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The ‘Six Stars’ at Amba Estate

THE “SIX STARS” AT AMBA ESTATE, BANDARAWALA, SRI LANKA

We have just returned from Sri Lanka after meeting yet another group of inspiring women being supported by Planeterra Foundation! The “Six Stars” as they befittingly call themselves, are women who work a the AMBA Tea Estate and with Planeterra support have established a successful chutney cooperative after getting training and necessary equipment, further supplementing their income.

AMBA Estate is a community-based sustainable tourism project in the Ambadandegama valley in the Uva Highlands of Sri Lanka. Ambadandegama Chutney Cooperative is the first entirely community-owned venture to be supported by the Estate. Planeterra provided a grant for equipment and training so that the women of AMBA could start producing a range of chutneys, pickles and other preserves to be sold to visitors, utilizing the multitude of fruits and vegetables that grow in the valley. The group received guidance on how to make different types of chutney and about health and safety standards, like how to sterilize the bottles. The whole process is carried out with utmost precision. Anyone witnessing the entire process can feel the meditative approach of the cooking, as going step by step requires a lot of patience. But in the end, you are rewarded well with the aromas of all the lovely ingredients slowly filling the room.

The Happy Team at Work

The six members of the cooperative were selected by AMBA because they are the most experienced tea pickers. In Sri Lanka, it is mandatory that tea pluckers retire from the plantations at the age of 55, so the chutney cooperative adds financial stability as these women move into retirement. The “Six Stars” are all able to work from the comfort of their own homes which also provides them the opportunity to get help from their family members. As a result, the cooperative can churn out an order of 10-15 bottles in a single day. Guests at AMBA Guest House are able to taste the delicious chutneys ranging from mango, papaya, tomato, jackfruit, and lime, and can also take some back home.

The Six Stars remark on the impact AMBA has had on them, including being able to support their families.

“I have two daughters and one son,” Renuka says, “This money has really helped me a lot as I build my house. With the profits, I bought wiring for the house.”

“I worked before in the estate and now I do this,” Ramayalatha reflects, “I am saving money for my daughter’s wedding.”

All of the women’s stories are truly inspiring, but Renuka’s story stands out. after facing a lot of setbacks early in life, in 2008, she joined AMBA as a tea-plucker. Step-by-step she learned a whole range of new skills, from organic vegetable and tea growing to fine-plucking, tea-rolling and jam-making. Like all of AMBA’s team, she participates in the farm’s revenue-share and she is now responsible for all aspects of tea production, from plucking the leaves to rolling and overseeing the oxidization and drying. She is also a founding member of AMBA’s chutney cooperative, which are then sold in the AMBA farm shop. Thanks to Renuka’s perseverance and hard work, she has been able to give her children an excellent education – her oldest daughter graduated and is now a teacher, her son is a security officer at a school, and her youngest daughter is taking her O Level. Renuka says that her life is getting much better, thanks to AMBA and Planeterra.

It’s not just the members of AMBA Chutney Cooperative who are set to benefit from this enterprise. The community is also seeing ripple effects from this business, as Rs. 10 from each bottle of chutney sold is added to the cooperative’s fund which goes towards their equipment, and eventually, towards purchasing a start-up kit for more women to join the cooperative.

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6 Emergency Grants tackling COVID-19 Relief

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We know that this is a difficult time for everyone, and we appreciate that the Planeterra community has come together to help those most vulnerable. You have helped us send money for nutritious food for 67 HIV positive youth, life-saving medication to a rural community in Belize, and soap to an Indigenous community of 2,000 people in Botswana. Below is more information on which projects your donations have gone on to support. While we want to celebrate the projects that have received help, there are still many more in need. 

AidChild Leadership Centre (ALI), Uganda – First Grant

Planeterra has been working with ALI since 2017, by supporting their cafe at the Ugandan equator. Over 50% of ALI’s operating budget, which supports 67 HIV-positive orphans, comes from their tourism businesses, including the cafe, so the halt on travel has had a devastating effect on their operations. With the loss of income, they were only able to afford rice and beans to feed the 67 youth in their care. Your donations provided more well-balanced nutritious groceries to ensure that they remain healthy through this crisis. 

