It’s no secret that most countries in Africa could use a hand or two when it comes to resources. Yes, there are large charity organizations like UNISEF that deal with this on a daily basis, but this is often a laborious and drawn-out process. What most travellers aren’t aware of is that they could provide that very helping hand during a safari trip or vacation to Africa.
Have you ever travelled somewhere and thought, “I really didn’t need half of the items I brought with me”? Well, this is the exact premise that Pack for a Purpose is based on. Started in 2009 by former teacher Rebecca Rothney, Pack for a Purpose is a non profit organization that encourages travellers to places like Africa and South America to use the extra space in their luggage for a good cause.
Rothney herself has been to Africa several times and loves its people and culture and realised immediately what an opportunity she had. “We were going to very remote areas and had this gigantic luggage allowance we couldn’t use.” But use it they did, instead, not for traditional items like trainers and make-up bags but for gifts that would be of use and appropriate for the African culture they were going to be visiting. Rothney packed as much as she thought she needed and filled the rest of the space with much-needed supplies she would deliver to clinics, schools and orphanages.
Did you know that reserving only 2,27kg in your check-in bag would help you deliver 400 pencils or 10 solar-powered calculators to a rural school, or give a struggling clinic essential items such as 500 band-aids, a stethoscope, or a blood pressure cuff? 2, 27kg could also ensure that children have proper toys to play with after school – 5 deflated soccer balls with an inflation device to be exact.
The possibilities to make a difference through Pack for a Purpose are infinite, and the results after 5 years of operation are proof. Approximately 2,700 items have been delivered to underprivileged communities worldwide since the non-profits inception, and there is no sign of slowing down.
If you’re wondering how to find charitable organizations in the countries you’ll be visiting and how to keep cultural identity in mind, simply take a look through the user friendly Pack for a Purpose website. The organisation has a list of organisations, what they need and how to get it to them – it’s as easy as it sounds. “Hopefully you never spend more than 10 minutes on our website,” says Rothney, “You should be able to go to it, find where you’re staying, find out what they need, and be off.”
The website also gives a good idea about which gift ideas are appropriate to various cultures and which may cause more harm than good. Sweets and candies, for example, may make you popular with the children, but are actually harmful in areas where dentists are not always readily available. Deciding to reach out and make a difference is great, but you should always remember to keep in mind the needs of the people you’re trying to help, be mindful of cultural differences and exercise cultural sensitivity.
If there were ever a meaningful and conscious way of travel and community outreach, this would be it. This is possibly the best way to give back to the African people that undoubtedly give you so much during your travels. Rothney expresses it perfectly when she says: “You’re going to someone’s country to have a wonderful time – this is a way to express your gratitude.”