Program – Highlights from Red Cloud Indian School on Vimeo.

 

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Much has been said and written about the coarseness of our dialogue these days with many pointing the finger to the isolation thanks to social media, and others to our elected leaders.

I think there is probably something to that but if there is one thing I’ve learned while traveling it is that not only does kindness matter, it’s absolutely contagious.

I learned that lesson of all places, on the streets of New York City. NYC is the kind of place that will give you 10x fold the energy you are projecting. Having a “negative” day and it will give it back to you 10x as bad… having a good one and it seems everyone you see is being so kind and the beauty of all mankind is on display everywhere.

Travel is similar. When filming in Canada, everyone was so nice and polite to me and the crew that we joked we were looking for the 1 jerk in all of Canada and on day 6 of our 7 day journey we finally found him. It was a doorman at a beautiful luxury hotel (a rare treat for the Raw Travel crew I will assure you) where we were staying and filming. He was dressed elegantly in the hotel uniform and since we were filming on behalf of the hotel, we casually asked permission to film him in the background as I entered the hotel. He brusquely responded if we filmed him, he had “rights” and “would be expecting payment”.  Of course, we proceeded to film without him in the background,

His answer would have been par for the course most anywhere else but having just been bowled over by Canadian hospitality, it came as a shock after 6 days of kindness from everyone.  As I exchanged a glance with my producer, it was clear we were on the same wavelength, “we found our jerk”, it also became apparent to me that on day 6 of a 7 day filming expedition, we had become tired and probably snippy and short tempered and that very well could be why this gentleman acted the way he did. We put out the negative energy oh so subtly and we were rewarded with such. Or maybe he is a jerk, or a frustrated screenwriter, filmmaker, travel host or just having a bad day… it happens to us all.

But there is no getting around that in the U.S. we have become a pissed off society which is odd when you consider our standard of living is one of the highest in the world. I get it but I don’t. We should be more appreciative and respectful to each other. Maybe it’s also because in our sports obsessed culture we’ve learned to be bad winners and losers, flaunting individual success and trash talk over team efforts and the many life lessons sports provides.

I like Loas and cultures with the Buddhist Philosophy. People are greeted with a slight bow and with respect and it’s considered bad form to “lose face” (AKA your temper). In the busy cities there was hardly even the sound of a car horn anywhere, they take this philosophy so seriously.

Well, this long winded entrepreneur spotlight wants to shine the light on an organization that is trying to bring “kindness” back “Life Vest Inside” .  They show the science of being kind and how being kind can replace anti depressants and has an effect they call the Kindness Boomerang.

It may sound sappy and I guess it is, but the cliche is true, kindness is contagious.  The idea is not new, but any organization making this a priority is worth checking out and supporting.

Check them out.

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Freedom House is featured d on Raw Travel 406 – Port Au Prince. They are a U.S. supported charity helping to free poverty stricken “restaveks” (child slaves).

A restavek is a child that has been given to another family as a servant in hopes to have their basic needs met. If you see the segment, you will see how incredible these children are now that they are surrounded by love. Freedom House is not a huge bureaucratic organization with a lot of waste.

They are small and grassroots and just the kind of organization we like to shine the light on.

If you are so moved after seeing this weekend’s episode and would like to help Freedom House rescue more children, you can donate and support HERE.

A little goes a long way in Haiti, so no amount is too small.

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Sometimes the best way to help is to simply be a conscientious traveler and/or consumer. I think a hand up is so much more powerful and effective than a hand out. Case in point, Maya Xux in Guatemala. They use age old techniques from weavers in Guatemalan indigenous communities to make these wonderful and colorful shoes.

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If you’ve visited Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru or Bolivia chances are you’ve met weavers like these in person. They are some of the humblest, sweetest, gentlest and kindest people on the planet. They work hard and do good work, so I have no doubt the May Xux shoes are 1st rate. Maybe I’ll get a pair and wear them on the show?

Check them out and take 3 minutes to view their beautiful video. Well done Maya Xux! 