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San Antonio Women’s Co-op, Belize – Second Grant

San Antonio Women’s Co-op is located in a rural Maya community in Belize, and was formed by a local women’s group made up of nine Mayan women. They started the group to find a way to earn an income, learn new and interesting skills, and share their traditional knowledge not only with visitors but with the younger generation. When travel was halted due to COVID-19 they had to close down their shop, resulting in a loss of income not only for the members but for individuals in the community that relied on the cooperative for support. Your donations resulted in an emergency grant being sent so these individuals could receive life-saving medication that they almost had to go without.  

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AFER, Morocco – Third Grant

Planeterra helped fund the first hospitality program run by local partner AFER (Association Des Femmes et Enfants Ruraux) to develop the skills of rural women and support healthcare and wellbeing in the rural area of M’Haya. Travellers were able to visit and have a traditional meal during their travels. This program benefits nearly 700 women and children in the area and when tourism stopped, they were unable to help members of their community receive life-saving medication. Your donations allowed us to send funds to purchase a two month supply of medication for  those with severe chronic illnesses.

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çöp(m)adam, Turkey – Fourth Grant

çöp(m)adam started as an experimental project in Western Turkey addressing the issues of women’s employment and the importance of recycling/re-using. When travellers visit the workshop during a trip to Turkey, and purchase their products, they are directly supporting the women that made them. Ten artisans in the community rely on the income generated from travellers supporting the project. Your donations were sent to help the women provide for their families and access essential necessities.

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Dqae Qare San Lodge, Botswana- Fifth Grant

Dqae Qare San Lodge is located in D’Kar in a community of 2,000 people who are living on less than 30 cents a day. When tourism became a viable revenue source for the community they were able to support many members including their full time, part-time staff but also other groups in the community. COVID-19 resulted in the lodge losing significant income which directly impacted the entire community. Your donations have been sent to Dqae Qare to pay for soap and food, as the community was unable to afford it during this pandemic. 

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Mto wa Mbu, Tanzania – Sixth Grant

Mto wa Mbu Cultural Tourism Enterprises works to provide jobs to locals, including women, in an innovative and sustainable way that celebrates local culture and heritage. They run multiple experiences for travellers including bike tours, cultural experiences, and delicious meals. As a result of COVID-19 this income has stopped not only for our project but the ripple effects our project had on the community of other farmers in the area. This project is also very concerned that the lack of tourism and the need for income could result in wildlife destruction such as poaching. Your donations will help those impacted receive essential goods. 

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You can fund more relief efforts here.

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The “Six Stars” at AMBA Estate

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We have just returned from Sri Lanka after meeting yet another group of inspiring women being supported by Planeterra Foundation! The Six Stars as they befittingly call themselves, are women who work a the AMBA Tea Estate and with Planeterra support have established a successful chutney cooperative after getting training and necessary equipment, further supplementing their income. 

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AMBA Estate is a community-based sustainable tourism project in the Ambadandegama valley in the Uva Highlands of Sri Lanka. Ambadandegama Chutney Cooperative is the first entirely community-owned venture to be supported by the Estate. Planeterra provided a grant for equipment and training so that the women of AMBA could start producing a range of chutneys, pickles and other preserves to be sold to visitors, utilizing the multitude of fruits and vegetables that grow in the valley. The group received guidance on how to make different types of chutney and about health and safety standards, like how to sterilize the bottles. The whole process is carried out with utmost precision. Anyone witnessing the entire process can feel the meditative approach of the cooking, as going step by step requires a lot of patience. But in the end, you are rewarded well with the aromas of all the lovely ingredients slowly filling the room.

