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First G Adventures travellers visit Native Grill

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It’s hard to miss the flags and signs of the Native Grill, a family-owned business along Route 89, nestled on Navajo Nation’s western side. It’s lunchtime on a Tuesday and the food truck, with the caption “Navajo Soul Food,” is busy with customers wanting to taste the authentic Navajo cuisine of frybread taco, dumpling stew and grilled local lamb. The kitchen is busy, as the family’s grandmother cooks frybreads for the pending G Adventures group of 12 who are about to arrive.

Her daughter Alfreida, who’s from the area, started the family food truck in 2013 by attending the Tuba City Fair, and operated in that town until a Burger King opened and forced them out some time later. Undeterred, Alfreida and her family carried on.

“There were days where we made no sales, but we stuck it out,” says Alfreida. “I’d be up prepping at 4:30 in the morning, but as time went along I figured things out.” Eventually, she gained her business license in 2016 and set up just south of the town of Cameron.

This area of Navajo Nation is in particular need of entrepreneurs like Alfreida, as it was under the Bennett Freeze between 1966 and 2009, which outlawed any infrastructure development. This meant houses couldn’t be built, water and gas lines couldn’t be laid, and roads couldn’t be mended, to name just a few of the ways the area’s development was stifled. Still today, it’s estimated that almost 60% of houses in the area do not have electricity, and the majority do not have potable water.

Planeterra partnered with Indigenous business incubator DineHozho, who have helped oversee a grant earmarked for improvements to the Native Grill. Today’s visitors are enjoying new picnic tables, a hand-washing station, and a brand new shade structure which will be especially handy during the hot desert summers. Native Grill’s operations have also been assisted by upgrades to their solar and generator systems.

As the group of G Adventures travellers arrive, they line up at the window to confirm their order for Navajo Tacos, and decide which toppings they’d like on their frybread, as three generations of Alfreida’s family work together in unison in the kitchen.

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It may be these four running the Native Grill this afternoon, but to them, the entire community is considered family, and they assist as many people as they can.

“We do what we can at a local level to help the elderly, and during Christmas and Thanksgiving we do turkey baskets and deliver it to people that live off the main road like 15-20 miles away, all the way at the base of the mountain,” explains Alfreida.

With more income from regular G Adventures groups (somewhere between 15-24 customers will be visiting twice a week during the summer months), Native Grill will be able to assist the community even more, not to mention grow the business. Although the food is delicious and the group enjoys their meal under the shade, the highlight of the afternoon is the family coming out to introduce themselves to the travellers, who eagerly ask questions in an effort to learn more about what it’s like to live on Navajo Nation. In the end, this is so much more of a meal stop – it’s an opportunity to learn about the resilience and entrepreneurship of the Diné (more commonly known as the Navajo) and how travellers should make an effort to stop at the small businesses that dot the roadsides if they’d like to learn more and give back to this community.

Read more about DinéHozhó here.

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Beit Khayrat Souf is Changing Lives

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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 a 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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Chandni Yadav’s Inspirational Story

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Planeterra asked Women on Wheels what our partnership meant to them, and how tourism was impacting the lives of the women that they work with. They felt that individual stories best showcased the impact of how the women they work with are changing the lives of their families, and becoming strong role models in their communities. Here is the story of one of the Women on Wheels drivers, Chandni Yadav:

“I have always wanted to continue with my studies. I have never thought that I would have to leave my studies but when I reached to the age of adolescence, I realized my family situations does allow me to continue my studies further. I have 3 brothers but there was no financial support from them and my parents were struggling financially. I had to leave my studies and started working in a hotel. I have never liked the job in the hotel. One day I learnt from a neighbour about Azad Foundation and its “Women on Wheel” programme. I discussed about joinig the programme with my parents, but they asked me: ‘Why do you want to leave your current job which is a big financial support to family for a 6 months training of WOW?’

But I decided to become a driver, which had cause many issues. Once I started the training, I faced difficulties at home, my parents used to scold me and they were pressuring me to do a job and earn. But I persisted and finished Women on Wheels training.

