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How One Not-For-Profit Is Transforming Packing Into An Ethical Experience

pack for a purpose

People travel for myriad reasons. For escape, for education, for fun. Whatever initially leads you to visit a place for the first time, the odds are good you’ll want to go back, or that the first trip fuels your appetite to enjoy other compelling destinations. One common theme emerges for repeat travel: when people do go back, they often desire to better connect with local people, and to offer help to those people that they meet and whom could use an extra boost.

Ethical tourism” sometimes feels like a tricky concept. There is no question that there is serious economic disparity in many tourist destinations, which leads to — and is caused by — a dearth of opportunities. Many people directly and indirectly benefit from tourism, but there is still crushing poverty, lack of jobs and uneven access to education in many locales. At the same time, those wishing to provide assistance need to carefully assess their options for doing so in order to maximize the chances that their help is part of a long-term solution to these endemic problems, and not simply a Band-Aid, or worse, something that only exacerbates problems in the long run.

Searching For A Responsible Cause

Finding and working with reputable groups that provide medical care and educational assistance can serve the dual purpose of providing immediate assistance while helping local people on the path to economic independence. Yet questions remain: how does one do this, and can one make a difference on even a single leisure trip to an exotic destination?

The answer to these questions is yes – it’s definitely possible. One group tackling some of these issues and offering an easy way to help is called Pack For A Purpose.

Pack For a Purpose, a  an all-volunteer, not-for-profit organization based in North Carolina, was founded by Rebecca and Scott Rothney, a married couple that wondered how they could help after their first trip to Africa. Preparing for their return trip, they realized that they were able to carry substantially more in weight in luggage on their initial flights from the USA to Africa than they could ultimate take with them on safari in Botswana.

pack for a purpose

Recognizing an opportunity when they saw one, they decided to allocate their excess weight capacity to items they could donate to area schools prior to beginning their safari. Working with their safari company, they identified a worthy candidate and were able to donate 140 pounds of school supplies and athletic equipment to a place they knew could put those items to good use.

Continually planning return trips to Africa, the Rothneys wanted to take their idea a step further and make it easy for travelers to bring much needed supplies where ever they happened to travel, and Pack For A Purpose was born. Building on their initial success in utilizing excess capacity, Pack for a Purpose  asks travelers to allocate 5 pounds of their luggage to bringing supplies that can be donated where they are most needed.

Travelers start at the Pack for a Purpose website and select the region where they are traveling, which links them to a variety of lodges, tour companies and community groups. These local groups support a variety of local services, from schools to libraries to clinics. Those groups in turn post lists of the types of donations they need at that time, so the traveler knows they are bringing essential items that will help the community immediately. It’s that easy to make a difference.

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Gretchen Healey

Gretchen Healey gave up a window office in the IT industry to embrace travel as a profession. When not traveling, she runs Pangolin Media, a full service copy writing development and online strategy consulting company focused on the travel industry and wildlife conservation. She has visited more than 30 countries, and each travel experience has enriched her life immeasurably. When she is home, she can be found hiking with her husband and dog, cooking, gardening or skiing.

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1 Comment

  1. I could not find an email for you, Gretchen, but I wanted to thank you very much for this wonderfully written article and helping us spread the word about Pack for a Purpose! We added a link to this article on the In the News section of our website under “More Mentions.” If you will send me your email address, I can forward our PfaP “e-thank you” card to you.

    With warm regards and appreciation,
    Rebecca Rothney
    Founder and Chairperson of Pack for a Purpose

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