“Are we gonna take all this stuff?” my kids asked as the pile of donations on our counter grew. After years of far flung trips with their travel junkie parents, the boys had learned to abide by our no mercy rule of packing light, which I mastered out of necessity during my years of writing and producing travel stories for TV.
For that reason we had typically squirreled away money to fund local efforts, or we bought items to donate when we arrived in our third world destinations. But that also required time and research to figure out what was needed and which organizations were reputable. All that guesswork vanishes with Pack for a Purpose.
I had discovered this charitable conduit on the website of our destination, the amazing Ulusaba Safari Lodge in South Africa. The more I read about Pack for a Purpose, the more excited I became about it. My kids and I enthusiastically collected, scavenged and shopped for the items listed on the Pack for a Purpose website for Ulusaba. By the time we finished, our light load rule was out and a five foot duffle bag stuffed with goodies was in. (Of course, if you’re Packing for a Purpose, even a few items tucked in the corner of your suitcase is greatly appreciated. No heavy loads necessary.)
After flying from the U.S., we drove six hours from Johannesburg to Ulusaba and saw intense, heart breaking poverty along the way. I thought about the importance of the big blue duffle bag tucked in the trunk. When we arrived and my husband handed the bag over to staff members who work in the community, we learned that this stuff does more than put pencils in hands and clothes on little bodies. It also allows charitable organizations to do more than they could without the donations. Every item in our bag and yours saves funds that can go toward bigger projects like building schools, funding medical clinics, and planting gardens that will feed dozens of children for months.
It’s incredible to have started my Pack for a Purpose journey by interviewing the organization’s delightful founder, Rebecca Rothney, in North Carolina and then following the process through to a small, economically depressed village in South Africa that benefits because of her ongoing efforts. After delivering our care package and working in one of the communities the program helps, I now believe every traveler should make Pack for a Purpose a part of his or her trip planning. Giving has never been easier. Look for your destination on this website. See what’s needed. Pack whatever you can fit. When you arrive, drop your donations at the front desk if that’s as far as you’d like to take it, or ask if you can go along and see how it’s being put to use. The entire process can be as much or as little as you want.
There’s one more reason I believe every traveler journeying to every participating destination should get on board, especially those with families. It was different this time as my kids and I sought out items to take, as we watched our stash grow, as we all took turns lugging our bag through airports, as we handed it over to those who would distribute our donations, and as we went into the community to plant spinach and paint a newly built school.
We were no longer on the sidelines, no longer just handing over money or acting as a delivery service. During the weeks of collecting, during the days of lugging, during the act of giving, we became active participants in the process. And that changes you. That makes giving and doing settle somewhere deep inside you that calls to you in a different way and says this matters. Let’s do this again. And again. And again. And, thanks to Pack for a Purpose, there is no doubt we will.
Tracy Wilson writes about people, places and finding the extraordinary in everyday life. You can find more travel tips and stories that inspire at www.tracywilsonwriter.com.