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I recently returned from a first time trip to the continent of Africa in what I hope will be the first of many more trips to come. As predicted, I fell in love. I also became aware of the many social enterprises helping people do good while helping the people of Africa. One such company is called Mobal allows you to keep in touch by offering a local cell number whereby you can stay in touch at a fraction of the price of most cell phone companies’ roaming charges and 90% of their profits go to help people in Africa.

Mobal started with one UK man’s desire to make calls while travelling, Mobal Chairman Tony Smith. As a lifelong international traveler, he was constantly frustrated when trying to keep in touch with family, friends & business contacts on his many trips overseas.  On the back of the success of the international cell phone service he established the Krizevac Charity with a desire to change the world.

Tony went on to create several thriving businesses that employ hundreds of people in a poor Malawian township like the Beehive.

Income generated from these businesses funds orphan places at a children’s center, scholarships for the neediest to attend school & good meals for those at work. Heartwarming stuff!

Mobal sums it up best, with a Mobal phone you don’t just travel the world, you make it a better place!

Learn more about Mobal at their website www.mobal.com and via their social media links  at Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/mobalcomms/ and Twitter – @mobal – https://twitter.com/mobal

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Our spotlight is on the beautiful, proud but struggling people of the Pine Ridge Lakota Sioux  Reservation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota.

I first heard about the situation in Pine Ridge reservation a few years ago while watching Diane Sawyer profiling the tragic issue of teen (and even more tragically pre-teen) suicide there. If you don’t know the stats, they are mind boggling. 

The Oglala Lakota Sioux Indian reservation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota is one of if not the poorest area in the entire United States. On the reservation it is reported that:

– Average annual per capita income is estimated at just $4,000 annually.

– Unemployment is over 80% and it’s estimated that over half live below the poverty line.

– Teen (and even pre-teen) suicide is estimated to be four times the national rate.

– They have the second lowest life expectancy in the Western Hemisphere (second only to Haiti).

– Diabetes is eight times (and infant mortality three times) the U.S. rate.

– There is a massive housing crisis with multiple families often crammed into small mobile homes, many without running water or adequate sewage.

Upon seeing the piece by Diane Sawyer, I pledged then and there that if ever I was able to help the people on the reservation, I would. Finally, during the 4th of July holiday weekend of 2015, I visited Pine Ridge to produce an episode of Raw Travel entitled “Pine Ridge – Tribal Tourism” and my life has never been the same.

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Nothing that specifically extraordinary happened to me on that trip. I simply met regular folks from the reservation who were kind and hospitable to me, a total stranger. But I was very impressed by their resiliency in the face of difficult circumstances. I was equally impressed by the large number of locals, transplants and volunteers working to help make the situation on Pine Ridge better, especially for Lakota Youth.  I can think of no better way to inspire young people to believe in themselves than to allow them to explore the innate creativity present in all human beings.

I was made aware of the lack of creative outlets by youth on the reservation when I interviewed the local band “Scatter Their Own” where Scotti & Julianna informed me that no music schools existed on the entire reservation. After interviewing the folks at Red Cloud School I thought a good way to help would be to assist their efforts to expand their after school clubs program.

I hope we can work with some talented musicians, filmmakers and other artists and entrepreneurs to visit the reservation and speak to the youth on a consistent basis. I’d also like to try to create a small film school. Who knows where, if anywhere this will lead but I do know that to do nothing, is in essence choosing to endorse the status quo, and that I cannot do. Whatever we can contribute, big or small it will help.

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Even though this fundraising effort kicks off to coordinate with our Raw Travel – Pine Ridge / Tribal Tourism debut, it will be an ongoing effort and will continue as long as there is interest in helping Pine Ridge help themselves. For me this already is an ongoing cause I’ve pretty much resigned to be dedicated to until either things improve drastically or I die, whichever comes first.
There are several ways you can help. You can simply visit the reservation or donate via our crowdfunding effort or purchase the “Still Here.. Still Proud” T-shirts and/or forthcoming special edition Pine Ridge Extended Cut DVD. Or if you prefer, you can find a plethora of deserving organizations on the reservation to donate or volunteer like our pals at Red Cloud School or Re-Member.