The Happy Team at Work

The six members of the cooperative were selected by AMBA because they are the most experienced tea pickers. In Sri Lanka, it is mandatory that tea pluckers retire from the plantations at the age of 55, so the chutney cooperative adds financial stability as these women move into retirement. The “Six Stars” are all able to work from the comfort of their own homes which also provides them the opportunity to get help from their family members. As a result, the cooperative can churn out an order of 10-15 bottles in a single day. Guests at AMBA Guest House are able to taste the delicious chutneys ranging from mango, papaya, tomato, jackfruit, and lime, and can also take some back home. 

The Six Stars remark on the impact AMBA has had on them, including being able to support their families. 

“I have two daughters and one son,” Renuka says, “This money has really helped me a lot as I build my house. With the profits, I bought wiring for the house.” 

“I worked before in the estate and now I do this,” Ramayalatha reflects, “I am saving money for my daughter’s wedding.” 

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All of the women’s stories are truly inspiring, but Renuka’s story stands out. after facing a lot of setbacks early in life, in 2008, she joined AMBA as a tea-plucker. Step-by-step she learned a whole range of new skills, from organic vegetable and tea growing to fine-plucking, tea-rolling and jam-making. Like all of AMBA’s team, she participates in the farm’s revenue-share and she is now responsible for all aspects of tea production, from plucking the leaves to rolling and overseeing the oxidization and drying. She is also a founding member of AMBA’s chutney cooperative, which are then sold in the AMBA farm shop. Thanks to Renuka’s perseverance and hard work, she has been able to give her children an excellent education – her oldest daughter graduated and is now a teacher, her son is a security officer at a school, and her youngest daughter is taking her O Level. Renuka says that her life is getting much better, thanks to AMBA and Planeterra. 

It’s not just the members of AMBA Chutney Cooperative who are set to benefit from this enterprise. The community is also seeing ripple effects from this business, as Rs. 10 from each bottle of chutney sold is added to the cooperative’s fund which goes towards their equipment, and eventually, towards purchasing a start-up kit for more women to join the cooperative.

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The Chutney bottles at the AMBA Shop. 

On a lucky day you might get customized packaging, or maybe not!!

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How you can celebrate the way of the San

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Across Southern Africa, there are tourism experiences that promise to educate and inspire visitors about the Indigenous San – the original inhabitants of Southern Africa, and truly the original inhabitants of Planet Earth. A fascinating culture, the San are the earliest hunter-gatherers, having once lived across large areas of South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Botswana, and beyond. As is true with most Indigenous people, their way of life, their knowledge, languages and culture have all been threatened first by colonialism, and nowadays by the legacy that colonialism has left behind – a lack of economic empowerment and opportunity, which leaves the San isolated.

Having lived in South Africa, and returning regularly in my capacity as Program Manager for Planeterra, I was well acquainted with tourism experiences – from lodges to museums – that attempted to celebrate the San. 

But few have the power of Dqae Qare San Lodge. Owned freehold by the Indigenous community of D’Kar through the Kuru Development Trust, this wildlife reserve, campsite and lodge is a special and unique place. It provides full-time employment for 12 members of the D’Kar community and part-time work for over 40 more. With many in the community living on about 30 cents a day, these jobs are truly changing lives. One Dqae Qare employee is able to support a family of ten back in D’Kar.

The authenticity and power of the lodge hits visitors almost immediately. As I arrived on my first visit in February of 2018, I stepped out of my truck to find San community members bustling about the property. An employee drives past in a work vehicle filled with other employees on their way to a maintenance job near the campsite, a young San woman is setting the table under a thatched roof for dinner, and another greets me and checks me in at the lodge’s reception. I book the activities I want to partake in with her, and she happily leads me to my room. There’s a sense of purpose and passion behind every employee, and the feeling is palpable.

Later that day, I’m greeted by Dinah and Xgaiga, who take me out on a bushwalk to show me how the San have hunted, gathered food, and used the sometimes harsh Kalahari environment to their benefit. The San employees at Dqae Qare can identify more than 80 plants and their medicinal uses – it seems like every five steps we take, Xgaiga halts to point out a tree or a bush that has a practical use – this one protects you from snakes as you sleep, the bark of this tree can be boiled in water to cure colds and its leaves can be eaten to relieve a stomach ache.

