Travel is a privilege — even budget travel.
The ability to hold a passport and purchase a plane ticket to another country is a luxury not afforded to most people around the world — including many in my own country.
That’s the reason I created FLYTE over five years ago. Travel has changed my life completely, and I wanted students who didn’t grow up with the same privileges as me to have that same opportunity. So many inequities exist in our world today. The least we can do is try to give back to help balance the scale.
The goal of FLYTE is to empower youth from underserved communities through transformative travel experiences. Since 2015, we’ve worked with six schools and nearly a hundred students, who have collectively traveled roughly 300,000 miles around the world. They come from communities where international travel is not readily accessible, so these trips give them the opportunity to get on a plane for the first time, helping them understand the vastness of the world — and their power to change it for the better.
To make these experiences as impactful as possible, we work hard to ensure that these trips maximize the benefit to the communities our students visit.
While we give the teachers and students the power to craft their itinerary so that their trip reflects what they’re learning in the classroom, one of the few requirements we have is that there is also some type of service or learning component.
We’re very intentional about what this involves, as the ethics around volunteering and travel are complicated. All too often, volunteers benefit more than the communities they visit. We want to avoid that.
Besides volunteering, another powerful way to make sure your tourism donors sustain the areas you visit is to support social enterprises. These are local businesses that don’t rely on grants or donations but rather are financially sustained through sales of products or services, the profits from which directly go back to the community to fund various social initiatives.
Today, I wanted to highlight a few of the nonprofit organizations and social enterprises that our students and our team have visited around the world in hopes that you’ll be inspired to visit them on your next trip:
Casa Victoria – Quito, Ecuador
Our FLYTE students traveled to Quito in 2017. While searching for an organization for them to work with, Jackie and Christine (the teachers leading this trip) were deeply inspired by Alicia Durán-Ballén, who recognized that she could no longer wait around for her community to improve — she had to be the change herself.
Casa Victoria, which she founded, is a nonprofit program that provides academic help, social support, and hot meals to the youngest members of the community.
The FLYTE students brought Snap Circuits, a gadget used in the Robotics Club back at Excelsior Academy in Newburgh, New York, for the kids at Casa Victoria. They also volunteered their time and learned to cook traditional Ecuadorian food.
Para la Naturaleza – Puerto Rico
Para la Naturaleza works to protect the natural ecosystem in Puerto Rico, which our next group of FLYTE students from New Orleans will be visiting next summer (or when it’s safe to travel again) in order to work on coastal restoration and reforestation projects throughout the island. Coming from a city that understands the impact of the climate crisis, these students will be able to learn from this experience so they can create meaningful change in their own neighborhoods.
Konojel – San Marcos, Guatemala
Konojel’s goal is to reduce chronic malnutrition and endemic poverty in San Marcos. When our students from Victor, Montana, traveled there in 2018, they learned about the reality of life in a rural village. They had the opportunity to visit and volunteer at the community center where undernourished children receive healthy meals and educational enrichment. Together, they broke down cultural differences by reading books together and playing football and basketball.
As Lindsey, the teacher leading this trip, shared, “These multicultural connections we were forging made the news from home of separated immigrant families at the border seem both unbelievable but also conquerable if we simply continue to foster friendships and understanding, like those I was seeing form in a matter of days.”
WAS Foundation – Bali, Indonesia
Bali is known for its idyllic beaches, Insta-worthy rice paddies, and yoga retreats. But there is more to the island than that. The WAS Foundation allows tourists to dive deeper, by organizing beach cleanups and recycling workshops to preserve and sustain the natural environment. It also conducts workshops on traditional wellness practices for local youth and the wider community.
Crabtree & Evelyn, FLYTE’s major partner, also supports this organization as part of its philanthropic efforts.
Amigos de Santa Cruz – Santa Cruz, Guatemala
During our FLYTE trip to Guatemala, students visited this social enterprise that aims to improve the lives of the indigenous people of Santa Cruz and surrounding villages through support for education and sustainable economic empowerment. In addition, the organization has an artisan store where local women can earn a fair living wage through their sewing, weaving, and beading handicrafts. Our students learned about Mayan cuisine from Claudia, a Santa Cruz resident, who taught a cooking class.
Experience Real Cartagena – Cartagena, Colombia
One of the big highlights of our 2019 trip to Colombia was the students’ journey to Barrio San Francisco with Alex Rocha from Experience Real Cartagena. His tours are designed to make deeper connections with the marginalized communities of Colombia. The proceeds from these tours fund an after-school program. Our students had an opportunity to meet with some of these youths and participate in activities like drawing, dancing, and soccer.
This was also a chance for both our students and chaperones to talk to the local youth to learn about what their life is like, which helped them form connections between their two worlds. Aliza, a student, felt that this was the highlight of the trip because she “was able to see the kids and understand their environment and how they live every day.” Another student, Jany, reflected on “how they make the best out of what they have. They’re grateful and humble and always try to find something positive.”
Akha Ama Coffee – Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai is a remote-worker hot spot, and as a result, there is no shortage of cafés in the area. However, Akha Ama Coffee serves fine cups of fair-trade coffee that’s sourced from the villages around Chiang Mai. Blogger Shannon O’Donnell visited there and wrote about the collective of coffee growers that “represent 14 families from the Maejantai village area who have joined together under one brand to increase their ability to control, market, and command fair prices for the coffee they grow. They formed the collective so each family could bring in more money and thus assure themselves fair wages with which to obtain an education for their children and modern conveniences.”
Sheroes Hangout – Agra, Indi
While visiting the Taj Mahal may be the highlight of a trip to Agra, a visit to Sheroes Hangout might be just as powerful of an experience. This is a center for women’s empowerment, where survivors of acid attacks and other social crimes operate a café, community center, and handicraft store. These inspiring women have lived through the most heinous of situations, and Sheroes Hangout provides them with a safe space to connect, share their stories, and create a sustainable livelihood.
With the privilege of travel comes the responsibility to be mindful of how we spend our time and money. Even though our world has many complex challenges and injustices, there are also many individuals and communities committed to changing it for the better. We’re so grateful to learn about these organizations and hope that both you and our FLYTE students have the chance to do so as well.
What nonprofits and social enterprises have you visited abroad? We’d love to grow this list, so please comment below with any experiences that have really impacted you on your travels!
P.S. – Want more students to have opportunities to visit ethical tourism opportunities and social enterprises abroad? Donate to FLYTE below! Our work has been funded by thousands of donations, and we couldn’t do this work without our generous community.