Travelling with a cause
By Jenn Watt
When Bonnie Hinschberger takes tours of women to developing parts of the world as part of her Broad Escapes travel business, they see the countryside, participate in local culture and she also ensures they spend time giving back.
The co-founder of the women’s travel company and a lifelong cottager in the Highlands said the model seeks to enrich women’s lives through travel – and adding a humanitarian component is part of it.
“We find that we not only enrich the people who are on the tours when we have interaction with locals, but we also enrich the lives of the people we’re meeting and we’ve done that in many different countries: Peru, India, Uganda,” she said in an interview earlier this month.
On her most recent trip to Uganda in September, along with the gorilla and chimpanzee trekking, the group of 12 visited a micro-enterprise NGO, Ride 4 A Woman, and did some volunteer work on another initiative, Days for Girls.
Ride 4 A Woman employs 51 women who are experiencing hardship, either through poverty, family situation or health status.
“These women, she [the program’s founder] teaches them how to weave, how to sew,” Hinschberger said. Aside from those directly employed by the NGO, there are another 300 women who have received micro-loans to start their own business.
“We spent a half-day with them just interacting with them and learning a bit about their lives,” she said. The women gave the visitors a lesson on weaving before they left.
The second initiative the women took part in during the last trip was distributing reusable feminine hygiene products through the Days for Girls organization. Hinschberger was connected to the chapter in London, Ont., where she lives and has taken training in how to educate girls about the products and how they can help them.
“Girls were not going to school because they were menstruating and they had no protection and … they felt they couldn’t leave their house,” she said. That meant girls were being disadvantaged in their education, missing about 180 days in a three-year time frame.
The kits distributed through Days for Girls last for between three and four years, essentially giving school days back to the girls.
Along with a translator, Hinschberger said she instructed the children, between 10 and 13 years old, about how to use the kits and what to expect when they started having their periods. The other women on the tour assisted with handing out kits.
School girls from Entebbe, Uganda hold up the kits they were given by Days for Girls. The kits contain reusable feminine hygiene products that will last three to four years and will allow the girls to attend school on days when they would normally have stayed home. /Photo courtesy of Bonnie Hinschberger
“They’re all made in these nice little string bags and the fabric is so colourful and every kit has different fabric.... It just looks like a nice little bag,” she said, which means the girls won’t be embarrassed to carry them.
Volunteers with Days for Girls sew the kits and donations go to purchasing the fabric. Hinschberger said the charity intends to transition to a new model in the future where women in developing countries are employed making the kits.
Broad Escapes organizes between eight and nine tours for women a year. The idea to cater specifically to that demographic came from observing a gap in the market.
“I’d been in group travel for many years and found that in many of the groups I was organizing there was a higher percentage of women travelling on them than couples. And sometimes these women were feeling like a third wheel. We thought there was a niche for women to travel on their own,” Hinschberger said.
Using local, private guides, the travel company provides safe, fun trips in groups. They also organize private travel.
To find out more about Broad Escapes, go to broadescapes.com. You can find information on Days for Girls at daysforgirls.org.