It’s not uncommon for world travelers to experience a feeling of helplessness when observing the poverty and destitution third world communities go through on a daily basis.
Bruce Poon Tip is the founder of the Canadian-based G Adventures Travel specializing in trips that provide authentic interaction with local cultures, “While traveling through poor nations, I saw impoverishment and the opportunity to give back.”
The non-profit group Planeterra Foundation is the brainchild of his experiences and has grown to connect philanthropic institutions, industry partners, local government and namely fellow travelers to help support sustainable solutions on an international level.
As a principal and teacher at the Solarte School in mangrove swamps of Bocas del Toro village, Zinna “Candy” Catlins saw the urgent need for clean water. A large majority of her students would consistently miss school due to illness from the contaminated water supply of their Panamanian village.
“Last year the majority of my 57 kids were always sick, they always had vomiting and diarrhea and we knew it was because of the water. This year we only had three or four kids that got sick and it doesn’t have to do with the drinking of water. Now they’re drinking that clean water with that tap Planterra donated.”
Funding is a key element to this type of philanthropic endeavor and Planeterra’s total operations are covered by Poon Tip’s commercial company G Adventures. Planeterra is the binding center of pulling in resources to create answers to suffering and need of people throughout the world. They partner with local organizations, NGOs and community associations.
“Our main source of donations come from G Adventures passengers who have taken a trip with the company and have decided to give back to the community they have visited, and then have donated online at Planeterra.org,” said Kelly Galaski, Program & Operations Manager of Latin America Projects.
One of the most memorable projects for Galaski to date is a water station project at the border of Kenya and Somalia.
“Over 1000 drought refugees were showing up every day completely dehydrated and often dying shortly after arriving. We collaborated with Care Canada and in two days we raised over $50,000 for the stations so they could be installed immediately.”
The project is set to go on indefinitely and has led to a local partnership with The Boma Project that funds micro-enterprises to offer alternative livelihoods to those who lost all their livestock due to drought.
Nkarkaro Kome is a success story stemming from the loan given her through the project.
“I can repay this money slowly. During the drought, this money helped a lot. We used it to buy food. We don’t go begging from other people anymore. It changed our lives.”
There was a joint effort with G Adventures and Planeterra to appeal to all those who had traveled to Kenya or who wanted to help the drought-stricken region and their aim was to do something concrete, not simply send funds to one of the aid organizations without a goal.
Grass roots initiatives are usually the starting points for finding ways to improve conditions and it’s local NGO or community groups that are looking for outside support that provide the ideas and ways to help. Planeterra reviews proposals from these groups and uses set criteria in their decision to move forward on a project. For a group to be eligible for funding and/or other aid from Planeterra and their partners means they must show the ability to handle funds, provide fiscal transparency and reliability.
Community meetings are a large part of the approval process and a way for the group to gauge how much the proposed plan will be supported. According to Galaski, locals are an instrumental part of their own success, “We are firm believers in grass roots initiatives and support projects that come out of local efforts to improve conditions in their communities and environments.”
When asked about her favorite success story, Galaski’s answer is not that far removed from the storyline of the movie Slum Dog Millionaire: Considered a burden to his family, 11-year-old Amit Gupta left home on a bus headed eight hours away to the Delhi railway station with just enough money to cover three days of food. He managed to find a job at a textile shop and remained homeless, sleeping on the shop floor close for the next year.
Gupta was spotted on the street by a staff member from the Planeterra partner organization, Salaam Balaak Trust, a street children’s center. He was given food, shelter and enrolled in school and within a year he was accepted to a prestigious private school. Amit is now in his final year of university studying Electrical Engineering and preparing for his Master’s degree.
To ensure more like Amit benefit in efforts of the foundation the goal is longevity and consistency of programs. Installation staffs are sent on sight throughout the year to monitor efforts and check that equipment and facilities are maintained properly. They also train locals as Planeterra Ambassadors to support relationships in the communities and develop new initiatives.
Cynthia Cunniff is a freelance writer.