Packing for a purpose can change lives in poor communities
SOMETIMES big change can be motivated by the smallest of observations. When Rebecca Rothney and her husband, Scott, first visited Africa, they lamented the wastage of their unused baggage allowance.
‘‘We were going to very remote areas and had this gigantic luggage allowance we couldn’t use.
‘ ‘ We could only carry 10kg [once in Africa] because we were travelling in very small planes,’’ Rothney says.
The Raleigh, North Carolina, couple were soon plotting their next visit, and this time they filled their suitcases with educational supplies. Tour operator Wilder- ness Safaris agreed to transport the items from Johannesburg to a school supported by it in Botswana, Mabele Primary School; Rothney had made her first, crucial contact and discovered a bottomless well of need.
‘ ‘ There wasn’t a ruler in the school,’’ she recalls.
‘‘The kids were playing with a ball of rags tied up with plastic to use as a soccer ball.’’
The situation was even more dire in Kenya, as Rothney found out when she asked Lewa Medical Clinic (supported by the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy) which items it needed most.
‘ ‘ They said [ they needed] a stethoscope and a blood pressure cuff,’’ she says.
‘‘I was truly appalled. How can you have a clinic and not have a stethoscope?’’
Jolted by this scenario, Rothney asked her travel agent why his clients weren’t automatically taking much-needed supplies with them on their overseas adventures. ‘‘Because they don’t think about it,’’ came the reply.
‘‘I thought, ‘I will give them a way to think about it’,’’ Rothney says. She bribed her friends — a lawyer, accountant and web designer among them — with homemade chocolate chip cookies, and together they developed her idea for Pack for a Purpose, a not-forprofit that connects travellers with disadvantaged communities in the countries they’re visiting.
The organisation lists tour operators and the educational, health, environmental and poverty-alleviation programs they support, and advertises the programs’ needs on its website; tour operators, in turn, distribute items that have been donated by guests.
‘ ‘ Hopefully you never spend more than 10 minutes on our website. You should be able to go to it, find where you’re staying, find out what they need, and be off,’’ Rothney says. ‘‘Travellers know that what they’re taking is what is really needed by the community — not just what you think they’d like, but what they truly need.’’
In just over two years, Pack for a Purpose has grown to include more than 200 partners in about 40 countries. Travellers have embraced Rothney’s mission enthusiastically, distributing everything from pencils, rulers and solar calculators to diabetic test kits, birthing forceps and GPS devices for use by anti-poaching teams. And while the website is designed to connect guests effortlessly with the projects supported by their listed tour operators, Pack for a Purpose is committed to facilitating the generosity of all travellers.
‘‘I had a group of 10 women who were going to Istanbul and they all wanted to bring supplies, but they weren’t staying at the [listed] RitzCarlton,’’ Rothney says. ‘ ‘ So I introduced them to the person in charge of the project at the hotel, who was not only happy to pick up the supplies but they actually invited the ladies for tea.’’
Eight years after that first trip to Africa — a continent Rothney and her husband have since visited another six times — the former schoolteacher says she won’t rest until every location and reputable operator is represented on her website. ‘‘Because then no matter where you’re going, you will probably have the opportunity to be gracious. I don’t think it’s about charity — its about graciousness to the community that you’re receiving a benefit from.’’ More: packforapurpose.org.