When I worked in an office I would spend way to much time staring at travel websites. France, Mexico, Thailand, Australia – I would create itineraries and trips that I knew I would never go on. From time to time I would see giveaways for a trip for two to Japan or a Caribbean Cruise or even giveaway in my backyard to go skiing in Banff for a weekend. I’d always enter into these cheesy contests and naturally, I’d never win. But I enjoyed revelling in the possibility I could be getting a phone call telling me to pack my bags because I’d won all all expense paid getaway.
In 2010, I had had enough. Hoping I’d win a getaway wasn’t realistic so I booked a ticket to Europe with not nearly enough money, no one to go with and the ultimatum to quit my job to get the time off. Best decision I’ve made.
Now after 5 years of travel all around the earth and with the realization that the world holds infinite possibilities. I started to think of how I could combine my love for travel with a way to give back to the communities and the people that I had been fortunate enough to visit. And hopefully inspire someone like my past self to come and do the same.
The idea I came up with was The Give Back Giveaway. A cool idea, but a little far out. The Give Back Give Away was going to be a sweepstakes that would allow one person, anywhere in the world, to travel completely free to an amazing location and join in a volunteerism tour helping out in community projects.
Great. How to do this though? Well, before anything I had to think if I could raise the money to fund this sort of trip for someone. With a little googling I found that lots of people were funding for there own charity vacation. I figured if that worked, people might be willing to help fund a trip that gives back to a community and also gives them a possibility to experience it.
I knew I’d need a major hand to pull this off. I reached out to the only person I thought would humour the idea. My buddy Johnny Ward who I had done some of my best travel with in the past. His brand and social following are quite large, which made the project reputable (why would people give me thousands of dollars) and was key in making the campaign spread to people all over the world. He is also a manic traveller and an organizational wizard. He already had a trip from Cape Town to Casablanca planned beginning in mid 2015 and he had invited me to join him. I pitched Johnny the idea and was luckily able to convince him that people would donate to this project (I had no idea if they would). And that is how Project West Africa was born.
From there we slowly plugged away at the tasks it would take to create The Giveback Giveaway. Finding a non-profit organization that would be crazy enough to work with us was the next to-do. We had 3 countries in mind. Ghana, Sierra Leone or Senegal. After sending out a few dozen emails to organizations and getting next to no responses back I finally received a reply from Yacine, the director and founder of Sen Experience Plus in Senegal & Gambia. He was genuinely excited at the prospect of doing a customized tour around his home country, working on some projects he had been wanting to put into action. I was open about the fact that we hadn’t raised a single dollar for trip yet, nor did we have a set date. He was still happy to be on board and basically started developing the trip that very day. That is how Senegal and The Gambia were decided as our locations.
The real challenge was next. Pull funds out of thin air. After checking a few crowd funding sites it looked as though GoFundMe would be the best option because it connected with friends on our Facebook. To make the campaign successful we needed to share it . Our goal was not to take one of our Facebook friends on a holiday with us. It was to make it a possibility no matter where you were in the world or how much money you had. You could still come on a life changing trip. This is also why we structured the pricing (donations) like we did. At $10 for one entry we thought a greater amount of people around the world could enter at that price. And if you could afford more, $25 for 3 entries.
With that set, we then had work out dates that would work for everyone. At that time in late April, I was travelling through South America. Johnny was in Thailand and would be heading over to Africa in a month or two and Yass was in London deciding when he would be taking his time off to get to Senegal. We guessed at a date of when we could all be in Senegal and finalized the last two weeks in November. Scary, but we couldn’t have planned it better.
Over the course of a few weeks we hammered out the logistics, the routes and the projects and communities we would be assisting. The major project we chose to work on was to build fifty tables for women in the town of Kolda. The women use small wooden tables to sell there goods; i.e. produce, handmade good, bread, crafts. The tables they had now were decrepit and falling apart. Building the tables is an effort to cycle money through the community by hiring local carpenters to build the tables. We also added donating school supplies to a school. 70 pairs of shoes to street children. Umbrellas to protect women agriculture workers and a few other small donations.
By late April we launched the crowd funding page and money slowly started to come in. It did take a while to get the ball rolling but once it did, it happened quickly. People donated so generously. It was really humbling to see how many people were enthusiastic about the idea.
We reached our target one day before our deadline. That was really special. A week later we made the draw. Johnny and I initially both wanted to do the draw together via Skype or periscope but he was struggling with wifi issues in West Africa. On Sept 20th I made the draw with a group of passenger I was travelling with. Jacqueline Martinez, who I am excited to be meeting in a few days, was the luckily winner. She’s a girl who hasn’t travelled much and is beyond excited to experience this trip. After Jacqueline won, we had people contacting us to see if it was possible to join the trip as a paid guest. We spoke to Yass and he was happy to accommodate. We now have five extra people coming with us from all over the world.
Its been a crazy half year planning this event and now its about to happen. It feels great to know we’ve accomplished something we’ve set out to do but it feels even better to know that there’s people out there that were so willing to help us achieve it. So this is just a massive THANK YOU to everyone who supported this. You have done something pretty amazing. I’m so so grateful. Johnny, Yass and Jacquilne are grateful, and I know the communities that we will be interacting with will be thankful too.
Its going to be an amazing two weeks. We’re really looking forward to making meaningful differences in our lives and in those we encounter in the following weeks. Keep an eye on our updates. Looking forward to sharing this with everyone.