Rhea Simms

Boosting a craft workshop in Kyrgyzstan

Meet Mekenbek

Mekenbek is a passionate artist that has spent his life producing traditional Kyrgyz crafts. Mekenbek started a workshop in Barksoon village that primarily produces yurts and yurt decorations. Ak Orgo’s purpose is to preserve traditional Kyrgyz handicrafts while providing employment opportunities for the town of Barskoon, a community suffering with 80% unemployment.

The Ak Orgo Workshop

Planeterra works with community organizations and nonprofits all over the world, using tourism as a catalyst for empowerment and sustainable development.

Here is one example of how we brought on our newest partner, Ak Orgo, in the small town of Barskoon in Kyrgyzstan.

Finding Ak Orgo
The Ak Orgo workshop has actually been featured in Lonely Planet, and was found by a G Adventures’ CEO in Central Asia. G Adventures’ groups started visiting Ak Orgo in 2018, but it was clear that some additional training and infrastructure development was needed to see this workshop achieve its social enterprise goals through tourism.

Infrastructure Needs Assessment

The basic structure for the workshop at Ak Orgo was already standing, but the toilet was not at a good standard, the kitchen was barely functional, and they dreamed of having a showroom where the artists could actually display their crafts for visitors.

Infrastructure Grant

A grant was provided to Ak Orgo to fully construct a building outside the workshop that would house the kitchen, handicraft display room and the bathrooms. The community pitched in to complete the construction project in time for the tourism season to begin. This new building allows Ak Orgo to greatly improve the quality of experience they can provide in their workshop.

Organizational Needs Assessment

Ak Orgo had no online presence, and struggled to find a way to capture the tourists driving by Barskoon. With the existing craft orders and partnerships the workshop was surviving, but not yet thriving or reaching its social enterprise goals of providing more employment opportunities in Barskoon. Ak Orgo looked to tourism as a launching pad that could help their workshop grow.

Capacity Building Program & Launching in Tours

To address organizational needs, a training program was developed with the Association of Social Entrepreneurs Kyrgyzstan. The training program went over a period of six months, with trainings in three key categories – social entrepreneurship, tourism & guest management, and managing their online presence. Through this process Ak Orgo was able to develop their Social Enterprise Business Plan to continue tracking business and social targets for the future.

As Planeterra works with our local partners, we also ensure that the experience is represented into the travel itineraries of G Adventures. Their first group of the 2019 season visited Ak Orgo on May 21, 2019. The group enjoyed a yurt building demonstration, a tour of the workshop and a traditional Kyrgyz lunch. The income earned through this partnership with G Adventures allows Ak Orgo to continue doing what they love, producing Kyrgyz crafts.

Constant Innovation

Mekenbek doesn’t stop at craft production in the workshop. He is an innovator and creator at heart, and is constantly building new equipment that will allow their crafts to be produced in a less labour-intensive manner than traditionally taught. These innovations mean that more people can continue to produce the items and the culture can be better passed down to the next generation.


Ak Orgo currently employs 9 community members and hopes to continue providing employment opportunities as their tourism program grows.

Planeterra couldn’t be more excited to see travellers start visiting Ak Orgo. It is our hope that tourism will allow them to continue to grow their workshop, hire more community members, and spread their unique crafts on to the next generation of artisans. Ak Orgo is a special place, and we highly encourage you to visit on your next trip to Kyrgyzstan!

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Our 2018 Impact Report is Here

The year 2018 was an eventful year filled with social and political movements, polarizing world events, and endless news cycles. At the same time, we saw much of the world begin to take change into their own hands. Here at Planeterra, we watched the momentum of grassroots-driven movements surge around issues like gender equality. We knew this year we had to put a focus on these issues, with our own twist. Our team set out around the world, spurred on by the desire to use the travel industry to distribute wealth to those who need it most, not only to fight poverty, but to strive for a more equal world, where cultures are celebrated, women are empowered, the environment is protected, and no member of society is left behind.

