Dan Sullivan, Jr. in Knysna, South Africa, at a Collette Foundation-supported school
Dan Sullivan, president and CEO of Collette Vacations, writes about how travel reveals the challenges and poor living conditions that many people in the world face, and how the industry can help.
Travel is a privilege that I have been fortunate to enjoy throughout my life; a trip to Antarctica in 2008 marked my seventh continent visited. And while I have seen the most beautiful places that exist all over the world, at the same time traveling has revealed the challenges and poor living conditions that many people—especially children—must endure everyday.
The inspiration behind the launch of The Collette Foundation, an employee-run global effort focused on improving the lives of children in the worldwide communities that Collette’s travelers visit, was a school in a small village high above the Sacred Valley in Peru called Pampallacta. I walked into that school in 2006 and was shocked by how undernourished they were. These small, native children, who were unfazed by their reality, had nothing more than potatoes to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That’s when I knew that we can and must help our global neighbors.
Since that day, The Collette Foundation has reached out to 20 communities around the world from South Africa and Ireland to right here in the United States. And while we can’t save the world, we have been able to make a difference, one community, one project at a time. From the donation of hippo rollers in South Africa that alleviates much of the challenge associated with the collection of water, to providing heavy winter coats and pants for students in Tibet where temperatures of zero are not uncommon in the winter, the Foundation is thriving thanks to the hard work of Collette’s employees of which close to 10 percent of our worldwide work force have volunteered to participate.
What I like most about the operation of the Foundation is that it gives not only our employees the opportunity to be involved but also our global vendor partners and, most especially, our passengers on tour. While we struggled a bit over whether traditional escorted group touring could co-exist with responsible tourism, the debate was short-lived. For every tour that visits a Collette Foundation project site, where our passengers see for themselves the impact the Foundation is having and the severity of these children’s lifestyles, the response has been incredibly positive. We are able to add another dimension to the travel experience. In fact, many of our guests are so moved by the experience that they tell me they plan to continue to make contributions to the project!
One such story is that of Marilyn Armstrong, a Collette Vacations’ passenger who traveled to Peru in 2008 and visited the Hogar de Mercedes de Jesus Molina orphanage in Anta, Peru. Upon her return home, Marilyn reached out to her local quilting group and told the story of her visit. Marilyn’s quilting group is now in the process of hand-making 25 quilts, one for each of the girls at the Hogar. The quilts will be shipped to Collette and sent down to Peru this summer. Meeting the children—seeing their faces light up with absolute joy — creates that kind of connection that encourages you to try and do more. And although Collette’s travelers are invited to make voluntary contributions of supplies or donations when they visit a Collette Foundation-sponsored site, there is no pressure to do so.
As for the children of Pampallacta, I’m happy to report that the Collette Foundation, working with an organization called Peruvian Hearts, have begun a nutrition program that provides each child with a nutritious, hot breakfast and lunch as well as a multivitamin every day. To get to school, many of these children walk up to five miles a day, one way, but now they will no longer have to do that on an empty stomach. And that was only the beginning! The Collette Foundation will be supporting the construction of a new dining hall and ventilated kitchen.
That’s the beauty of the Collette Foundation…it keeps on giving and in doing so I hope it will inspire others in the travel industry to do what they can to help make a difference.
For information and updates on all project sites, visit www.collettefoundation.org.