With your help, they I’m confident things can and will get better. For more information on Raw Travel – Pine Ridge and to donate please go to www.crowdrise.com/rawtravel or for other ways you may choose to help then click the “How To Help” link at www.RawTravelPineRidge.com which will be updated as time goes on.

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ADOPT-A-NATIVE-ELDER 

While filming in Park City, Utah this summer I fortuitously came across a promotional flyer for a program called “Adopt A Native Elder” and was immediately intrigued. We made contact and interviewed founder, Linda Myer and her dedicated staff and volunteers at their warehouse in Salt Lake City where they were packing for an upcoming “Food Run”.  According to their website, the Adopt-A-Native-Elder Program exists to create a Bridge of Hope between Native Americans and other cultures.  They do this by providing food, medicine, clothing, fabric and yarns to help these Elders, some of whom are in their 80s and 90s or even older. 

As they have become elderly, it has become more difficult for them to support themselves on the Land in their traditional ways. After my interview with Linda and Roger, the organization’s Navajo interpreter and ambassador, I was so taken with the program that I pledged then and there to participate in an upcoming food run.

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Months later, I was finally able to fulfill my pledge by participating in the Many Farms Food Run in a remote area of the Navajo reservation in Arizona and it was as amazing as I expected.

I flew into Phoenix on some business the day before and then drove almost 5 hours to the meeting point in Chimle, Arizona. I arrived late at night at the lovely Best Western hotel in town and woke up early to meet up with the volunteers and to get briefed at breakfast.

Linda immediately spotted me and after our greeting graciously asked if I’d brought any long pants (I was wearing 3/4 length pants). Luckily I had. It turns out the Navajo are conservative and to show proper respect, the volunteers are asked to dress conservatively with the females wearing long skirts and men wearing long pants. No sleeveless t-shirts either. The main thing is to keep oneself covered.

Linda introduced me to the group of volunteers as I nervously apologized for my inappropriate dress (an unintentional but now long running theme throughout the show),  and everyone laughed. It was a jovial, giving and welcoming atmosphere with approximately 50 or so volunteers from all over the U.S. including Utah, California, Texas, Indiana and at least one other person from New York City.

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It was a somewhat older adult crowd with many retirees taking advantage to give back, but there were also younger folks and families with kids as well as solo travelers in attendance. The kids particularly impressed me with their selfless attitude and commitment. In my view, these kids are bound for a lifetime of giving, empathy and betterment. I spent a lot of time with them and found their maturity and character at such a young age simply inspiring.   

We left in convoy from the hotel and arrived at the gathering point on the reservation around mid morning before any elders would arrive, some making a several hour journey in from remote corners of the reservations and many arriving in walkers or wheelchairs, many of which had been donated. It was obvious that many rarely if ever are able to leave home but the ANE Foodruns are special occasion for these folks.

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Not only does the event allow them to stock up on food and other necessities to get them through the winter, they view these ANE occasions as social where they are able to fellowship and see old friends be they fellow tribes people or volunteers from ANE, many of whom have been coming for years and have developed long held bonds and relationships with the Natives.

Witnessing deep friendships that transcended generational, ethnic and cultural gaps was perhaps the most heartwarming part of the entire Food Run process

The elders were as sweet as could be and they and their caretakers (if they had them) of sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, etc., were grateful and appreciative. Many of the elders did not speak English but as always, smile and a warm handshake or hug bridged any language or cultural barrier. Some of the Natives also brought gifts for exchange (rugs, yarn, etc.) giving the event a festive rather than charitable feel. 

The ANE foodruns have been going on for over 30 years and by now, it’s run like a well oiled machine. Every possible scenario was covered and it was obvious this organization is a “waste not, want not” kind of place. The support that ANE receives goes directly to the native elders with very little administrative overhead that you would find in a larger organization.