We proudly worked with four new women’s organizations, and witnessed many fulfill dreams they never had believed possible. These innovative women took their first jobs outside the home, saved for the future, and launched their own businesses. We travelled far and wide (Morocco, Jordan, and Colombia, to name a few), and we were left inspired by the universal drive of women to lead their families and communities toward a better future.

As our world continues to struggle with environmental responsibility, we proudly invested in five local organizations working to create sustainable change in their communities, and reinvent the way we interact with the environment around us. From New Zealand to Costa Rica, we were inspired by their focus on conservation education and engagement as a way towards a more sustainable future for all.

Last year, we felt more than ever the need to celebrate, embrace, and empower marginalized communities, and to cultivate economic opportunities that honour what makes us unique as individuals. We poured energy into our partnerships with Indigenous communities, such as the Diné (Navajo) community in the USA where a beautiful new project benefits members of Navajo Nation. We’re confident you will see this dedication and enthusiasm stretch into 2019.
Every day we have the privilege of working with individuals striving for a future where people have equal opportunities, value those around them, and protect the natural environment. We could not have achieved the success we had in 2018 without these hard-working, dedicated partners. We also thank the thousands of individuals who supported our cause this year, and every year. From the travellers that visit our projects, to our generous donors — we are grateful to each and every one of you.

In 2018 we on-boarded more projects than ever before — forging 17 new partnerships in 11 new countries — showing us that, though the world continued to face challenge after challenge, we could still use our passion and focus to enact change. As we look back on the year together through the publication of this report, we hope you enjoy seeing the journey we took to empower women, youth, and communities around the world. We hope you will join us in 2019 as we continue our mission to connect local communities to the life-changing benefits of tourism.

From all of us,
Jamie, Kelly, Rhea, Alanna, Vanessa, Joel and P. Tung

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Beit Khayrat Souf is Changing Lives


Tucked in the hills of Jerash, Jordan is a place called Beit Khayrat Souf. Inside this old home is a cafe run completely by women. The cafe was opened three years ago by a local women’s association aiming to empower women in the community with livelihood opportunities. The cafe serves up delicious Jordanian food and provides cooking classes to travellers. G Adventures travellers on the National Geographic Journey through Jordan get to enjoy a cooking class at Beit Khayrat Souf as of 2019, supporting more employment opportunities for women.

More than a cafe, Beith Khayrat Souf was built on the belief that women have the right to be equal in society. Jameel, a founding member of the association, says “Every woman should have this confidence to go out and start working, and to share the workplace equally with men.” She continues, “It’s wrong to think that a woman should stay at home, because it’s not just about them, it’s about their children too. In order to build a better future for the next generation, we need women to be successful. Half our community is women, without them, the future will not be good.”

The cafe employs 10 women, but they engage women who are unable to work outside the home with pickling and jamming activities as well. Jameel plays a key role in training other women. “In the last few years I have gone out to women around Jordan to show them how I make the pickles and teach them about the project. I have trained many women. In Souf alone there are 11 women making pickles from home everyday.” Jameel is proud that her trainings allow women to earn an income, but even more, it is changing their lives.

As the cafe and cooking class continues to grow, Jameel hopes to see more women engaged in the project and benefitting from the livelihood opportunities it brings. “It’s not just about this place,” says Jameel, recognizing the economic benefit that this cafe has on local farmers, drivers, and other community members connected to their enterprise.

Reflecting on her time at the cafe, Jameel say “lots of good things happened after joining Beit Khayrat Souf. I am a better, stronger person. Before this, I was not confident enough to go teach others. Now I have different contacts even outside of Jordan. This has made me a more confident person.” Jameel sees herself as “an ambassador for Jordan”. She wants to show travellers a positive side of their culture, and especially to change the perception that travellers have about women in the Middle East. “I see many women whose lives are totally changed. We’re happy to see women participate by smiling as they start working to create a better life,” says Jameel.

Besma, who was sitting across the table, is a perfect example of the impact that this project is having on the community. “Before Beit Khayrat Souf I never went outside my home,” Besma reveals. “I would have never sat at a table with a man, talking, like I am now. These women have changed my life.”

