Wander Globally, Act Locally

In the course of my global journeys, I’ve come across a lot of inspiring people—travelers who remind me that my acute case of wanderlust only increases my responsibility as a citizen of this planet. I call these good-natured wanderers “vagabond philanthropists,” and admire them for teaching me that you don’t have to be a billionaire, or wait to obtain fancy nonprofit status (though some do) to help out. The most important thing is to start right now, wherever you may be, and to work with what is in front of you.

Even though they can’t seem to settle in one place, these vagabonds see themselves as global citizens and act accordingly. My “With This Ring Project” is an effort to follow their example, and further their efforts.

Here are a few of the vagabond philanthropists I’d like to support:


Name: James Hopkins (United States)
Project: Quilts for Kids Nepal (Kathmandu, Nepal)

Nepal Quilts, Janes and villagerI met James Hopkins during a visit to Nepal in November 2008. James is a perfect example of how a traveler can dig in and create a sense of community anywhere.

While pursuing his Buddhist studies near Boudhnath stupa in Kathmandu, James came across a tent village tucked in a vacant lot near his house. Amid the strung-up tarps and makeshift living quarters, he befriended a group of poor but thriving Rajasthani beggars. Impressed by their entrepreneurial spirit, James helped them source fabric scraps and old saris in order to start a quilt-making business.

Unbound by traditional ideas, their quilt designs are totally original. Each quilt sells for just $150—enough to send a village child to school for a year. James sends the payment directly to the school as tuition.

I loved my visit to the tent village and wrote about the experience here

Project website: www.quiltsnepal.org

Goal Met: 20 quilts ($3,000)

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Name: Scott Mason (England)
Project: Himalayan Raptor Rescue (Pokhara, Nepal)

Himalayan Raptor, Scott holding raptorI met Scott Mason during my trip to Nepal. Ten years ago he was a British backpacker wandering the Lakeside district of Pokhara. After taking a tandem paragliding flight in the hills above town and soaring alongside raptors, Mason wondered if he could train birds-of-prey to fly with pilots. A longtime falconer, Mason was sure it was possible.

Once he’s learned to pilot a paraglider himself, Mason was given two Black Kite chicks that were rescued from a destroyed nest. He raised the chicks, and before long was pioneering the training techniques that would result in a new sport: parahawking. Mason now owns a small business offering tandem parahawking flights.

Amid the thrills of flying and running a successful business, Scott has become aware of the struggles of the Himalayan Vulture. Since the early 1990s, there has been an estimated 98-percent decline in three species of vulture across Nepal and India. The cause is Diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory drug commonly administered to cattle. When the vultures feed on the cattle, they are exposed to the drug, and ultimately die of kidney failure.

To address the plight of his feathered friends, Scott began the Himalayan Raptor Rescue: an organization whose mission is to rehabilitate sick and injured birds, and release them back into the wild. Mason partners with another organization, Vulture Rescue, to extend the reach of his efforts.

I would like to use some of the ring funds to sponsor Scott’s birds and to help further the efforts of Vulture Rescue.

View the article I wrote about my parahawking experience for The Oregonian here

Project website: www.himalayanraptorrescue.org

Goal Met: Establish a Vulture Restaurant (a safe-feeding zone for vultures)

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Name: Allison Trafton (United States)
Project: Oumar Coulibay’s nursing school tuition (Koroguelenbougou, Mali)

Allison with Villagers in MaliIt isn’t just the big broad causes that inspire travelers to pitch in. Sometimes it can be a single individual. Allison Trafton was a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali, Africa from 2001 to 2003. While working to install water systems in the village, she met Oumar Coulibay. Oumer stood out as a particularly motivated villager.

“Like so many men in Mali,” Allison told me, “his dream was to go to France and Spain to make money to send home, and live a more modern life. But as an illegal immigrant, that road would be hard and possibly fatal.” Allison and fellow volunteers have encouraged Oumar to stay and help out in his village and his country. They are combining their money to split the cost of his nursing school tuition ($750/ year). I would like to direct some of the ring money to assist Allison in helping her friend Oumar.