They know by now the things that the elders most need. Items that might seem humdrum to you and I such as work gloves, knit hats, hand lotion, instant coffee, peanut butter, yarn, etc. Every elder is taken care of and every effort was made to create an event that was more of a celebration of a culture among good friends rather than a charity give away.  There were skits, entertainment, games and giveaways along with a wonderful buffet style lunch that was a mixture of Native and non Native food. 

Indeed, it was hard for me to keep a dry eye during the parts of the day. The love and good will flowing from Native to Non Native and back was palpable. When the young Native children showed up for their toys, I thought I would lose it.  Simple pleasures from kids who don’t know a thing about a computer or video game but who were absolutely thrilled with a new plastic toy car or action figure that most kids in our country today would simply sneer at. 

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The Elders.. the kids.. the volunteers… the love… the warmth.. in the peaceful (if hot and dusty) setting of the Arizona desert, it was surreal as well as a mind and life altering.

I hope I’m able to actually “adopt” a native elder or return on a Food Run soon and while it remains to be seen, it’s a memory I’ll treasure and keep for life.

I encourage you to find out about the ANE and see if it’s for you and if you are so moved, participate on a Food Run or Adopt-A-Native-Elder yourself. Please visit their website HERE and look for their segment in 2016 on Raw Travel.

 

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ROBOCOPP In the U.S. we live in a bubble. A too often violent, but comfortable (compared to most of the world) information bubble. As I commented to someone recently, the best way to experience one’s own country is to leave it and see it from another’s point of view, which is what happens to me when I travel. As a solo traveler, I take chances that I don’t take when I’m traveling with a camera crew. Not less of them mind you, just different ones. The thing about traveling solo is that you are a bit more vulnerable.. and that’s mostly a good thing as it’s easier to meet locals and people in general are warmer, more eager to help a single traveler than a camera crew from that dreaded five letter word “media”.

But as a male, used to walking the not so tough streets of NYC with a bit of an attitude, I have become adept to carrying myself in a certain manner when traveling. I feel I know pretty well by now when to act tough and unafraid (despite what may be going on in the inside) and when to be humble, respectful and blend into the people-scape (which is MOST of the time). Has it served me well? I don’t know. I’ve been victim of attempted muggings twice (not the word attempted – they didn’t succeed) and robbed once in a very non-violent moment of stupidity on my part. In all cases, I never felt my life was actually in danger. These were just young kids trying to get some quick money. They actually meant me no harm or they would have succeeded as I was outnumbered drastically in both cases.

They make great stories now in retrospect but when I was going through them… you can bet I was very afraid and hopped up on adrenaline. Now I don’t like to focus on the danger of travel often because the reality is, I often feel MUCH safer when I leave the U.S. than when here (you just don’t hear of mass gun shootings to the degree you do in the U.S. when abroad. I’ve wandered around remote parts of Venezuela in the middle of the night with nary a hair on my head harmed.. not that I recommend doing that however) and I think fear is a stupid reason not to do something. Fear in itself is not a bad thing. It’s there for a reason… but if it stops you from doing something and from living a life fully realized then it can be crippling and it’s sad to witness.

I’m so happy that more and more U.S. citizens are traveling abroad now, especially my younger amigos (millennials the marketing “geniuses” call them) who seem to really love our show. But also the older folks, who’ve come to the end of their careers and realized there is so much more to life than acquiring things. This isn’t a generational mindset, this is a collective consciousness of which I, you and others are finally realizing. Yes, the definition of the “American Dream” is changing and I’m happy to be a part of that change.

Anything that allows unfettered travel, to alleviate the fear of travel and encourages folks to travel more often to more off the beaten path places, well I am all for it. I was recently pitched this cool little product called the ROBOCOPP Grenade.

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It sounds violent but it isn’t at all and it’s incredibly useful, especially for female or vulnerable solo travelers. It’s a personal security alarm that is legal in places where pepper spray is not (like airplanes) and the portable alarm gadget is one some travelers shouldn’t go without.


But even more impressive to me are the strides this startup company is making to alleviate sexual assault and rape in places like India, Africa and all over the world. Yes, sadly, women get raped everywhere, but in developing nations where women are still considered 2nd class citizens, the fear of sexual assault can be a constant concern.