Jameel concludes, “Before Beith Khayrat Souf this village was not known for anything. Today the local women manage this successful enterprise that is known internationally. We did this by ourselves.”

Planeterra and G Adventures proudly support Beit Khayrat Souf by sending more travellers to their cafe.

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Building a community restaurant in China


Ever wonder how a community tourism project becomes a Planeterra partner? Here is a quick photo blog to show you how the Jia Community Restaurant went from just an idea, to a restaurant with a steady stream of travellers in rural China.

Meet Tomato. This young woman in the striped shirt had a dream to build a restaurant in her community of Liandaowan, China. She wanted this restaurant to be a gathering place for women and children to learn, enjoy life and building a stronger sense of community. Tomato had been engaged with trainings with a local nonprofit, the Rural Women Development Foundation (RWDF), for some time, and looked to them for partnership to help make her dream come true.

This small plot of land is where Tomato dreamed of building her cafe. Through various connections, Planeterra was introduced to Tomato and the Rural Women’s Development Foundation. They told us about their vision to create the community space that would allow them to create jobs for women. They were in need of funding to build the restaurant, as well as a link to a customer base to make this business viable.

Planeterra had been searching for a few years for a community partner in China. RWDF’s proposal was timely and meaningful. Even better, the village of Liandaowan is just a ferry ride from tourist hub, Yangshuo. This meant it could be possible to build a strong customer base for the restaurant through the G Adventures traveller market. Planeterra and G Adventures approved this program, and construction began.

Community Participated in Construction

Planeterra’s first field visit to China in late 2017 showed the skeleton of a large new building. As the community continued to progress on construction, Planeterra was working with G Adventures to include this new community experience and local lunch into their 2019 itineraries.

Many community members helped out with the construction of the restaurant. While Planeterra often provides grants for construction projects, many times our project partners chip in with a little “sweat equity” by volunteering their own labour. This gives an extra level to our partnerships and investment from the larger community.

Jia Community Restaurant

By mid 2018 the restaurant construction had been completed and community members began their trainings in food service and hospitality. The restaurant was named ‘Jia Community Restaurant’, referencing the land that the food comes from.

The dining room now seats about 30 people while the kitchen serves up traditional Chinese dishes. They use vegetables from the local farms and use healthy ingredients. This dining space has already become a local hangout, as it is the first restaurant in the village!

Home for Community Activities

One of the most important parts of this new project is the building’s second floor. This area above the restaurant features a large open space for children to come and learn, or for various community activities. Even in the first few months since opening this space has already been used frequently for trainings through RWDF, and even weekly movie nights for children.

When Tourism Is Done Right, Everyone Wins.

The launching ceremony in 2018 brought out over one hundred people to celebrate the exciting new project. The ceremony included a cooking contest amongst the women. Some of the winning dishes are now featured in the restaurant for travellers to sample!

Planeterra couldn’t be more excited to see travellers start visiting this meaningful program in 2019. Many of G Adventures tours through Yangshuo will now feature this very local, very special experience. We can’t wait to see the impact it will have over the coming years.

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Introducing: 17 New Planeterra Projects


Planeterra is excited to introduce to you the amazing partnerships that have been established over the last year. From Navajo Nation in the USA to the small town of Hagi in Japan, these new partnerships spread across the entire globe.

Read about each project below:

Life Monteverde

Life Monteverde

Costa Rica- Sustainable farm and coffee producer focused on environmental education.


Tribal Textiles

Zambia- Cafe and artisan workshop with product proceeds supporting wildlife protection.


Navajo Nation

Grand Canyon- Social enterprise incubator supporting Indigenous-owned businesses in Navajo Nation.


Lusumpuko Women’s Club

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe- Women’s cooperative specializing in traditional Zimbabwean cuisine.


AidChild’s Café & Gallery

Kayabwe (Equator), Uganda- Cafe and youth training program supporting HIV-positive children.


