Dear Advisor Partners,
Normally I share my thoughts with you in our weekly blog. However, this week I am leading an amazing FAM through Colombia and one of the participants is someone most of you already know, either through Virtuoso, her speeches or written work through her company The Dynamic Communicator. Jill Schiefelbein shared her thoughts yesterday and they were so powerful, I felt they needed to be our guest blog this week. Yesterday was a powerful day. Thanks to some very giving people with huge hearts, we made a difference. So, as we sit today in my new favorite eco lodge, Cannua, I share Jill’s thoughts.
Please enjoy the video that captured yesterday’s magic and make sure to watch till the end for a special heartwarming moment.
Ever have one of those “full circle” moments in life?
I did yesterday while I was standing in a room at the AMI Foundation in Comuna 13 in Medellín Colombia, watching the oscillating emotions of curiosity, patience, and gratitude play out over a small group of children’s faces.
They knew the strangers were there for something exciting. They didn’t know who we were. They sat in their small plastic chairs waiting for the adults to give speeches.
Then the moment came. The gifting of 100 pairs of shoes to the program.
I’d like to say this was the moment when the children’s faces lit up with joy, there was an uproarious applause, and everyone felt surrounded by love and community.
Which, let’s be honest, is the story that could easily be told.
Don’t get me wrong. It was a nice moment. A lot of work and effort on behalf of the Big Five Tours & Expedition’s Spirt of Big Five Foundation and collaboration with many local community members made it happen.
But it left me a bit…sad, about how we pop in and out of the lives of others around the world.
About how fleeting our time really is, so we capture the moments in photos and videos telling ourselves that we won’t forget, that we will come back, that we will remember, and then the posed smiles fade into the distance.
About how I was physically standing in the home of generations of people who have survived decades of violence and all we were doing was handing out shoes that, frankly, I did absolutely nothing to assist with except paying a few extra dollars to come on this trip.
I got emotional standing there, taking video and photos for my friend and a true humanitarian and philanthropist Ashish Sanghrajka (who has been coming to this community for years—his 40th trip to Colombia to be exact—and making an impact) who arranged this, because I felt like a complete and total fraud. I didn’t deserve the smiles from the kids. I didn’t deserve the thanks from the adults and the foundation staff.
In fact, I felt ashamed standing there being in that moment. (Which, because Ashish is so darn smart and knows me too darn well, is probably why he asked me to document it all for him, so I had something to do.)
Then the ”full circle” moment hit me.
When I was 18 years old, I went off to college with a plan on becoming a “motivational speaker and leadership conference facilitator in Spanish-speaking third-world countries for youth” (no, you can’t make this stuff up).
While my plans to be fluent in Spanish didn’t pan out as intended, I’ve actually managed to maintain quite a bit and can communicate fairly well. I started having conversations with some of the adults at the foundation, learned about the family tree painted on the wall of all the citizens it’s impacted, and began to crack the surface of the problems that it faces.
With promises of funding, a return visit, and problem-solving strategy sessions (really, me listening and trying to understand), we shared contact information and, with the warmest hugs, went our separate ways. I know I’ll be back. And I’m so thankful for the world of travel and connections in this space for allowing me to find a new home and a place where, while it won’t be as a motivational speaker, I’ll be able to give back in a way that means something (selfishly) to me and to those that will be served.
The integration of art as a tool of the resurrection of Comuna 13 touched my soul in a way that words can’t easily define. The spirit of its people and the energy and love they put into their lives is palpable. It’s a place that is magical because of its people and their grit and strength and resilience.
And this morning, as I sit in the clouds at the most spectacular eco-lodge Cannua in Antioquia, I’m reflecting on how this amazing place has already changed me. How I’ve met people who changed the trajectory of their lives to make sure their country thrives. Who defines success in their businesses by if the community and the environment around them are also successful and prospering?
This place is magical. It’s transformative. And if I didn’t see anything else on this trip I would leave with a full heart and an active mind. The amazing thing is…we are less than 48 hours into the adventure and there is so much more to come.
Dear Advisor Partners,
Back in 2019, we launched three sister websites, all powered by Big Five. These sites are aimed at creating content for you to have meaningful conversations with travelers about authentic, responsible travel, something we have been championing long before it became popular. The sites all have catchy names, Galapagos.com, VisibleAsia.com and SafariTours.com, so you could imagine the puzzled look on any marketing expert’s face when we told them we were turning these into something that has nothing to do with sales and everything to do with education. I must admit, at first, I second guessed myself, however, as the shape and scope of these sites took form, complete with sustainability rankings by country in that region, the purpose became very clear: providing thought provoking content on sustainability.
In the office, we refer to these as our “micro blogs”, however, the ideas and impacts being written about are far from micro. On these sites, we share stories from the far reaches of our travel universe, showcasing sustainability in action. Whether we are talking about a marine reserve that revitalized fishing and local marine habitats on the coastline of Kenya, the hidden people of Costa Rica returning to their traditional ways of life, or about a forest, once a royal hunting reserve, revitalized into a prime example of wildlife conservancy in India, the same underlying message is clear. By using tourism to support areas, projects and hotels that are focused on sustainability, not only are we helping preserve the area, community, and wildlife, but also returning local life to the natural order as it should be. By doing so, our children and generations to come will be able to experience the beauty and culture of yesterday, far into tomorrow.