Packing for a pur­pose can change lives in poor com­mu­ni­ties

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - CATHER­INE MAR­SHALL

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.

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