Mekong River Homestays

Mekong Delta, Laos- Indigenous Laotian community homestay experience.


Favela Experience

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil- Favela tour supporting five community social enterprises.


Tamarind Gardens Farm

Digana, Sri Lanka- Community guest house and dairy farm providing alternative livelihoods to community members.


Solheimar Ecovillage

Selfoss, Iceland- Purposeful community that empowers and employs community members living with disabilities.

Jia Community Restaurant

Jia Community Restaurant

Liandaowan, China- Woman owned and run restaurant and community centre on the Li River.

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Amba Chutney Cooperative

Bandarawela, Sri Lanka- Co-operative of women trained in mango chutney production for livelihood development.


Hagi Elder Homestay

Japan- Homestay run by ageing population in Hagi.


Resourceful Ōtautahi

Christchurch, New Zealand- Social enterprise focused on resourcefulness of people and planet as a means of community building.


Kao Thep Pitak

Thailand- Community-led homestay, meals and experiences.


Beit Khayrat Souf

Souf, Jordan- Woman owned and run cafe in Jordan serving traditional meals and hosting cooking classes.


Tourism Community Enterprise

Laem Sak, Thailand- Community-led tours and sea kayaking.


Al Numeira Environmental Cafe

South Ghour, Jordan- Youth training and community centre for environmental sustainability of the Dead Sea area.

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Updates from Colombia

Planeterra has been working with Wiwa Tours in Colombia to set up a social enterprises owned and operated by the Wiwa community of Gotsezhy along the Lost City Trek. A series of enterprises along the trek have opened up new income generation opportunities for the community, including a training kitchen, meal and handicraft experiences. In the last months before launching the experience for G Adventures’ travellers, the community members are putting final touches on the experience. This project works to provide income opportunities for 100 community members. An investment from Planeterra and Live Out There, along with the support of G Adventures, has created a unique new opportunity for the Gotsezhy community to thrive in tourism. Check out some of the latest photos of their progress:

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Making Tourism Benefits Accessible for All

Finding a job in tourism can be difficult for anyone. Finding a job in tourism when you are living with a long-term disability — seemingly impossible. The ability to get to a tourist destination opens a world of possibility. When accessibility is an issue, the only way to engage in tourism may be if a traveller comes directly to where you are.

Not all societies prioritize accessibility. This means that anyone living with long-term disabilities face immediate barriers whenever they leave their home. Simple things like accessing public transportation may mean that a person has to forgo economic opportunity all together. Other societies have certain stigmas attached to disability. This leaves community members isolated from their peers and without adequate opportunities to become independent adults.

This is where Planeterra comes in. Planeterra works with unique partners across the world that are creating accessible futures and meaningful opportunities for the communities they serve. Our partners help serve communities living with disabilities to access education, mobility devices and unique health care. The integration of tourism into these programs allows for increased income to support meaningful work, and hands-on job experience for community members to learn new skills and earn an income.

Get to know five amazing organizations that are bringing accessibility to the tourism industry with Planeterra:

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Senang Hati Foundation

Beyond everyday limitations experienced by people living with disabilities, this community in Indonesia are also faced with culturally ingrained stigmatization. It is believed that those living with disabilities have bad karma, leaving them isolated and marginalized within their communities, often without education or medical care. Senang Hati Foundation is one nonprofit that is working to provide opportunities to these community members in Bali to help individual gain independence and increase mobility. The organization hosts a community lunch for travellers, where Planeterra has helped outfit their dream kitchen equipped with accessible appliances and counters. Senang Hati is a place for community members to gain confidence as they learn new skills.

