Last December, I opted not to take my team here at AFAR out for a boozy lunch to celebrate the holidays. (Let the record show: I really like a boozy lunch.) Instead, I thanked them for their good work by paying for 10 passports for teenagers who don’t ordinarily get on airplanes and zip off to experience another part of the world.
Founded in 2008, the AFAR Foundation sponsors international travel for underserved students through its flagship program, Learning AFAR. To date, we have sent more than 200 high school students on trips to Cambodia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru, and the American Southwest. Last year, our employee giving campaign raised more than $6,000 toward passport fees for talented young people from New York, Houston, Seattle, and Oakland, California. That tally was a strong showing from our dedicated staff, and the donations become even more meaningful when you consider how the trips enrich and transform these students’ lives.
Most readers of AFAR travel extensively and know the incredible charge that it can bring. You get outside of your daily routine, and your perspective changes—sometimes quite dramatically. As frequent travelers, we sometimes forget the power of that shift.
The stories we hear when our Learning AFAR students return from a trip inevitably bring an entire room of hardened editors to tears. A student dealing with a difficult family situation at home feels the burden of her own life lift as she helps to build libraries in Peru; a kid who
was closeted prior to his trip to Costa Rica is empowered not only to come out to his friends and family, but also to found his school’s first gay-straight alliance. When they return, these students—who come from disparate social circles—have bonded with each other in ways their parents and teachers could never have predicted. Their confidence and self-esteem are buoyed, they care more deeply about their own communities, and they are itching to travel again.
Each year, I have the privilege of spending a Saturday morning talking to Learning AFAR students in New York before they take their trip. Despite the early hour, the excitement in the room is palpable as the teenagers throw themselves into learning about the culture and ecology of their destination. At its best, travel is about the thrill of possibility. As I stand in front of this next generation of travelers, I see endless possibility.
HOW TO DONATE
I know you receive many solicitations this time of year. If you’re like us and you think travel is the best form of education, please give what you can.
Photo by Shannon Moore
© 2016 AFAR Media