The smart folks at ROBOCOPP believe technology can be a force for good and is raising money for what I think is a very worthwhile cause and I wanted to share it here, so you could see and judge for yourself. Their video is below. 

I hope you’ll give look see and consider their personal alarm device. For me I think it’s a much more peaceful, consistent and intelligent way, to thwart trouble than walking around looking tough.

 

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U-HAPPY EVENTS – PHILIPPINES 

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This spotlight has been several months in development but I just couldn’t ignore the cool organization U-Happy Events in Manila Philippines. We weren’t able to hook up with U-Happy because of our busy schedule and short stay in Manila earlier this year, but we did communicate with them frequently in trying to arrange something and they were very organized and on top of things, which is just one reason why I wanted to feature them on our Social Entrepreneur Spotlight.

Harvard and his team at U-Happy Events are helping to fill an enormous opportunity for travelers to volunteer and give back to the youth of the Philippines, and yes, many of them are indeed impoverished and disadvantaged. But you wouldn’t necessarily know this by the attitude of the people in the Philippines. If there is a more optimistic, positive and happier group of people than Filipinos, I haven’t met them. And the children are simply a joy to be around. They really teach “entitled first world” citizens something about life. I’m not sure who’s lives are improved more after spending time with them, but I have a hunch, it’s the volunteers.

U-Happy Events  provides sustainable support, teaches values to marginalized children in the Philippines all while providing a platform for sponsors and volunteers to reach out to kids in need through creative activities. Since late 2006 they have organized more than 100 events per year by partnering with individuals and organizations to aid over 80 organizations focused on children all across the Philippines.

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What I love about U-Happy Events is how incredibly simple it is to get involved and give back, something sorely missing in many voluntourism organizations throughout the world. I’ts not complicated to give back, that’s one of our messages on Raw Travel and U-Happy fits that philosophy to a tee.  You can get involved by simply choosing from a list of available events and showing up. If you have an idea for a big event then you can help organize your own even through them. U-Happy provides full event coordination and implementation. They are, one stop shopping, in a sense for heartwarming give backs. Now that’s the kind of consumerism I can get behind.

If you are planning on visiting the Philippines (it’s magical) and wish to give back, check out our pals from U-Happy Events and I bet, you’ll also come back really happy.

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COPE CENTER – LAOS 

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During the U.S. Vietnam War, neighboring Laos was the most bombed country (per capita) in the history of warfare. The statistics are staggering. But screw statistics, let’s talk people.. flesh and blood. Today there are almost 80,000 UXOs (Un-exploded Ordinances) or land mine cluster bombs in rural parts of Laos. These cluster bombs were spread out and dropped so numerously and are so slow and dangerous to clean up that over the years, thousands of children (and adults) have been blown to bits or are missing limbs as a result of these still active bombs littering the countryside.

The U.S. and NGOs are helping some to clean up their mess but it’s painfully slow and in the meantime, more and more Laos people, some of the poorest in the world, can not afford the artificial limbs that could make their lives a bit easier. So they construct home made limbs out of wood, nails, etc. and do the best they can. This is where the Cope Center comes in.

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We visited last January and I was amazed at the situation in Laos and our general unawareness of it. I was even further dismayed by a couple of viewers of our show who wrote in outrage, not about the horrific situation in Laos with landmines, but instead that a village family had decided to kill the family duck to make a duck blood soup for us when we visited (a traditional meal for visitors in Laos).

Where are our priorities? One non factory farmed duck is killed to feed a family (they couldn’t just run down to the local grocery store as there wasn’t one in town, sorry) and we get emails of outrage, but tens of thousands of Laos children have been maimed or killed because of a controversial war decades ago and we barely hear a groan of protest.

I realize such is human nature and that most good people don’t take to the internet to express anything unless they are really, really angry about something. Well now I’ve seen a couple of emails trickle in after the fact, saddened by the situation in Laos and wishing to help.

