The Philantourists

The Ethiopia Joy Trip is slowly winding down. Today we’ll drive from Hawzen to Mekele where we’ll stay overnight. In the morning we’ll fly back to Addis Ababa. From there I’ll say goodbye to the staff and participants of Imagine 1 Day and head back home to Wisconsin.

This has been a truly transformational experience for me. Apart from the wonderful culture and scenery, I have also learned a great deal about a unique expression of community investment. In combining tourism with philanthropy through Imagine 1 Day I have been handed a rare gift, to see the direct impact of a non-governmental organization as it does the good work of creating a sustainable solution to the cycle of poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa.

I’m not sure if “philantourism” is an original phrase, but I think it’s an apt expression to describe what I have discovered here. As a philantourist I am witness to thoughtful and passionate individuals who have embraced their desire to help others to transform an entry society. Raising money through their network of friends at home in parts of Canada, the United States and Australia these philantourists have traveled far to watch firsthand how their contributions to the people of Ethiopia are being invested for the benefit of generations to come.

By providing clean water, sanitary toilet facilities and permanent structures for the creation of schools, Imagine 1 Day is making investments in communities that will yield big dividends well into the future. With a portion of their new water supply going toward micro irrigation members of each village are encouraged to support their schools by planting fruit trees, cultivating grain and fattening livestock. The revenue generated from these activities goes toward the purchase of supplies, teacher training and other educational expenses. But the schools also serve as a rally point around which each community can become engaged and create lasting change.

In every community we visited the people welcomed the Imagine 1 Day volunteers with great warmth and appreciation. And though grateful for the intervention the villagers acknowledged their role in securing continued success.

“We thank you for coming and building our school,” an elder said through a translator. “But we look forward to the day when we no longer need you.”

By design Imagine 1 Day offers assistance to each community for only three years. Working with both educators and community leaders, the staff, volunteers and donors fully expect each village to stand on its own having made the most of the initial investment. In one case a community took an investment of 56 Ethiopian Bir (about $3.5o U.S.) and generated 12,000 Bir in just one year. It doesn’t sound like much, but in the developing world it means a great deal. These funds will ultimately be reinvested in the purchase of new livestock that will be fattened and sold at market for the benefit of the community’s school.

Each philantourist, myself included, can imagine the day when we can return to see that every child in Ethiopia has access to a high quality primary education. The goal is to accomplish this by 2020. By reinvesting the communities’ profits the new schools can be maintained at a rate of growth that is measured and sustainable. With a model that emphasizes investment over charity, that does not enable but empowers, Imagine 1 Day is providing a clear line toward development that will surely last.

Special thanks to sponsors  Patagonia, Osprey, Clik Elite and Mountain Hardwear whose generous support makes this latest series of stories possible.

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I’m a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.

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  • Great work James and Majka and all the philantourists…this is indeed a sustainable approach towards empowering the people of Africa.

    • Thanks for your comment Paul. It was really encouraging to hear from so many communities we visited how much these people wanted to put an end to foreign aid and to be put on the path toward development that will end the inter-generational cycle of poverty.