Goal Met: one year tuition ($750)

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Name: Pamela Rojas (Chile)
Project: Veternary Work (Yelapa, Mexico)

It’s hard to travel Mexico without noticing the decrepit condition of our canine friends over the border. Everywhere they wander the streets thin, mangy, and often injured. Veterinarian Pamela Rojas did her part to help change this after moving to Yelapa from Chile ten years ago. After noticing the profusion of stray dogs in the village, she set up a clinic to spay and neuter them. She also encouraged the local community to forge a better relationship to the dogs, helping to make Yelapa the canine heaven it is today. Now, even the strays have it pretty good in Yelapa; the 4-leggeds look pretty well fed and spend most their days on the beach, fetching coconut husks tossed by locals and tourists.

Goal Met: ($1,000)

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Name: Marc Gold (United States)
Project: 100 Friends

Marc Gold with Indian villagerWhen Marc Gold was in India in 1989, he bought a $1.00 antibiotic that saved a woman’s life. After realizing how a small amount of money can go a long way in developing countries, he returned home and contacted 100 friends to share his realization. His friends gave him $2,200 to take back to India. This was the beginning of 100 Friends—an organization that has continued to grow over the last 20 years.

By the end of 2008, Marc calculated that he’d distributed over $600,000 directly in the hands of people in need across the globe. I like Marc Gold’s organization because it’s small, direct, simple and effective. And Marc is as unassuming philanthropist as you are likely to find.

Project website: www.100friends.org

Goal Met: $3,000

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Name: Jeff Greenwald
Project: Ethical Traveler

Ethical TravelerIn the course of his work, travel writer Jeff Greenwald realized the enormous impact travelers have as “accidental ambassadors.” Where we choose to travel, how we behave, and the way spend our money can have far reaching effects. Ethical Traveler was born out of this revelation. Aside from launching campaigns against environmental abuses and trafficking, the organization issues guidelines for etiquette while traveling. ET is best known for its well-researched list of the top 10 ethical destinations. Ethical Traveler gets to the essence of what it means to be a vagabond philanthropist.

Project website: www.ethicaltraveler.org

Goal Met: $2,000

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Name: Subhash Ghimire (Northfield, Minnesota)
Project: The Sarswati Foundation (Nepal)

portrait Subhash GhimireAt the age that I was making house-party cocktails with 190-proof Ever-clear, 22-year old Subhash Ghimire is changing the world. Already he’s started The Sarswati Foundation—a youth-led project to transform societies crippled by war violence, and poverty. He’s also organized summer camps in western Nepal, where war-affected children can rediscover the joys of childhood by participating in dance, theater and art. “By the end of the camp,” Sunhash observes, “the children no longer sketch guns, and instead draw books and birds.”

Subhash has been invited to speak at the European Summit for Global Transformation in Rotterdam in November. He is definitely one-to-watch!

Though he’s recently traveled from Western Nepal to Minnesota to pursue a degree in Political Science a St. Olaf college, he’s not exactly a “vagabond” traveler, so his project is a little off-topic here. But I couldn’t resist. And, besides, I get to make (and break) the rules around here J

His current goal is to sponsor Nepalese children to attend school.

Project Website: www.sarswatifoundation.org

Goal Met: $3,000 (80 scholarships)

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Name: Alicia Harmon
Project: Escuela Bilingüe Los Algarrobos

Escuela Bilingue Los AlgarrobosAlicia Harmon thought she was merely on a paragliding adventure when she arrived in the fishing village of Canoa, Ecuador. But after days of sunshine and coastal flights, she met an artist-expat named Moya--or “Moyita” as the locals affectionately called her.

Moya is the director of Escuela Bilingue Los Algarrobos, a school that provides educational opportunities for low-income children in the community (Canoa families typically live on only $85/month). During Alicia’s first visit, the school wasn’t yet finished, but she promised to return when it was up and running. When Moya invited her back to volunteer, Alicia booked her ticket right away.

“It was truly one of the most personal calls to action I have ever given my full attention to and it has already been paid back a million times over.”

The school is always in a struggle to stay afloat financially, but is rich in community support and parent involvement.

Project Website: www.jamesdeanbyrdfoundation.org

Goal Met: $3,000 (hire a teacher for a year)

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