Today, I feel very happy that I have become independent and since joining Sakha as a cab driver I feel proud of myself. Earlier, I wished to be a driver but never had had the confidence to pursue such profession. Today, I am driver and I feel very confident. I can go alone anywhere, which I could not do before. Now, I am supporting my family and I even have helped my father financially to build a home in our village. I have repaid the loan of my brother’s marriage. Today, I am supporting my parents by all means I can and I am independent to make my own decision. In our community, people are happy to see me as driver and everyone tells my parents that I am better than my brothers. I always used to resist my desires and never used to say anything to anyone. I never used to do anything for myself but now I have started doing things as per my wish. In future I want to buy a scooty for myself, soon I will do this. I am so very thankful to Azad and Sakha for changing my life for better.”

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Virtual Tour of magdas HOTEL

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Take a virtual tour of magdas HOTEL, a social enterprise hotel in Vienna, Austria that empowers migrants, refugees, and newcomers to the country through their training and employment program. At one time, this eclectic hotel was an elderly residence, but with crowdfunding and a grant from a local non-profit, Caritas, the building has been transformed into an accommodation well worth visiting.

magdas is the first social business hotel in Austria, and employs 10 professionals in tourism, who work alongside 10 refugees. This job-shadowing and mentorship between refugees and professionals in the industry an important part of the program, alongside initiatives like language lessons and other services. The idea here is that refugees will later be hired by other hotels in tourist-heavy Vienna, allowing a steady stream of refugees to learn hospitality skills at magdas.

Along with an internationally-themed breakfast buffet (serving things like baba ganoush and other dishes from the refugees’ home countries), magdas has been entirely decorated with up-cycled, donated, or recycled materials. Old doors have become mirrors, repurposed lockers have become serving bays for the buffet breakfast. Rooms were decorated thanks to the Academy of Arts, which resides next-door, and other sustainable initiatives such as a honey-making business that keeps beehives on the rooftop are displayed in the hotel’s lobby.

Click the video below to enjoy the full virtual tour, and see for yourself!

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Zambian social enterprise empowers rural community

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It’s a journey in itself to get to the Mfuwe Village, nestled in the Eastern Province of Zambia, whether you take a car, bus, or plane. Nearly 10 hours by road from Lusaka, or a one-hour flight, one gets the impression straight away that they are in the middle of nowhere. With Mfuwe’s proximity to South Luangwa National Park, famous for its herds of elephants, scores of lion and regular leopard sightings, it’s hard to find a place as beautiful as this.

The beauty, and wildlife, have all created a perfect arena for tourism in South Luangwa National Park, which boasts a plethora of lodges, and more than 45,000 annual visitors – the most of any national park in Zambia. Despite its remoteness, there is a vibrant tourism economy here, and the Mfuwe Airport is constantly receiving flights of travellers eager to take in the safari experience.

Nestled between this airport and the park’s gate is Tribal Textiles, a workshop and bustling business that employs more than 100 Mfuwe locals. With an impressive corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy, countless staff benefits, and a social enterprise model, it’s hard to imagine a business as socially conscious.

“South Luangwa is really benefitting from tourism a lot,” says Nsabila Njobvu, Tribal Textile’s Retail Manager, who has been working at the social enterprise for more than seven years. “The higher the number of tourists that we are receiving, the more poverty is decreasing because people have jobs and they are able to take children to school, able to afford a basic meal every day.”

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However, Tribal Textiles is constantly attempting to tear travellers off the road, or away from the lodges nestled far within the national park. As a result, they are regularly finding new ways of marketing their products, and last year they launched a new restaurant in an attempt to acquire tourists on their way to and from the airport. The restaurant, named the Courtyard Café, is run by local entrepreneur and chef, Dorica, who also runs a restaurant in the village.

“Before the restaurant, I had to go do farming in a nearby village to get money,” explains Dorica, who balances her new café at Tribal Textiles, and a restaurant run at her home in the village. “I am happy, very happy, because sometimes that side when there’s no business, at least here [at Tribal Textiles] you’ll find I have customers so I am able to take care of my family and to keep my business going,” Dorica explains. Not only is her restaurant and the Courtyard Café bringing income to her family, she has also been able to onboard staff as a result of the café’s success.