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Nem Adom Fel

Almost 1 million Hungarians are living with a physical or mental disability. There are also great disparities in employment rates and education levels between able-bodied Hungarians and Hungarians living with a disability. Although recent government legislation and programs have attempted to tackle these issues (and others such as accessibility), with varying degrees of success, there exists a need to empower and employ people living with disabilities in Hungary. Nem Adom Fel Foundation (meaning ‘I never give up’) was founded in 2005 with the mission to fulfill this need with the belief that everyone has something to offer. Not only does the Foundation employ differently-abled individuals to run their cafe, which doubles as a community space for cultural programming, but they use the revenue to invest in social support for students, creating a daycare, providing accessible housing, and other community initiatives. So far 180 people living with disabilities or from Roma communities have been employed by the foundation and as time goes on even more will become empowered through the work of Nem Adom Fel.

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Located in the Katatura Township just outside of Windhoek, Namibia, Penduka is a women-owned and run business which houses numerous handicraft workshops for textiles, beading and pottery, as well as a restaurant, guesthouse, and small income-generating agriculture projects. One of the co-founders of Penduka suffers from physical disabilities and set out to assist other women in her community who often do not receive enough government assistance and are considered unemployable. Penduka hires local, at-risk women with no schooling background and no access to secure jobs, with the majority suffering from chronic illness or disabilities. Through direct employment at Penduka and a handicraft cooperative which contracts the services of rural artisans, more than 300 women from around the country are benefitting from this socially-minded business.
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Sthree Craft Shop and Cafe

The Women’s Development Centre in Kandy have been serving women for over 30 years. Women with children with disabilities have a unique need, as without adequate care for the children they will be unable to work and support the family. Financial responsibility for children with disabilities often falls on the woman to support in Sri Lanka. The Women’s Development Centre helps to meet this need by providing a daycare centre for children with disabilities, as well as a vocational training program to continue learning opportunities for these youth beyond formal education. Youth from the vocational training centre will be serving up hot tea and snacks to G Adventures travellers in Kandy as of 2018, along with women entrepreneurs at the Sthree Craft Shop and Cafe. This provides the students with additional opportunities to learn new skills, build their confidence, and interact with people from all over the world.
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Cafe Ubuntu

When their children’s school for disabilities was chronically underfunded, the ladies of Ubuntu Team came together to create a social enterprise that would provide more resources to children living with physical and psychological limitations in their community. Not only do more than 20 women now work at Ubuntu Made, which creates beautiful handicrafts that are sold around the world, the women also operate Cafe Ubuntu, which hosts travellers as they commute from Nairobi to nearby safari reserves. The funds raised through the cafe and handicrafts go not only towards the women’s livelihoods, but also to funding the community school for children with disabilities, which is now able to employ a special needs teacher and occupational therapist.
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Introducing: 15 New Planeterra Projects

Planeterra is excited to introduce to you the amazing partnerships that have been established over the last year. From Whistler, Canada to Bohol, Philippines, these new partnerships spread across the entire globe.

This year we are introducing three new women’s projects, three projects that empower at-risk youth, and nine new community-based projects. Planeterra invested over $500,000 to support and kick-start these social enterprises and provide the valuable link to G Adventures’ customer base. Starting 2018, all of these new partnerships will be integrated in G Adventures itineraries, allowing these community-owned organizations to profit and grow through tourism. 

Click through to read more about each project below:

Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre

Whistler, Canada
An indigenous centre in Whistler where travellers are treated to a traditional tea ceremony, bannock tasting and museum visit led by Indigenous guide trained through centre’s training programs.

!Khwa ttu San Cultural Centre

North Cape Town, South Africa
An interpretive museum where travellers learn about San culture and history through a unique tour, run by San guides participating in the centre’s training program for youth.

Make A Difference Homestay

Maribojoc, Philippines
A community homestay which works to bring livelihood opportunities back to a community deeply affected by the 2013 earthquake, lessening dependence on agriculture. 

Jukil Community Lodge

Santiago de Agencha, Bolivia
A community-owned lodge in the salt flats that was once shut down because of lack of tourists – now, 2,500 G Adventures travellers visit the lodge each year.

Wiwa Tours

Sierra Nevada, Colombia
We have worked with the Wiwa community in Gotsezhi to increase livelihood opportunities along the Lost City Trek in Colombia. A new trekking route was established to increase livelihood opportunities including a training kitchen, meal and handicraft experience.