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In the evening, there is a storytelling and dance. Community members from nearby flood to the big bonfire in front of the lodge, and Xgaiga begins a story, told entirely in Naro. Everyone listens intently, the travellers around me lean in when Dinah starts her translation, in anticipation but also to warm ourselves by the fire. The story is about how the dog became man’s friend, while the jackal remains wild. Dancing ensues, and community members and travellers alike join in a circle around the flames.

It dawns on me how profound it is to experience the San practicing their culture, on land that they own outright themselves. Indigenous people around the world struggle to regain lands taken from them and to practice traditions that were even made illegal. It’s so important that places such as the Dqae Qare San Lodge are preserved, and helping it grow is a task Planeterra has been dedicated to since this first visit. 

The prosperity of the lodge has a direct correlation with the development of the D’Kar community and the employment of its people. The more Planeterra can invest in the infrastructure of the lodge, the more profit Dqae Qare can invest straight into the community projects they’re dedicated to providing – like support for the area’s schools, churches, and even a clean water project taken on by the Kuru Development Trust. This GivingTuesday, we’re asking for support to help with upgrades to the lodge so Dqae Qare can continue to grow, employ more community members from D’Kar, and so many more travellers can enjoy learning and celebrating the way of the San. 

Learn more about our Giving Tuesday campaign that will directly support job opportunities for the San here. 

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San of the Soil

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What do you know about the San? If you are like me, you know what the media has shown you, or what the school textbooks have conveyed. Are they these small people, who speak only in clicks and run in nature, barefoot with small pouches and poisonous darts? Who are these ancient people who all over Southern Africa left painting within caves? Until recently, I had no idea that the San are more than what we learn in school or watch on TV, they are the originators of civilization on our continent and possibly the first historians. It took one trip to the !Khwa ttu San Cultural and Educational Centre to convince me that I needed to know more and to listen more when it comes to the plight of the San People. 

With their population diminishing rapidly due to encroachment of their land, privatization of National Parks, forced modernization, and creation of inter-country borders, the San people of Southern Africa have decided to stand up and fight for their own, in their own way. Eleven tribes stretching between Cape Town, South Africa and Angola, have come together to economically benefit one another, while also preserving their culture and passing down their history to younger generations. After decades of receiving the short end of the socio-economic stick, the San have decided to take matters in their own hands and claim what is theirs. They have come together across Southern Africa and have taken ownership and pride in their uniqueness. Coming together to create tourism experiences and services in the region that serve as income generating sources, while also educating and advocating for the survival of their cultures. Such an experience is Dqae Qare San lodge in Botswana, part of this network of San conservancies across Southern Africa. 

 The San culture, in particular, is suffering as modernization has watered down the cultural pride of the younger generations and the privatization of wildlife reserves drives them further from their home. In countries like Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, the San are bound by international boundaries that dictate they pick a side, but that is not who they are. Only a few thousand San are left in the world, with one tribe having a known three members alive today. Only three. With them, stays the whole tribal culture, language and history; and tragically, many young people of San descent have been modernized or are unaware of their genealogy due to cultural dilution caused by colonialism. They do not believe in ownership and to them, all things belong to nature and must be respected. Nature has provided them with all they need for thousands of years and today, their survival is threatened. 

The San people of Southern Africa, are more than “The Gods Must Be Crazy” references and documentary stereotypes. They are the people who bore civilization on our continent. In their core, the San, an endangered people, are storytellers and conservationists. Telling stories of where we came from and protecting our nature from where we are going. In Southern Africa, the San have decided to take matters in their own hands and counter their faced disappearance. Creating a community between South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Angola, they have come together to preserve who they are and claim their seat at the economic table. 

Over the course of modernization, and creation of borders and privatization of game reserves, the San have received the short end of the stick and have continuously been overlooked. They have been viewed as characters in the script of stereotypes – until now. 

Learn more about our Giving Tuesday campaign that will directly support job opportunities for the San here. 