I thought it would be a good time to put the Cope Center of Laos into the spotlight. The Cope Center is part museum, part fundraiser and part prosthesis factory. They not only educate visitors about the situation in Laos, they fund raise and allow poor Laos people affected by this tragedy to trade in their used, home made prosthesis for more modern versions made on site at their factory.

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When we visited, the people of Laos seemed some of the least bitter, sweetest, calmest folks I’ve ever come across during our travels. The fact that we were American didn’t seem to give them even the slightest pause as they treated us with hospitality, respect and dare I say, even joy.  I can’t say I’d feel the same if I were in their shoes, especially if I had those shoes on a prosthetic leg caused by a long lingering mess some warring super power nation had left decades ago while waging a secret war (google it, I’m no expert on history but I do know that much).

The Cope Center is in our Social Entrepreneur Spotlight this week in hopes that it will lead to a few visitors to their website where donations can be made. If you decide to visit Laos, I highly recommend taking some time from your sightseeing to visit the Cope Center in Vientiane, the capital city of Laos. It’s memorable and worthwhile and chances are, you’ll leave a changed person for it.

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PROJECT PEARLS – MANILA, PHILIPPINES 

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Manila is gritty and at first glance can feel slightly chaotic. It’s massive but it grows on you after a few days, at least it did for us. After all, it’s still the Philippines and people are still extensively helpful and friendly. But like any developing country it has it’s issues with poverty. We were privileged to hang with the fine folks of Project Pearls for a day to help them, help the kids of Tondo, a community of Garbage pickers set among one of the garbage dumps in Manila.

Project Pearls helped build a community center and they provide education help, health care, food, and most importantly to the 300 or so kids they help, fun and games, to children who often have no idea they are poor or disadvantaged. I was moved like never before during this volunteering opportunity, but it’s important to point out the people of Tondo don’t want pity… but they do need help and I’m thankful we were able to work with Project Pearls to do our very small part.  We’ll feature this visit on our upcoming episode Magical Manila set to premiere May 9th-10th, so be sure to tune in.  And if you are heading to the Philippines anytime soon and looking for a great way to give back, be sure to reach out to our pals from Project Pearls and tell them Raw Travel sent ya!

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Lower 9th Ward Living Museum – New Orleans

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Unless you have been living under a rock, you are most likely aware that in 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated much of New Orleans. It hit the working class neighborhood of the Lower 9th Ward particularly hard as they were positioned just below where the levees broke.

We were filming in New Orleans looking for Fats Domino’s house when we stumbled upon the Lower 9th Ward Living Museum and ended up doing a pretty cool profile on these guys that will are in February when Raw Travel – New Orleans premieres. We’re hoping you’ll tune in, of course, but in the meantime, I’d love it if you visited their page and during this special time of year you may even care to contribute to their fundraiser going on right now. They are doing really good stuff for the recovery effort, sadly, still going on the Lower 9th, but they are truly inspiring. If you happen to be in New Orleans, stop by and tell them Raw Travel TV sent you. No, it’s not your typical tourist experience but I sure I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Visit their website here and their facebook page here. 

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Leg Up Therapeutic Riding – Pulaski, TN

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I first heard about the folks at Leg Up Therapeutic Riding when my mother mentioned that my younger brother (unlike me an avid horseman) volunteered there on a regular basis.  When I further learned that most of the riders were kids, teens and adults with special issues such as MS, MD,  and other mental or physical special needs, I just assumed the riding was a bit of sunshine and fun in their daily routines of physical therapy.

Well it is, but it’s also, as the name suggests, therapeutic. Turns out riding helps their cognitive motor skills in ways that I could not imagine. . The connection between horse and rider, the balance needed to mount and ride gives the rider’s muscles a workout unlike any they can get in their day to day routine of physical therapy on the ground.

Therapeutic riding was discovered in Europe in the 1940s and today there are centers all over the U.S. and expanding quickly. But the one in my hometown of Pulaski is special to me for obvious reasons. The volunteers I spoke with were as grateful for the opportunity to learn the many life lessons they get from devoting time to those who are supposedly “less fortunate”.  But when I spoke to Georgia, little Annabella and other riders there, so full of love and joy, I wondered about that label of “less fortunate”.  There was lots of love and Leg Up and I felt good just being there.

