On travelling and giving back
An agent reveals why voluntourism is integral to her itineraries
When Yvette Crossley plans out the details for the women’s tours she escorts, giving back to the communities the group visits is integral to the agenda.
“Voluntourism is always a part of the itinerary,” says Crossley, Travel & Group Specialist with Personal Travel Management Ltd. in Burnaby, BC. “Myself and my clients enjoy preparing for the trip by making book bags for the school supplies; knitting Izzy Dolls, which were started by a Canadian peacekeeper; toques and gloves.”
Izzy Dolls were named after Canadian Master Cpl. Mark Isfeld, who saw firsthand that many children had no toys after fleeing from danger while serving on peacekeeping missions in Kuwait and Croatia in the early 1990s. After learning this, his mother, Carol Isfeld, started knitting woollen dolls for him to share with the kids he met. While both Isfelds have since died, the legacy of the Izzy Dolls continues today. For example, whenever Crossley travels, she typically has 30 to 40 dolls that her own mom knitted to bring along with her.
“A couple of years ago, one of my colleagues who knits got cancer. Before she passed away, she brought me a lot of yarn and I passed along some to those in our office who knit. I kept a few skeins and gave the rest to my mom,” she recalls. “My mom knit [a box worth of dolls] and I took these little bits of Mona Hubinette with me. She would have loved the idea that children all over the world received a little something from her. Kids love these dolls.”
A travel consultant for more than 25 years, Crossley got into the travel industry after embarking on a 2.5 months-long adventure in her early 20s.
“I returned home to my accounting job and knew I wanted to change the course of my life,” she says. “I have had so many wonderful opportunities to travel and learn about other parts of the world. Being directly involved with the people of another country has given me so many insights and realize that no matter where we live, people are the same, no matter what their belief system may be. People want their family to be healthy and happy.”
For other agents interested in adding an element of giving back to their clients’ itineraries, Crossley says voluntourism doesn’t have to be the sole purpose of the trip. They can take part in a full or half day component.
“All one needs to do is talk with the tour operator or wholesaler about how and where to add this into an itinerary,” she says. “Being able to sit down with people and learn about their lives and the trials they have, enables clients to feel they have really been a part of a community and not just an outsider passing through. It is a much richer life experience.”
Giving back one trip at a time
Crossley shares three examples of making a difference through travel
1) On one visit to a village in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, I realized people had no heat in their homes and would have to go to sleep in a cold bed. Hot water bottles could not be purchased in the country. Before my next trip, I arranged with a local drug store to purchase 50 hot water bottles at cost. Then my mom, ladies on the trip, women from various quilting and knitting guilds and myself made covers. We gave one to the woman of each family and had the guide explain what they were for. There were big smiles and hugs!
2) On a trip to Ecuador, I arranged for our group to visit a school in a very poor village. One of my regular tour participants had an idea. She had elementary students from a local school learn to sew and make book bags for the school supplies we would bring the children. In return, the children in Ecuador drew pictures of their village, important monuments or things that were important to them. We brought those pictures back to the Canadian students. The client who had the idea for the exchange was so moved by what she saw in the village, I arranged for her to go back to the village to teach the students English. She also brought with her three sewing machines and taught some of the village ladies how to sew in order for them to make money for their families. This client had never travelled on her own before and it was so wonderful for me to be a part of seeing her grow and do something so far out of her comfort zone!
3) My last international trip before Covid was hiking to Everest Base Camp in Nepal. I travelled with a couple of friends and once we were back in Kathmandu, we purchased a large portion of food, hacky sacs and some warm toques and delivered everything to an orphanage in the city. Two friends that came with me had never done a bucket list trip so hiking to Everest Base Camp was really different. I spoke with them before the trip and we decided to visit an orphanage or school in Kathmandu after the hike. While getting to Everest Base Camp was amazing, taking food and school supplies to an orphanage gave them a very different perspective of the city. Our guide brought his wife and two small children to the orphanage as well. It was a lesson to his own children how thankful they should be for all they have. (The orphanage was severely damaged in the earthquake in 2016 and the children were only living in a small portion of the building. There was no government money to rebuild it yet.) Now, my friends want to include some type of voluntourism as part of their next trips.
Crossley spoke at the Outdoor Adventure Show in YVR in March… only one week before travel halted!