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Puesta Del Sol is Back

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We are very excited to announce that operations are restarting at Puesta del Sol, our Planeterra project in Nicaragua in November of this year. In March 2018, G Adventures cancelled operations due to the political crisis in the country.

The Puesta del Sol Community Association was founded in 2005 by 17 families, largely influenced by the women in the community. The mission of the organization is to improve the quality of life for their families and the area. They are located in Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua, which is a beautiful island in the Nicaraguan Lake that has 2 mindblowing volcanoes. The main economic activities in this area are tourism and farming. Through the association, they have created different touristic initiatives. These new opportunities are resulting in families being able to stay together. In the past, due to the lack of jobs some members of the family had to leave to bring or send money home.

Tourism has become a meaningful source of economic development in Nicaragua, but because of the political crisis and social instability, this source of income was heavily affected. Puesta del Sol itself was impacted, they stopped receiving visitors, resulting  in job loss. Many had to leave for either safety or to be able to provide for their families.

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Odalis the President of the Association, (her family founded the association) has been involved in every step of the development of the organization and is extremely proud. During my visit to Puesta del Sol in September, I stayed at her house or “homestay”, she showed me around and told me all of the exciting stories about her family and the association.  She is so happy to see how the country is recovering from the crisis, tourists are coming back and she is so thankful and happy to be welcoming G Adventures travellers into their houses.

G Adventures and Planeterra have been working with Puesta del Sol since 2012. Planeterra provided funds for the development of the tourism initiative and the related training. Travellers enjoy living the “Isleno” life for a couple of days through the homestay experience offered by Puesta del Sol, the families in the community are very welcoming, and they really make you feel at home! 

The community is eager to welcome back all G Adventures groups! 

 

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Creating Purposeful Space in China

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In 2018, Planeterra partnered with the Rural Women’s Development Foundation Guangdong in China to establish a Community Corner in Liandaowan village near Yangshuo. The purpose of this centre is to create employment opportunities for women, promote education for children, and act as a hub for meaningful community experiences. With so many men leaving the village for work in urban areas, women and children are often left behind.

Planeterra invested over $30,000 CAD into construction and training to make this project possible, and then linked the newly established community restaurant to G Adventures’ customer base in China. Since its construction, women and children have been using the space for things like reading, watching movies, dancing, painting and cooking. Just by having the space, the community has already been able to create so much purpose around the centre.

Here are just some of the activities that have been hosted in or organized through the Community Corner in the last year:

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“If you do what you want to do, your dream comes true.” -Xiaoyan Xu

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Integrating Sustainable Agriculture and Tourism in Turkey

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Güneysınır is a small town in the Konya region of Turkey. The population of around 10,000 people focus mainly on agriculture for income. Children are often sent away for school after reaching a certain age, and then later stay outside of the town in order to find employment. It is here that G Adventures and Planeterra identified a great location for a sustainable agriculture program that integrated tourism to allow new opportunities for community members to come together and invest in the future.
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In 2014, Planeterra and G Adventures’ local team began working with the municipality to create a project that would give back to the community. A plot of land 15,000 square meters was identified and donated by the municipality for Planeterra to develop as a community park and almond cooperative. This plot of land covers area believed to be one of the first settlements in the world. Over 300 trees were planted by 2015.

 

President of the Community Association, Ilyas Bayrak, said “we really have the opportunity to change people’s lives here.”

 

Planting an almond park does not create immediate returns, so it was important to integrate tourism into this program to create community benefit right away. Today, Mustafa is the main caretaker of the park. Along with his family, they host G Adventures’ groups as they enjoy a traditional Turkish pancake and a walk in the park to learn about the program. Employment at the park allows Mustafa to stay in Güneysınır with his family and support his grandchildren’s education. Women from the community are also able to sell the local handicrafts to earn additional income from the travellers.
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As the trees continue to grow, Mustafa is now working to create picnic areas inside the park for families to come and enjoy the space. They are planning a big festival in the Spring and hope to create more excitement around the park as the first harvest draws near. 