As it grows, the business expands their social enterprise model. Many proceeds from the products sold at the showroom go to initiatives such as Conservation South Luangwa (CSL), the Malimba School, and the Hanada Orphanage. The business has also opened a Community Artisans’ Market, to provide local artists with a space to sell their handicrafts.

Tribal Textiles is the perfect example of a business expanding as tourism increases, and with their social enterprise model and passion for giving back to the community of Mfuwe, they are set to remain an important part of the safari experience for travellers, all while empowering the local community to earn a sustainable living.

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Celebrating International Day of Cooperatives

It is International Day of Cooperatives today, and we have taken the opportunity to highlight just some of the ways we work with co-ops around the world – from Tanzania to Costa Rica! Take a look at five of our partnerships around the world:

San Antonio Pottery Co-op

San Ignacio, Belize

The San Antonio Women’s Group of nine Mayan women in Cayo, Belize, established a pottery cooperative as a means to earn an income, learn new and interesting skills, and share their traditional knowledge not only with visitors, but with the younger generation. Each woman working at the co-op cares for an average of 5-10 children. Planeterra was able to raise funds to support the co-op, allowing them to build an indoor workshop space to host more visitors and start a training program for unemployed youth.

Ccaccaccollo Women’s Weaving Co-op

Sacred Valley, Peru

A small group of women from the village of Ccaccaccollo, Peru, partnered with Planeterra in 2005 in an attempt to investigate how they could benefit from tourism in the Sacred Valley. Starting with three women, Planeterra developed a cooperative and funded training programs to help bring back traditional weaving practices that had been lost over previous generations.

The women who have been with the project since its inception report that all of their children are now studying at university. Not only that, but these women of the co-op have been able to contribute greatly to their families’ income, and their children are the first generation to be completely literate.

çöp(m)adam

Ayvalik, Turkey

çöp(m)adam offers regular work to around 40 women in Ayvalik, with all members working in a healthy environment and being paid a fair wage. With guaranteed regular employment, members of this social enterprise are able to make significant contributions when it comes to providing sustainability for their families and communities. Planeterra worked with çöp(m)adam to connect them to the tourism market, helping to expand the co-op’s customer base and benefit more women in Turkey.

Moshi Mamas

Moshi, Tanzania

Planeterra works with a free, adult business school called “Give a Heart to Africa” in Moshi, Tanzania, which provides a year-long curriculum in Business Management, Accounting, and English to local women. From this school has emerged a cooperative businesses within the tourism industry, including a handicraft maker’s studio as well as a shop and spa, all supported by Planeterra. In total, 30 women annually access the cooperative and school, benefitting greatly from the programs and business opportunity.

Mi Cafecito

Sarapiqui, Costa Rica

In 2011, the main coffee cooperative in Sarapiqui, Costa Rica established the Mi Cafecito Coffee Tour to try to find ways for their member coffee producers to earn additional income, particularly after a devastating earthquake two years earlier had wiped out the local economy and coffee prices had fallen. While it was a good idea in theory, they did not receive enough visitors to sustain the business, and were at the point of shutting down when Planeterra began working with them to develop a sustainable enterprise.

Coopesarapiquí brings together more than 240 small farmers that produce fair trade coffee from the four regions in the area. In addition to the coffee tour they farm fish for fresh lunches for their visitors. With training and the reliable customer base, the cooperative was able to triple revenues in the first year of reopening.

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Partner Spotlight: LiveOutThere

LiveOutThere (LOT) equips adventurers with the clothing and gear they need to start exploring. As a corporate partner of Planeterra, LOT pledged to raise $150,000 between 2016-2020, sponsoring five Planeterra projects across the world. In 2016, LOT’s generous donation of $30,000 was used to start the first indigenous-run trek along the Sierra Nevada, on the famous Lost City Trek in Colombia.