Parque de la Papa

Pampallacta, Peru
An association of six communities dedicating to preserving seeds of Peru’s 3,000+ potato varieties. Travellers get to learn about the potato harvest, seed conservation program and weaving process.


Windhoek, Namibia
A restaurant and handicraft workshop that employs 30 disadvantaged women and creates livelihoods for over 200 women in Namibia. G Adventures travellers will enjoy a meal courtesy of Penduka, supporting these women and the social enterprise itself.  


Bagan, Myanmar/Burma
A youth training restaurant that provides training to 30 marginalized youth every year. G Adventures will bring about 300 international travellers to Sanon each year, which gives the youth more opportunity to practice and learn English.


Migrantour Rome

Rome, Italy
A social enterprise that trains migrants to give tours of the city – with their own flair. G Adventures travellers will learn all about a different side of Rome from a newcomer to Italy as your guide with Migrantour,

Panauti Community Homestay

Panauti, Nepal
A community homestay run by 17 women in Panauti, giving travellers a taste of the local lifestyle. Located just outside of Kathmandu, this homestay provides a great alternative to the city experience. 

Sthree Craft Shop and Cafe

Kandy, Sri Lanka
A craft shop and cafe run by the Women’s Development Centre to empower women and at-risk youth through livelihood opportunities. This social enterprise supports excluded entrepreneurs and nonprofit programs.

Migrantour Naples with Co-op Casba

Naples, Italy
A cultural mediator and NGO with a mandate to educate locals about migrants and diverse cultures and religions. G Adventures travellers will get a unique tour which combines historic sites with landmarks important to the wide variety of migrant groups.


Yangoon, Myanmar/Burma
A training restaurant supported through a partnership with Planeterra and Friends International, training 8 vulnerable youth each year in hospitality. Planeterra has provided funding to improve the restaurant and for capacity building of the students.

Mto wa Mbu

Rift Valley, Tanzania
A community tour which provides travellers with a taste of local life, while improving livelihood opportunities for community members. Planeterra works with their Tourism Enterprise to improve the impact of tourism. 

Espai Mescladis

Barcelona, Spain
A training kitchen and cafe for migrants, refugees, and youth, that helps create opportunities for employment and promotes a culture of diversity in Barcelona. 

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Training Underway at LinkAge Restaurant

Planeterra has been working hand-in-hand with Friends International to launch their first co-financed social enterprise restaurant in Burma/Myanmar. LinkAge Restaurant will help support at-risk former street youth find training in the tourism industry.  LinkAge will start hosting G Adventures’ National Geographic Journey’s trips starting October.

July was a busy month for the students at LinkAge, as they welcomed their trainers to learn more about the fine details of hospitality to make the visitors experience better than ever. Check out the progress the trainees are making as they prepare to welcome travellers:

LinkAge head chef, Koyee standing in his kitchen before renovation. Koyee will also act as the lead trainer for the students at LinkAge.

LinkAge Restaurant is a small, cozy cafe featuring local art. In partnership with Planeterra, the interior of the cafe will upgraded with new chairs, tables and decor.

In partnership with Friends International, students were given training on how to properly welcome and serve guests at the restaurant.

The students enthusiastically learned new skills from their trainer and are excited to welcome the first G Adventures travellers in October 2017.

Students worked very closely with their trainer to gain new skills.

Planeterra’s Field Manager, Panot Pakongsup poses with the students after a busy week of training!

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Talking Sustainable Travel with The Native Traveler

The United Nations declared 2017 the International Year for Sustainable Tourism – but what does that mean for you? Planeterra’s own Kelly Galaski joined the Native Traveler to talk about what Sustainable Tourism means for us here at Planeterra and for our partners at G Adventures, and how our conscious purchasing efforts can lead to a better future for everyone.

The show is hosted by Liz Beatty, and includes interviews with Erla Zwingle, a freelance journalist that has appeared over 25 times in National Geographic Magazine, and Elizabeth Becker, an award winning author, editor and journalist.


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