Dear Advisor Partners,
Have you ever looked under the hood of a car, wondering what happens when you drive the car? You might even understand in theory what happens with the pistons and cylinders, etc. Have you actually seen it happen though? And where did the innovation start? In a similar fashion, many of you have heard me talk about Big Five’s sustainability mission while mentioning the projects around the world. These projects happen behind the scenes and are true labors of love. You are always welcome to see them in action, even participate for a day or multiple days. Our journey down this path started in the late 1970’s when our founder and CEO Mahen Sanghrajka, (aka dad), was collaborating with other companies in a joint effort to eliminate public cigarette smoking in the game reserves of Kenya. That led to education for the children in rural communities in Kenya and kept growing to even providing eye surgery to the underprivileged in parts of India. Since that time, the commitment has remained, always working behind the scenes.
In Peru’s Sacred Valley, we collaborate with the folks at Awamaki in teaching women from several Andean communities micro-entrepreneurship through weaving. Every $1 we give, generates $4 of income for each weaver. This support and education allows these communities to protect their land and provide for their families. Those of you who attended Virtuoso Travel Week, you may have seen that we were handing out 350 hand woven bracelets made by these women, with each bracelet representing a full day’s wage. We offered to mail these bracelets out to anyone who would like one, we still are, all you have to do is ask.
In Tanzania, just outside Arusha, sits Ereto Primary School. Built within prominent Maasai communities, this school is providing education to just under 300 primary level students. What amazes me about this school isn’t where we are now, rather where we came from. When Ereto first started, the local director had to basically beg the Maasai elders to let their children learn instead of being farmers. After intense deliberation to give education a try, Ereto was born with 20 children sitting on dirt floors in the open air, come rain or shine, without any stationary and limited literature. On my last visit in March 2021, the class size had grown to 265 students, 3 classrooms were built, with plans for 2 more, and thanks to a generous donation, a teachers dorm is under construction as of this writing. Many of our guests going to Tanzania stop in to deliver supplies, or even work at the school. Every $300 we provide allows for one child to be educated for an entire year.
In Sri Lanka, the JetWing Youth development Program we proudly collaborate with provides training for children of war in northern Sri Lanka. These children were born into and raised in a war zone. As a result, they are dealing with substance abuse issues and premature death. At a time when conflict and other crises devastated many industries in the country, older children, especially those from rural marginalized communities, faced stiff odds in getting jobs that offered a career path. With Jetwing, we train these older children in the hospitality field, giving them a step in the door with a well-known hotel chain and providing future opportunities to grow in a career. With every $1 donation made, we provide a trainee with a day’s worth of accommodation, learning materials and also set-off his or her trainer’s expense. The program is free to students, who earn certificates equivalent to internationally accepted NVQ standards, and employment opportunities at one of the Jetwing Hotels.
In Guatemala, one of the leading causes of death has been a lack of clean drinking water, something I saw firsthand when my family and I visited. Our recent partnership with EcoFiltro allows for artisanal clay pots made locally, to be turned into clean water filters that last 2 years. These filters start life as a clay pot, before a process of coating and submerging and baking turn them into long lasting, cost effective water filters. Each filter, which costs $35 to deploy, provides clean water for 25 children in need at a local school, or even a multifamily household. After the filter portion has been utilized fully, the pot, and the minerals captured in the filtering process, become an ideal pot for in home organic farming. Guests to Guatemala can choose to help us deploy more during a day of work.
And coming full circle back to Peru is our newest project, Kipi the robot, built by brilliant grade school teacher Walter Velasquez. In early 2020, when borders and schools closed, the concept of virtual learning in a town like Huancavelica just didn’t work. Most homes don’t have even the most basic forms of internet connection. To make matters more challenging, Huancavelica is one of the poorest regions in Peru with one of the highest cases of narco-trafficking. Walter, using the best form of innovation, built Kipi, a prototype robot from scratch, loading the mainframe with the complete curriculum in almost 50 languages. Kipi is then deployed to the villages where children learn in person. In many cases, Walter delivers Kipi in person traveling on foot or by Alpaca or donkey to these remote neighborhoods. Walter and Kipi are showing the world that children are not necessarily the victim of narco-trafficking, they are in fact, the biggest resistance.