Learn more about Leg Up when our Raw Travel Nashville and Middle Tennessee episode premieres the 3rd weekend of February 15-16th. It’s a good one.  And if you are interested in volunteering but no where near Middle Tennessee then try to google “Therapeutic Riding” and you may find a center in need of volunteers where you live.

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 Boston Living Center – Thanksgiving Dinner 

Our pal Aflredo Hernandez and hist Boston area friends are trying to raise some funds for a proper Thanksgiving Dinner to help those living with HIV /AIDS living in the Boston area. You can find out more information on how you can help by clicking HERE .

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Little Johns House

LITTLE JOHN’S HOUSE

Transylvania is simply amazing and is one of my favorite destinations in Eastern Europe. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that one of my favorite moments of the entire 6 week journey through Eastern Europe was when we stopped by Little John’s House, an orphanage and facility that helps to take care abandoned and special needs children in the Sibiu area of Transylvania, Romania.

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LJH has been around over 20 years, since just after the days of communism’s fall, and are desperately trying to fill a gap that the Romanian government is unable or unwilling to fill. We met some of the kids of LJH and they were outgoing and friendly and you could tell they were loved. I shudder to think what would happen to them were it not for the dedicated staff members and volunteers who make Little John’s House  possible.

Little John’s House is now embarking on a expansion project that would allow them to buy a farm nearby and therefore be able to help more kids in the area. You can find out more about the fine folks of Little John’s House when Raw Travel features them on our Transylvania episode coming up in early November 2014. But in the meantime, check them out online and help spread there word. These are good people, unsung heroes, doing amazing work. They deserve our support.

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DREAM MISSIONS

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Our Social Entrepreneur Spotlight this week is on DreamMissions, a simple but good idea to bring good things to the children near some of the world’s most touristic destinations.

Their next cruise is coming up soon and sailing out of Los Angeles. Find out more information on it here at cruisinfordreammissions.com

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147 million orphans2

147 Million Orphans

Giving a shout out to the good folks from my old home town of Nashville, Tennessee and the founders of 147 Million Orphans. Their organization’s name is based on the fact that there are approximately 147 million orphans worldwide.  I saw them on the local news while home visiting family and was intrigued. I checked out their website and decided to make them our Social Entrepreneur Spotlight.

147 Million Orphans was founded by Gwen & Stephanie, a couple of Nashville moms who wanted to help bring awareness to the worldwide orphan crisis while helping to provide food, clean water and medicine to children in need worldwide. They also assist adoptive families with fundraising through the sale of original, one of a kind, handmade products from a talented group of international artisans.

This kind of stuff is right up our alley. Give 147 Million Orphans a look-see HERE  and let ’em know Raw Travel TV sent ya.

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GO ERIN GO!

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I stumbled upon “Go Erin Go” when googling something or another on our upcoming trip to Eastern Europe. There are about a bazillion travel bloggers out there, and I love them all by the way :), but Erin is so much more than just another travel blogger. I don’t personally know Erin but it’s very clear that giving back is a BIG part of her seemingly very busy and very full life. Her site is designed to inspire others about the joys of voluntourism and giving back and she makes it easy to volunteer, something which may sound simple, but can actually be, on occasion quiet complicated, especially for the uninitiated. Go Erin go 2Case in point, the GIVING U section of her website. She features Donate My Dollars (she’s raised A LOT of $ btw), Hot Organizations and most impressively for me, a free Giving Guide PDF just  for signing up to her newsletter. I need another newsletter like a hole in the head, but I signed up because this is one I really think I will read. I subsequently downloaded the free guide and I love it. I bet you will too.

Check out Go Erin Go and give her a shout out for all the good work she is doing and if you are so inspired, maybe even a hand.

