Young Micato Traveller Olivia and South Africa “Hero” Rosie
From Micato’s first days in business nearly 50 years ago, we habitually spent time in Kenya’s schools and orphanages. These early visits were prelude to our founding AmericaShare in 1986 and creating the Lend a Helping Hand safari option, where travellers learn how our Harambee Centre is changing lives in the Mukuru slum. In South Africa, Micato guests visit the Khayelitsha Township outside Cape Town and meet Rosie, who wakes up at 3:30 a.m. daily to cook meals in her small kitchen for the neediest in her community.
For evidence that community visits impact our travellers, there’s no better example than 9-year old Olivia Berger, the youngest Micato guest ever to visit the Harambee Centre and Rosie’s Kitchen on two separate visits to Africa.
If you’re not familiar with the Micato One for One Commitment, the concept is simple. For every safari sold, Micato pays the fees required to send an African child to school—a child who would otherwise stay home due to extreme poverty.
868,000 Kenyan girls miss nearly a week of school each month because they can’t afford to buy sanitary pads.
Appalled at this number, Lorna Macleod, the executive director of Micato Safaris’ nonprofit arm, Micato-AmericaShare, founded a separate non-profit focused on getting sanitary products to girls who need them most. This program not only keeps at-risk girls in school, it also helps protect them from predation and sexual diseases. Thus Huru International was born.
That was in 2008, and Huru has been distributing kits containing reusable sanitary pads to girls in Kenya ever since, having put Huru Kits in the hands of over 20,000 girls. The kits are manufactured at a workshop based in the Micato-AmericaShare Harambee Centre, which is staffed by members of the community. Huru Kits are distributed throughout Kenya with the assistance of more than 30 local partners. Kits are delivered through school-based information sharing events, which engage girls in discussions and activities focused on HIV prevention. In just three short years, Huru has found partnerships with many well-respected organizations, including Johnson & Johnson, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, among others.
Most recently Huru has partnered with the o.b. Brand on a Share-it-Forward campaign with the potential to raise $25,000 for Huru. To put that number in perspective, for every $25 donated, Huru can supply one girl with all the sanitary supplies (including underwear, reusable pads, soap and even life-saving HIV/AIDS prevention information) that she’ll need for between one and two years.
It’s a simple campaign—from now through December 5th, anyone who “likes” the o.b. Brand Facebook page may share a message about Huru’s mission with all their Facebook friends at Facebook.com/obmightysmall. For every individual that shares the message, o.b. will donate $1 to Huru. If the donation goal is reached, that means that 1,000 more young girls will be given the gift of education, safety and hope.
115 million children worldwide aren’t getting an education. Most of them are girls. Isn’t it time to Share It Forward?
“You will be at ease only in your own home” – African Proverb
As a safari company we have lots of practice helping people build their vacation dreams, and with our nonprofit arm AmericaShare we’ve learned how to help children build their futures. This past week, our New York office decamped to New Jersey for a day to build… a house?
That’s right, although our expert Safari Specialists know much more about luxury lodges and helicopter excursions then they do about hammers and shovels, they have nevertheless been trekking out to Paterson, New Jersey and working with Habitat for Humanity there for the last ten years.
Yet being an expert on Africa and volunteering to build a house aren’t as mutually exclusive as one might think. Of the hundreds of families that Paterson Habitat has helped, a significant portion of them have been Kenyan – in fact, 10% of all non-designated contributions go straight to their global partnership in Kenya. The direct cost of a Habitat house in Kenya is $1,000, so you can imagine how far even 10% of funds can go – HFH Kenya has helped to put a roof over the heads of 5,000 Kenyan families in the last 27 years alone!
In our experience in the Mukuru slum of Nairobi, where AmericaShare is based, we’ve grown used to the sight of ramshackle huts constructed of corrugated tin with rusted holes, each one-room building home to a multitude of family members. We’ve been inside some of them, stepping onto the clean-swept dirt floors, and marveled at the enduring smiles on the faces of the people who live here, making the best of what they have, as little as it may be.