Unique partnerships like this one help Planeterra fund entire community development programs. Following the same ethos of G Adventures, LiveOutThere and its founder, Jamie Clark, believe that recreational travel does not have to be a selfish pursuit, but rather that travellers can conscientiously make an effort to give back to the people and places we visit.

With Planeterra as LOT’s corporate responsibility partner, they advocate for our work globally through their network of adventurers. To raise money for Planeterra, LOT has been running trip giveaways, matching donations for in-kind gear purchases, and promoting our work through their corporate giving channels.

LOT is already looking ahead to 2017, collecting funds to completely renovate the Jukil Community Lodge of Bolivia, giving an entire community access to  the tourism value chain.

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Tyson Travel visits the Clean Cookstoves Project

During his 14-day Tanzanian trip with G Adventures, Australian travel blogger Tyson Mayr visited the Maasai Clean Cookstoves Project in Monduli. This project partnered with Planeterra in 2014, and together we’ve seen more than 250 stoves installed across various Maasai communities. The project has trained more than 75 women to create stoves that reduce harmful air pollution in rural homes, and recently expanded to include the installation of solar panels.

Hear from Tyson himself about his experience 

“I was very lucky to have spent time with a Maasai Tribe earlier this year as I learnt about The Cookstove Project that Planeterra Foundation supports. Travelling the world has opened my eyes to a lot of different things, especially around the way we all live our lives. But the one common trait I always seem to find, is a simple smile spreads quicker amongst people, then any hate ever will!”

Watch Tyson’s video below

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An Alternative Tour of Delhi

Walking through the streets of Delhi, guided by Ruhi, I am shown what life is like for children living on the streets in the crowded city. Running away from desperate circumstances – be it poverty, abuse or child marriage – a child arriving alone in Delhi is left vulnerable to gangs, child labour and substance abuse.

While on the walking tour, Ruhi talks about how children often end up begging or selling items on the street, only to spend that money on substances and entertainment. Children are not taught to save, and can often find food for free at different temples across the city. Children come to Delhi to find freedom, yet the freedom they find often leads them into a vicious cycle of poverty.

When Ruhi was only a young girl her parents could no longer take care of her. They could not afford the expense of another child in the home. At this time, she was placed into the girl’s shelter home with Salaam Baalak Trust (SBT). SBT has six homes for children across Delhi where they provide children with the education, nutrition and care they could not find on the streets.

Ruhi is now in class 10 and has been working as a tour guide with SBT for the past year. Here she is able to interact with travellers from all around the world, teach them about life for street youth in Delhi, and share her own story. Through this experience she is able to build her confidence and practice her English speaking skills in a safe environment.

Part of Planeterra’s partnership with SBT sees 3,500 G Adventures travellers participate in the City Walk tour every single year. Tour guides from SBT have gone on to work with travel agencies all across Delhi and have even qualified for scholarship programs globally thanks to their improved confidence and English skills gained through the program.

As Ruhi finishes her education in the coming years, she can continue working with the City Walk program as a guide. This will help her to earn the income she needs to begin living independently from the shelter.

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Khushi’s Journey

Would you ever dream to wake up at 5:00AM and clean your car? This is something Khushi likes to do every single day. Khushi works as a driver with Women on Wheels, a taxi service in Delhi that is run by women for women. She has been driving for the past 7 years and treats her car like an extension of her own body. “I wash myself every day – why should my car be any different?” she jokes.

If you have ever come across our Women on Wheels project, you’ll know that there is something special about it. Scratch the surface a little further, and you will uncover the years of training and social services that were provided to these women long before they could even consider becoming a taxi driver. Our partners, the Azad Foundation, are working with vulnerable women in city centres across India, and they start with the very basics. Income alone cannot change a woman’s life, but strong social connections, a better understanding of their rights and increased confidence through education – combined with economic opportunity – is a great place to start. When one of the lady drivers picks you up from the airport, you are not just helping her earn a livelihood – you are changing her life.

I had the honour of sitting in Khushi’s car this April in Delhi. She exudes confidence, and is keen to share her story with all that will listen. The Women on Wheels program helped bring her life from a place of crisis to one of opportunity.

There’s no better person to tell her story than Khushi herself:

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