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Roma BootsROMA BOOTS:

For some reason Romania fascinates me. So I made sure to include it on my agenda when traveling through Eastern Europe in the summer of 2012. I spent a fascinating week in Bucharest, wandering it’s streets and getting to know it’s people and culture. And for the 1st time in my life, became somewhat aware of the plight of Europe’s gypsy population. It was eye opening and I vowed to return to learn  more. Well now that Raw Travel is a reality, I am happy to announce, I will be returning to Romania, this time with camera crew in tow. We are in the planning stages now on an entire Eastern European tour that will hopefully shed light on Eastern Europe in a way few, if any, other television or travel shows have.

I was cleaning out my junk (spam) email box when I paused over the delete button when I saw the subject line of one email that said “Rain Boots Changes Lives”. I was intrigued and read further and the more I read, the more I saw the more I knew I had to do something to help spread the word of this very worthwhile cause.

According to their website Roma Boots is a ‘buy one give one’ fashionable rain boot company headquartered in Dallas, Texas and founded in 2010 by Romanian born Samuel Bistrian who wanted to help children in his home country by combining his love of fashion and philanthropy. 

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Their mission is to give poverty the boot by bringing street children and orphans hope, love and lasting change in a sustainable and practical way. For every pair of Roma Boots sold, a brand new pair is donated to a child in need in places like Romania, Moldova, Guatemala, etc. Additionally, 10% of all sales proceeds go to the Roma For All Foundation to help these children break out of their cycle of poverty and despair.

Find out about Roma Boots by visiting their website HERE or watching the moving video of founder Samuel Bistrian as he tells his story much more eloquently than I. I hope we can do more to help Roma give poverty the boot, perhaps maybe even participate in a boot drop when we’re in Romania later this summer.

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Edeyo Foundation – Helping Haiti

Edeyo2 It’s been 4 years since the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Even before the earthquake, Haiti was not an easy place to grow up. The Edeyo Foundation is a NYC based organization trying to change that for Haitian schoolchildren by raising money to educate disadvantaged Haitian children.

There are a number of volunteer opportunities available with Edeyo for those aspiring to make a difference in the lives of children in Haiti. Volunteer opportunities include fundraising, grant writing, marketing and communications, and social media, as well as, research and administrative work and more. See the “Get Involved” section on their website for ways you can help.

We want to shine the spotlight on Edeyo for the work they are doing and remind people that Haiti is still a place very much in need of all the support we can give. Check Edayo out at their website and facebook page to support. I hope we can get there soon with Raw Travel and shine an even brighter spotlight.

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MaxLove Brand

Mission – MaxLove Project is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing families fighting childhood cancers and life-threatening conditions with accessible, practical, and kid-friendly whole-body wellness.Max Love ProjectInspired by SuperMax Wilford, a six-year-old fighting brain cancer, MaxLove Project is a 100% volunteer-driven, grassroots nonprofit organization founded to help SuperKids thrive against cancer and life-threatening conditions. Learn more about Max Love Project HERE.

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TRAVELERS AGAINST PLASTIC

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So you guys know by now that drinking “pure” water from a plastic bottle is kind of silly right? Water from plastic water bottles is probably full of poisonous chemicals from the plastic and the bottles themselves are a huge environmental problem, especially in developing countries where recycling is not up to speed.

But you also know that clean water while traveling is a big issue as well. I’ve done such a poor job in the past, buying those plastic water bottles for me and my crew, the whole time, knowing there was a better way and just not doing it. Well, no more. I just took the pledge over at Traveler’s Against Plastic (TAP) so you will NEVER see me drinking from a plastic water bottle again..well, never say never, but the deal is I am truly committing myself (and my crew) to doing what’s right for both our health and the environment by just saying “no” to plastic water bottles.

I do such a terrible job explaining this and Chris from TAP does such a great job, I think I’ll let her tell you. If you are still drinking water from plastic water bottles, do yourself (and the planet) a big favor and take 2:30 minutes from your life and watch her video and if so moved, take the pledge against plastic. In a complicated world, this is a real no brainer. After you see the video, take the pledge and follow them on Facebook and/or twitter and be sure and tell your friends and fellow travelers.