The Journey Measured in Friends

Last night, I travelled the world. From my chair on the beach in the Dominican Republic, I visited Ireland, Madrid, London, Canada, Argentina, Italy, and Uganda. I learned about political unrest, national dishes, international aid, and family dynamics. I became aware of fascinating differences and humbling similarities, all from people I had just met.

When travelling, I find that I share more of myself—in ways I haven’t with even my closest friends. I have listened more intently to stories that inspired and stories that broke my heart. I have rediscovered a desire to deeply know people, and have been moved by their desire to deeply know me. I’ve crammed an entire relationship into a weekend and I’ve fallen in love.

In just a small step-up from the “Fight Club”-single serving airplane friends, why are travel relationships so powerful? What makes people share, listen, laugh, dance, so much easier than in their ‘regular’ lives?

Perhaps it is a sense of urgency that makes travel relationships so powerful. If you’re lucky, you might have a few days—though too often,  even less time—to discover everything you could want to know about a person.

Maybe, it’s being far from home. Being outside of our normal communities and comfort zones makes us vulnerable. We let go of reservations and ask or share whatever is on our mind. It seems as though the notion of travel, a little like college, gives us a clean slate. We can be whoever we’d like to be.

I think travel is a risk, and it opens you up to taking risks on people too.

This morning, the good-byes seemed as though we were parting with childhood friends. Travel had turned singleserving friends into partners in adventure. In a rare moment of vulnerability, these good-byes made me choke up.… Read more

Sex Tourism in the Dominican Republic: Asking the right questions

As I fumbled with my fancy new camera trying to sneak a picture of a 200 pound, 50+ year-old white man holding a teen Dominican girl, the “uh-oh feeling” reiterated to me that all you need to know, you learned in kindergarden. With that simple feeling, I struggled to believe in this relationship, or the pretense of one.

It is very easy to say, “it’s none of my/our business,” “it’s every woman’s choice,” or “there will always be a demand and it’s a way to generate income.” However, the slippery slopes that are those arguments often overlook the complexities of the sex industry.

The Dominican Republic is statistically the 4th largest exporter of prostitutes in the world behind Brazil, Thailand and the Philippines, and ranks in the top two for sex tourism.² While laws prohibit sex with those under age 18, prostitution is neither illegal nor legal in the Dominican Republic. And although it is practiced openly and widely accepted as legal by police, the legal gray area leaves women powerless.” ¹ An article on the Dominican Republic’s DR1 website, ironically framed by wet t-shirts and ads for Dominican Cupid, describes the high prostitution rates, criticizes the ‘choices’ of these women, and describes many of the causes of these staggering statistics in the tropical paradise.

First and foremost, the Dominican Republic suffers from a very high poverty rate. Over 25% of the Dominican population is said to be living below the poverty line. Educational standards are very low and the majority of people living in the campo (countryside) stop attending school at a young age. The adult literacy rate is a low 87.8 percent. For most, there is little or no opportunity. Unemployment is at a staggering 17% and many, who do have jobs, work for very

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Locally owned means much more than where you were born

One project we support, and consider one of the most trusted and sustainable, in the Dominican Republic is not run by a Dominican. In our commitment to transparency, we believe we should explain how Tim Hall, a Canadian, and the Tubagua Eco Plantation fits our criteria of locally owned and a sustainable part of community development.

The easiest way to see what is important to someone is also language used to govern non-profit boards, ‘time, talent, and treasure.’ If you want to see what people (and organizations) value most, look at where they spend their time, talent, and their money.

Over the four years I have personally been involved with Tubagua, I have witnessed efforts in a variety of areas to improve their local community. Tim invests in his staff,  paying them well above local standards, creating savings accounts and plans, and working with them to provide training on how to become better guides, cooks, and hosts. He has aided as president of a local municipality group to develop Puerto Plata’s community based tourism clusters. Tubagua hosts groups of volunteers, creates customized educational trips in medical, economic development, and cultural studies programs, has worked to grow and educate local farmers on alternative cash crops (such as moringa), and is now discussing the benefits and potential project of providing land for a local community center.

The “Foreign Owned” label is not inherently wrong. Often, foreign owned refers to an individual or company owning and managing a business or property that does not live in the country. All inclusive resorts tend to ship in many of their products, and even book packages abroad with very minimal amounts of money cycling through the local economies where the trips are actually taking place. Locally owned does not necessarily mean to define someone’s ethnicity, but … Read more

We aught to saunter reverently. An idea from the great John Muir

On a Sierra Club Outing, author Albert Palmer tells of a conversation he had with John Muir on the trail. He asked Muir, “someone told me you did not approve of the word “hike.” Is that so?” His blue eyes flashed, and with his Scotch accent he replied:

“I don’t like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains – not hike! Do you know the origin of that word ‘saunter?’ It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, ‘A la sainte terre,’ ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.”

Join Onwards for a trip and saunter reverently through mountains, oceans, waterfalls, rainforest, and more.

– John Muir, as quoted by Albert W. Palmer, The Mountain Trail and its Message (1911) pages 27-28 – excerpted in A Parable of Sauntering .… Read more

Stop helping. How you can make a bigger impact in community development

The world needs more passionate, giving, global minded people. But when it comes to community development, your volunteer trip, mission, or donation is likely not going as far as it could.

A trusted friend and former colleague of a missions organization recently told me of a conversation she had with a Youth Director about his summer missions trip. The group was from Arkansas, and serving on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in South Dakota, one of the most devastating areas of poverty in the United States.

The group of 75 volunteers paid a grand total of $45,000 for their week-long mission trip, or $600 a person. The youth director was surprised, however, to discover that the organization’s construction budget for work projects for their week was $6,500, coming in at under 14% of the total trip budget.

The facts…

This 14%, or $6,500, was spent on construction materials. Bricks, wood, cement, paint etc. purchased from the nearest big city (Rapid City in this case). The volunteer lodging was donated by a local school. The food budget was spent at Costco, also in Rapid City, two hours away. Vans were rented in the volunteer’s home-town for transportation. The rest of the $45,000 not spent on food, transportation, and the 14% on construction materials, was inherently spent on summer staffing (although most staff raised their own support), overall organization staffing and expenses, and other program materials for the organization, such as tools, band equipment, gas/vehicles etc.

Now, I am not one to criticize nonprofits simply for the “demonic label of overhead” as Dan Pallotta calls it in my favorite Ted Talk titled “The way we think about charity is dead wrong.” In order to make true impact, nonprofits need to scale and the percentage of overhead does not relate to the scale … Read more