This is about how travel led me to dream up a project and a team of friends I could never imagine before!
I’ve been traveling the world since I was 16 years old, and I’ve always been – and still am – fascinated how vast and different it is. My travel preference is definitely adventure and exploration. Take me to the most remote indigenous village somewhere in Indonesia and I’d be the happiest person in the world.
However the more I traveled, the more I saw how exclusive this whole travel thing is. While we can meet the amazing and curious backpackers from, say, America or Germany, in all the parts of the world, like the Mexican jungle or Himalayan wilderness – I don’t see too many local Nepali or Mexican backpackers roaming the world, or even exploring their own beauties. That’s how the idea of Girls Empowered by Travel was born. Last year, 2016. In the shower. Almost classy:)
I wanted – somehow – to try to promote travel among the people, particularly girls, all over the world – especially in places where travel is not really accessible for girls and not very common. I got two friends – one girl from Mexico and one from Brazil – who liked the idea, and we started to brainstorm how the hell we could do this.
The idea came: to establish local chapters around the world, called Girls Travel Circles (GTCs), which will be creating opportunities for local girls to travel. We are talking local travel here. The idea is to encourage girls to get out of their everyday surroundings (usually, small villages that they never leave), go explore and learn experientially.
We wanted to go beyond the idea of just traveling and add a community service/ projects element here. That’s how the idea of meaningful travel was born. By meaningful travel we understand that the girls from the start put some meaning, or mission, in their travels. It can be creating space for girls and women, capacity (skills) building, social engagement, community development and other positive changes in women’s and community lives.
We define the overall mission of GET as to empower girls through travel and community service. It’s for the local girls and by the local girls, anywhere in the world, where we will be able to encourage local girls to create a travel circle. The idea is that they’d decide themselves what kind of projects they want to do, for example hiking trips, trips to orphanages, trips to remote communities (field study, delivering educational classes for girls in these remote and often marginalized communities, etc.). Girls get to travel around their own area, learn something, do something amazing, benefitting their communities, while having fun with their friends! And we – the “board” – will remotely support them by helping run the circles, applying for grants, running a blog/ website, crowdfunding, etc.
Sounds great! Right? Right! And of course it’s easier said than done. I thought that with such an amazing idea we’d see GTCs pop up all over the world in no time. Haha, so funny in retrospective:) For now we have only one GTC – in Nepal. The country that stole my heart almost three years ago, when I hiked to the Everest Base Camp and volunteered in a Buddhist monastery. It’s such a gorgeous country, so many backpackers come to hike and sightsee every year. But you’d hardly ever see locals traveling around, unless they are tour guides. And traveling local girls are almost non-existent.
Long story short – I contacted many many local girls on couchsurfing.org, who displayed interest not only in travel, but also community work. Don’t judge me hard, you have to start somewhere:) Out of many, few replied, very few eventually met, and one of them – the wonderful Sajana Bhadel – eventually became the chairperson of the board of Girls Empowered by Travel – Nepal, a registered NGO.
What? Yes, I sometimes have to still pinch myself in disbelief, but as of couple days ago – September 11, 2017 GET Nepal got officially registered!!!
Up till now, it’s been a fun and quite bumpy road! Girls organized quite a few amazing events and programs. To name a few: a day summer camp for girls in Changunarayan Village, hike + photography workshop, 2-day leadership and project management workshop, trips to orphanages. And probably the biggest event – an all-girl futsal tournament, for which we managed to fundraise $1,000. I should also mention, that we’re trying to cooperate with other local NGOs, since it makes so much sense to join resources.
We also launched a website/ blog www.girlsempoweredbytravel.org/. And now we are working on a big ambitious project – we are renovating a house in Changunarayan village and making a cultural homestay for tourists, to economically empower local community, especially women. But that deserves a separate article.
It’s just the beginning. Even in Nepal, we are still in the process of finding our niche/ voice/ brainstorming ideas and figuring our who we are! And I’m still not letting go of the idea of spreading it further on to other places around the world. It’s free to dream and dreams have a tendency to manifest themselves in reality, don’t they?:)