Today was a travel day to the island of Lamu. Tomorrow I will report on one of our flagship projects on the island. I will depart a little bit from reporting on my usual project visits and talk to you about another way that we can help alleviate poverty. A Better World volunteers have invested $14,300,000 for something that we don’t talk about often, so let me tell you about that.
It appeared like I was going to board a plane that had a bad hair day. Luckily I was on another plane and arrived safely in Lamu.
My transportation from the airport to “Kijani House” was a boat. The plane lands on the main and you walk to the jetty and wait for your hotel shuttle.
Lamu Town is a World Heritage site. The history of this island is fascinating. The architecture, culture, food, lifestyle, and practice of the Islam faith are all learning opportunities for the visitor.
I am staying here at the Kijani House, a small boutique hotel of 10 rooms, right on the water. I am a bit biased because over the years we have gotten to know the Oberson family; the children were 1, 2 and 4-years-old when I started coming here. Last month, Aisha (now 18) and Samira (now 15) spent a month at our place in Lacombe, Alberta and Candi, my wife, even took them to Disneyland and the Innisfail Zoo! So all of the ABW guests are treated very very well at this place.
Here are a few more pictures and then I will tell you about the $14 million.
The view from my room:
Rhama, the receptionist, was 9-years-old when we would see her pass by to school:
This island has a population of 13,000 people and only three cars. When I first came, there was only one car and now it is 3 times that. Transportation here is by boat, donkey, some bicycles, and walking. So, it is very peaceful and the life here is “pole pole” (pronounced “polay polay” meaning “slowly slowly”).
So why am I the only guest here tonight? A waiter, a cook, and a cook’s helper are here just for me at supper.
A few years ago, there were two incidents that drove tourists away. People want to spend their vacation time in a safe place. The incidents were terrible and two people died. One was quite a distance from here and the other was much closer – both seem to have been targeted. The fact that 99% of the people here are Muslim does not help attract many western tourists because of the way Muslims are portrayed in some countries. So today the island’s economy is crippled and people are unemployed and depending on aid.
When I first came to Kenya, I realized that money going into projects alone is not going to solve the problem of poverty. We needed to bring people to volunteer and transfer our skills through training to help the people get the most out of our projects. I have a difficult time just taking time off or sitting around by the pool or beach (don’t need more of a tan!) so I thought if I could volunteer for two weeks and add on some sightseeing the whole experience would be meaningful. Little did I realize that there could be so many people who would want to “travel with a purpose.” This, we also realized, was putting a lot of money into the local economy through lodging, food, vehicle rentals, and personal shopping. This, then, also creates jobs which is really the only way to fight poverty to some level. If we in Canada had a high unemployment rate, we too would need to depend on charity. A rough and conservative calculation of what our volunteers have put into traveling since ABW started is the $14,300,000 that I mentioned previously.
So, why don’t we talk about it? We often don’t think about our travel as making an impact on poverty—we think of it as for ourselves.
However, when tourism is down, poverty rises; the service industry employs many who already have a low income. I am seeing that here on the island.
Security is improved and the local people are vigilant about protecting the tourist industry, so I have brought many back to Lamu including my own family and have not experienced anything different. You can consider traveling as a way to help people, build relationships with other cultures, understand the challenges, and share your skills. This has been an important way for us to grow A Better World and help open the eyes, hearts, and wallets of our donors. Since we ask our volunteers to take their vacation time to invest in international community, we also make sure they get to enjoy the beauty of the country.
PS. The owners will not charge me for my stay or food here so I will give what it would cost in tips to the staff.