Habitat has given our friends in Kenya, and people like them around the world, a reason to hope for something better. We were able to witness this firsthand in Paterson, as we dug holes and lifted cement blocks alongside local Habitat house recipients, who work for “sweat equity” on their new homes. One young woman spoke shyly about how excited she was for a real home to share with her mom, and the hope it gave her to someday realize her dream of working in the fashion industry.
Her words are echoed by the Kenyan’s who have received homes from HFH Kenya, with Paterson Habitat aid. A home can make a life, as Kisii, Kenya native Ruth Kwamboka Gisemba articulates perfectly:
“Like an old rugged cloth, my life was in a mess before I owned a HFH house.”
“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them” -Henry David Thoreau
Of all the great things we get to do every day – scout for hidden gems of lodges in the bush, find new ways to deepen our definition of the word luxury, help people create the adventures of their dreams – our One for One Commitment tops the list. It’s simple: for every safari we sell, we send one African child to school.
We’re thrilled when our passion for educating children ignites a similar passion in others, so you can imagine our delight when we learned that Chatelaine (one of Canada’s leading women’s magazines), was inspired to write about our One for One programme in the Travel section of their most recent issue.
The travel destination of this particular issue was Kenya, so it is not surprising to see Micato Safaris featured – it is, after all, our home. The feature mentions our devotion to luxury, attention to detail, and our hot-air balloon safaris that end in champagne breakfasts. But the focus is on giving back, not just with One for One, but also through the efforts of our nonprofit arm, AmericaShare, and the kind and generous gifts of some of our travellers.
Chatelaine quotes our founder Felix Pinto, saying: “Tourists come to Africa for the animals, but it’s the people they remember when they leave.”
They often do more than just remember, and Chatelaine pointed out two of our favorite examples of selfless generosity: the $100,000 gift from one couple that allowed us to build the Harambee Community Centre in the Mukuru slum, and the young boy who donated all his Bar Mitzvah money – enough to build a basketball court for the Mukuru children!
We are very often humbled by the generosity of our guests, and we appreciate Chatelaine for illustrating so well all the good that they do. We all go on safari hoping to return with photos of lions, zebras and elephants, but more and more of our guests seem to come home with even more – a dedication to a brighter future for African children. We’re overjoyed to be able to help.
Guests on a Crystal Serenity Cruise are used to luxury – sumptuous meals, elegant rooms, and impeccable service. This year Micato Safaris worked with Crystal Cruises in Sri Lanka to offer guests something a little different: a chance to get their hands a little dirty, make some friends, and give back. They jumped at the chance.
A Crystal Cruise guest helps to beautify the Lengala Village School
On March 25th, when docked at Colombo, an eager group of eighteen Crystal Cruise guests boarded a bus for the village of Lengala, in order to volunteer under the auspices of Sarvodaya (a Sri Lankan humanitarian movement). Upon arrival, they were presented with a traditional tea with all of the fixings. Then, it was time to roll up their sleeves and get to work.
Using supplies that the guests had funded through Sarvodaya prior to the trip, they began work painting the Home Science unit, the main hall and the library of the Lengala Village School. As they were painting, the locals brought them fresh coconut juice, and the village children couldn’t help but be a delight to the guests, laughing and chatting away.
After the day’s work was done, the children asked the guests for their addresses, so that they could write them and become their pen pals. To show their thanks, the children performed a beautiful and unexpected dance for the guests, and the principal of the school expressed his heartfelt gratitude. The village saw them off smiling.
Newfound friends in far-flung places
Departing reluctantly, the guests returned to the ship glowing with the knowledge that they had made a difference in the lives of their wonderful new friends, thanks to the seamless work between Crystal Cruises and Sarvodaya, all facilitated by Micato Safaris.