Your Big Five journey, no matter where it goes, is supporting one of these projects. With the help of our system, GIB 5.0, your journey can take you to one part of the world, while your efforts are felt in another part of the world. The name Big Five was born from the animals. To us, it is so much more, it is our higher purpose.
Dear Travel Advisors,
The number 23 has so many connections. Those of you who are sports fans like me, of course 23 is tied to His Airness, Michael Jordan. 23 is the width of the Arecibo message, sent to space in search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The earth’s axis is tilted at approximately 23°. Normal human reproductive cells have 23 chromosomes, other human cells have 46 chromosomes, arranged in 23 pairs. My favorite, however, is in numerology, where 23 represents creativity and a sense of freedom. How appropriate since I am soon embarking on my 23rd visit to Morocco and staying in my favorite riad, in a room with 23 in the number. Coincidence? I think not.
Honestly speaking, my first visit there years ago just didn’t draw me in like the subsequent visits did. I don’t know if I was my jaded from having been around Africa so many times, or just an unrealistic expectation. Mind you this was before places like Dar Ahlam and the Royal Mansour existed. For example, on my first visit, hot air balloons were just getting started outside Marrakech, and on a more recent visit, paragliding had surpassed ballooning in popularity. On an earlier visit the southern part of Morocco was just opening up, and on a more recent visit, Taroudant was officially the new Marrakech. I once learned from a friend early on what it took to operate successfully in Morocco. Where others may see challenges, I see opportunity, because this country has transformed through tourism over time.
Now I do need to share a few hidden gems with you. First there is the Henna Art Café, a Lebanese café that I go to every time I’m in Marrakech. Many of you know, my mother is from Sudan, so anytime I can get Lebanese string cheese, ful or even falafel, I am all over it. Another is Espace Lastah in Taroudant, because nothing says Morocco like… tacos. Now this place is not fancy, however this gem was found when I was looking for something simple. No more couscous no more Berber bread, something much simpler, and it was purely by accident. The last, not dealing with food is not so much a gem, rather a must see and must do. About 4 years ago, a friend turned me on to this orphanage for abandoned infants, called project Radhia. The sole purpose of this orphanage is to take in abandoned babies, some as young as 2 months old, and nurse them until the age of 2, where a more long term loving home is found. While gut wrenching, it shows how a loving act like this, in a residential neighborhood in Marrakech can make such a huge impact. I visit this orphanage with every visit and any of our programs in Morocco support this orphanage. The smiles alone are worth an annual visit, especially since you can’t take cameras with you.
Well that was all on visits 1 – 22. Now comes visit 23, and there is no better way to explain Morocco then a sense of freedom, especially when you go beyond Marrakech and Fez to the more remote routes. This program, Morocco South Sahara Discovery, is a perfect example of Morocco at its finest.
Dear Advisor Partners,
Who knew going to Las Vegas would be so sought after. Yet here I am, 48 hours away from returning to Vegas for Virtuoso Travel Week to see so many partners, colleagues and friends. This week’s video is for you, to make you laugh, and take you to my childhood, because nothing says childhood like superheroes…and Vegas. Ok…maybe not Vegas. I am looking forward to seeing our Virtuoso friends back in Las Vegas and many of you later on at other conferences too. The road to get here has been challenging and bumpy. If you are reading this, you endured and clearly you have superpowers because you never gave up. Take a minute, enjoy the video, smile, and congratulate yourself. Whether you know it or not, you are a superhero in my book.
If you do see me in the Aria or Bellagio hallways, say my name and put the word BIG before it. I go by Big Ash, Big Pool, Big Hulk, Big Man, Big Bat, or even Big Hey Guy (that’s for you Lynda. We miss you.)
See you in Vegas!