 

 

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The almond cooperative is expected to begin making profits and creating even more employment opportunities by 2021. The Community Association in Güneysınır will manage these profits and reinvest them into their two main priorities: children’s education and women’s economic empowerment. As the trees continue to produce almonds for years to come, the Association will continue to give back to the community and create new opportunities.
Watch our Instagram story from August 2019 to learn about our other projects in Turkey here.

 

 

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Two Years Later: More Women being Empowered through Planeterra’s Partnership in Belize

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Women make up over half of the tourism workforce. Because of societal norms in many countries, women have become well-suited to make money in the tourism industry because of the many skills they have honed growing up can be used in this field. From traditional handicraft creation to cooking and maintaining a household, women around the world make wonderful entertainers for handicraft demonstrations, chefs for traditional meals, and community guesthouse hosts. Despite being employed more than men, and having developed the various skillsets for the industry, women are often underpaid. 

Planeterra works to break this cycle, which is why in 2016, they partnered with the San Antonio Women’s Cooperative in a rural area outside of San Ignacio. The community has its roots in Mayan traditions and currently practices subsistence agriculture. Like many rural areas around the world, they are more likely to struggle to access government services.

 

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A small pottery cooperative, run by local resident President Timotea, who was dreaming of how to capture the volume of travellers coming to Belize. The cooperative was preserving traditional pottery, even working with archaeologists to rediscover paint colours for decorating pottery that was used centuries ago. The cooperative was a prime spot for tourists to stop, but they were ill-equipped to host groups, and struggled to get passers-by to stop. Then, along came Planeterra.

“We were all squished in a little place,” explains Timotea, “before Planeterra helped to build the workshop and space we have now.” With an introduction to G Adventures and an upgrade to their space, the small cooperative was ready to launch their tourism business in earnest. 

Despite only having a primary school education, like many of the cooperative’s members, Timotea led the cooperative to a successful 2016 season, and in 2018 G Adventures increased their trips visiting the cooperative, and more revenue started to flow in. “Now, even the tourism board of Belize has taken an interest, and we have groups booking from nearby hotels,” says Timotea.

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Perhaps the most remarkable part about the San Antonio Women’s Cooperative’s growth in the tourism industry is the number of people they now employ. In the beginning, they started as just nine members working at the centre. Now, 25 people work here as chefs, servers, hosts for the travellers, and to help run the tourism program along with the pottery workshop. Employees are not the only ones benefitting from the burgeoning business. The cooperative sponsors the high school fees of two female students from the local community. G Adventures’ revenue also helped them to make a small extension for an outdoor workshop.

When Planterra met Timotea, she said her dream was always to help women in her community – now, through employment and empowerment of girls in their community, they are achieving this dream. 

 

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Kayaking for Planeterra

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In April 2018, G Adventures CEO (Chief Experience Officer, or tour leader) Matt Ziegler embarked on an epic journey to kayak the length of the United States’ Mississippi River, from his home in Wisconsin all the way to New Orleans. Matt Ziegler raised $4,300 for Planeterra along the way. 

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Matt’s kayaking journey took a total of 39-days totalling 1,600 mi (2,574 km) and passed through major U.S cities including St. Louis, Memphis, and New Orleans. Matt braved winter storms, pounding rain, blistering sun, and a broken kayak. He camped along the banks of the Mississippi the entire way. He documented his journey via social media and ended up raising more than $4,300 for Planeterra – and when he was done? He headed straight to Alaska to start leading G Adventures trips!

“I not only did this for myself but also for a good cause. I raised money for Planeterra, which is a non-profit organization which focuses on sustainable tourism, where their projects impact some of the most disadvantaged populations in the world. With the help from Planeterra, they gain jobs but also redefine their identity and role in society.” – Matt Ziegler.

His generosity and commitment to Planeterra is astounding and is appreciated by the Planeterra team as well as our partners all over the globe. We knew you could turn travel into impact, but now we also know you can turn kayaking into impact!

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