This experience of voluntourism gave something special back to the guests and the Sri Lankan locals alike, something that will be thought of often, whether as a reminiscence upon entering a paint store or a school, or the receipt of a letter from a young pen pal, with a Sri Lankan postmark. The length of a trip abroad is finite, but the memories of new friends and good deeds done can last a lifetime.
Through the Micato-AmericaShare School Sponsorship Programme, we match orphaned and vulnerable Kenyan children with generous Micato travellers and friends who sponsor them to attend boarding school and often form a strong—even lifelong—bond.
This video tells the heartwarming success stories of four of the children in our Sponsorship Programme. An education is the only way out of the slum for these children, and too often an unattainable dream for single or double orphans.
Justus was a young boy living in the Mukuru slum in Kenya. At age 9, both of his parents and one of his four siblings had already died. He was living with an aunt and could not read, write, or even speak Swahili or English—he could only communicate in his tribal language. Prospects for Justus were grim; with no education, there appeared to be no way for him to break the cycle of poverty and create a better life for himself.
And just like that, everything changed. (You can see just how much in the video above.)
Through the programme, we match orphaned and vulnerable children with generous Micato travellers and friends who sponsor them to attend boarding school (over 300 students are currently receiving an education). Over six years in the programme, Justus has absolutely thrived. He’s doing so well that he is now attending one of Kenya’s top educational institutions, Alliance High School—a school so selective that only 1 in 2,500 applicants is accepted.
Justus recently got a chance to fulfill a dream of his: travelling to the United States. Micato flew Justus to Las Vegas this summer to tell his story to 500 top travel agents at our Annual Breakfast Event at Travel Mart. The speech is both heartwarming and inspiring; you can see it in the video above.
Justus and his school sponsor, Jena Gardner
In addition to bringing tears to the eyes of many people on that morning in August, Justus was able to see two very special people on his trip to the U.S.: his sponsor, Jena Gardner, and his hero, Dr. Ben Carson.
Justus has been sponsored by Jena (the dynamic founder of JG Blackbook of Travel) since he started in the programme over six years ago. He is immensely grateful to have her in his life—he knows that without her help he would not be where he is today. His deep affection for her is evident in his speech.
Dr. Ben Carson is a pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, author of the books Think Big and Take the Risk and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Dr. Carson grew up poor in Detroit, and Justus was inspired by his enormous success despite an impoverished upbringing. Knowing that Justus was coming to America, we sent an email to Dr. Carson…and serendipitously, he was to be in New York the same weekend! The two met and talked for a while, and Justus was afforded something very unique: a chance to ask questions of his hero. When they parted, Justus embraced Dr. Carson in gratitude for a special moment in his life.
It is already a remarkable story… and it has only just begun. Of course, no one conveys Justus’s story better than he does. Enjoy the video above, and remember: this is a 16 year old boy speaking in his second language!
Micato’s nonprofit arm, AmericaShare, is at the forefront of a life-changing initiative in Africa—and it appears TheNew York Times has taken notice!
Tuesday’s New York Times featured an article about one of our projects designed to keep African girls in school every day of the month. The project is the creation of reusable sanitary napkins for impoverished girls in the slums. An unfortunate reality is that school-age girls typically miss one week of school each month when menstruating since disposable sanitary napkins are beyond the reach of poor families.
The Micato-AmericaShare Harambee Centre is the headquarters for this remarkable project. Washable and reusable sanitary napkins are being sewn by our women’s group and packaged into kits that include eight pads, three pair of underwear, washing soap, plastic storage bags and a pamphlet about safe sex and HIV/AIDS. These kits are being distributed free of charge to girls via the Kenyan Girl Guide Association. The expectation is that this project will be replicated throughout Africa at other community centers serving impoverished populations.
The project was launched by Huru International, an organization that was founded by Micato’s own Lorna MacLeod, the executive director of AmericaShare. The word ‘Huru’ means ‘freedom’ in Swahili and the organization’s mission is to empower girls by providing them with the knowledge and resources they need to develop into healthy, economically secure women. Huru International’s partners are the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, Johnson & Johnson and Warner Brothers, amongst others.