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ME to WE is part of the international development organization WE Charity; the company immerses families into the communities they support to experience their traditions, challenges, opportunities and hopes for the future firsthand. Participation in critical aspects of the community designed to fight poverty by enabling and empowering people to be self-sufficient forges immediate bonds and revelations. The result is awe, inspiration and unfiltered lessons, as well as lasting, deep-seated connections that foster mutual respect, understanding and a powerful sense of hope that we can all invest in the well-being of our global community. Families are introduced to the barriers that girls face, including access to education; they witness the power of fostering leadership, communal support and what happens when confidence and opportunity are cultivated.
The setup of a ME to WE trip is entirely different than taking a trip with standalone for-profit tour operator who doesn’t have these deep connections within a development organization. Here’s a list of some of the unique highlights of a ME to WE journey.
ME to WE’s umbrella development organization, WE Charity, has been working in Kenya for more than 25 years to implement WE Villages, their five-pillar model (education, water, health, food and opportunity) designed to achieve sustainable change. Travelers have a unique chance to observe the entire life cycle of this change by engaging with locals whose lives have been deeply affected by WE through the years. For example, work in Kenya around the education pillar has been extensive and travelers explore firsthand what the schools used to look like versus what they look like today, as in some locations older versions of schools have been intentionally left in place as a reminder of how far the community has come.
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In addition to the visual lessons, ME to WE guests interact extensively with community members whose lives have been radically altered by the WE Villages model over the years, from meeting children who have gone to WE schools to working alongside women whose lives have been transformed by the opportunity pillar. The result is that families get a concrete sense of the work, reward and commitment involved in helping communities lift themselves out of poverty.
Volunteer tourism is a big trend in travel, as families want to the opportunity to do meaningful service work together in a community that looks and feels very different than their own. The beauty of ME to WE trips is that families can pair fun, immersive local activities — just as they would on any vacation — with work together on an impactful development project. When we were in Kenya, we were able to spend time building WE College, an important project that will provide much-needed post-secondary school opportunities for the local community.
The beauty is that everything about a ME to WE trip is customizable and guests can determine how much or how little time they want to spend doing service work in their itinerary. An important note is that the work … is work! What families do varies by the needs during that travel period, but the work activities are not photo opportunities; they are real. Our family group helped lay the foundation for one of the new buildings. Work periods are integrated into the larger itinerary, meaning other engaging outings happen before and after work periods. It is all seamlessly executed.
Many of the ME to WE independent travel experiences take place at Bogani Cottages and Tented Camp, WE’s exclusive lodge designed to comfortably and safely house both volunteers and experiential guests. In addition to offering a wide variety of well-equipped multi-room accommodations, the setup of the lodge is special, as it offers participants a plethora of private spaces for downtime and digesting what they’ve experienced as well as communal areas that facilitate conversations. It is here that much of the magic happens!
In the morning, guests regularly congregate at The Coffee Bean, the gourmet coffee bar (including a full-featured espresso machine) complete with delicious, locally sourced coffees and teas to discuss the day ahead. And in the evening, there are a few small group venues where guests eat dinner together. Naturally, given the emotional and impactful nature of the activities, many fascinating debrief conversations evolve. In fact, a Bogani tradition involves a round-the-room mention of the day’s highlights, which unites all participants in a powerful feeling of community and sharing. The result for kids, parents and staff alike is profound connection and the stark realization that people with vastly diverse backgrounds and life experiences from literally all over the world have much in common.
All ME to WE participants are paired with facilitators who guide them throughout their experiences. Some are locals whose lives have been touched by WE Charity and who now spend time hosting ME to WE guests. The days are activity-filled and facilitators are well integrated into the travel experience. Getting to know the facilitators over the course of a stay at Bogani led to much of our joy and awe. From Masai warriors who shared incredible tales of their culture and customs to local women who have overcome great odds to access education and opportunity, we made lasting connections on this trip that will stay with us forever. Such depth of connection is only possible in a multi-day environment like this.
WE Charity’s support groups are multifaceted, from corporate sponsors and youth programs to experts in different fields who travel to Africa to offer pro bono advice and training. The mix is constantly in flux. Our trip coincided with an annual visit from a group of doctors who spend a week at the local Baraka Hospital training and doing special procedures and operations that might be unavailable without their assistance. We didn’t spend our days with the doctors, but we learned much about the highs and lows of their intense yet rewarding days during our communal dinners. Exposure to these doctors and their work was most definitely a highlight for us. ME to WE can work with guests on planning around various volunteers when possible.
ME to WE’s charter requires that it donates a minimum of 50 percent of its profits annually to WE Charity. For the past five years, ME to WE has donated, on average, more than 90 pecent of profits to WE Charity. The balance of funds are reinvested into the social enterprise to grow its sustainability. The other wonderful benefit of ME to WE is that it creates employment and economic empowerment for more than 2,000 people in WE Villages communities around the world.
We’ve traveled to many developing countries as a family and have had countless immersive experiences. After experiencing a ME to WE trip firsthand, I’ve communicated to my team that this is a truly extraordinary, highly impactful way for families to experience Africa. We paired our ME to WE experience with a few nights at a fabulous safari lodge for a perfect, well-rounded Kenya experience! ME to WE also offers experiences in Ecuador and India.
Editor’s Note: Amie received trade pricing to experience a ME to WE trip. As always, our opinions on Ciao Bambino are our own. Photos by Amie O’Shaughnessy.
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This is a challenging time for our clients given the uncertainty around the spread of coronavirus, particularly for those with near-term travel plans in impacted areas. We’re working with our suppliers on being flexible with their booking conditions, and enabling families to postpone travel to a later date without a penalty, when possible. Likewise, given the unpredictability around destinations that may be impacted in the future, we’re helping clients planning new trips and understand ways that they can protect themselves until the situation improves. We are ready to help our clients work through questions and concerns.