Travelers of the Year 2013 | Nat Geo Live

( music plays ) ( drumroll ) ( music plays )Travelers of the Year
gives us a chance to meet boundary-breaking,
change-making individuals who remind us
that we all have the power to reach beyond the bubble
of our daily lives, to learn from locals
and far-off places and to create new opportunities
through travel. These are the people
we’re celebrating. ( clapping ) My name is George Stone,
I’m an Editor-at-Large ofNational Geographic
. I’m based in
South-East Asia. It’s a real honor
to be here tonight to introduce you to a few
of ourTravelers of the Year. These are people on a quest,
striving to make a difference. So, first I would like
to invite Shannon O’Donnell to the stage, our first
Traveler of the Year
tonight. ( clapping ) -Hello.
-Hi. Shannon is a blogger,
a voluntourist extraordinaire. And you can follow her
on But her blog alone is not
what makes Shannon a
Traveler of the Year.
While she was
traveling and blogging, she studied ethical ways
for other travelers to give back
to the places they visit. She collected these discoveries and she published them
in a book calledThe Volunteer Traveler’s
She launched something
called Grassroots Volunteering, which is a digital platform
and a database of free and low-cost
volunteering opportunities. So, how did you evolve
from a traveler to a voluntourist? It started when I decided to leave on my one-year
round-the-world trip. I had already
integrated service into my life. I had volunteered as a teenager
and in my home town and when I moved. It was part of what I was
doing back in the U.S. When I decided
to leave for a year, I thought, “Why not keep
that same mindset?” “Why not try
to find opportunities not just to volunteer, but to be mindful of the places
that I was working in?” So, I volunteered
with some monks. That was one of the first things
that I did on my trip. There was a monastery in Nepal and I taught them
English for a month. I was amazed that,
when I arrived in these towns, there were connections
that I could make and ways to be useful
and helpful. So that informed the next
five years of my travels. What were some of the cool ways
to volunteer you discovered? I tend to teach English
or volunteer in ways that my skill base does. I don’t construct homes
or things that perhaps aren’t within my wheelhouse. There’s conservation work.
Heaps of opportunities. There’s also social enterprises, which is if you don’t have
the skills to volunteer, the time to commit
a month, three months
a year to a project, you can actually– this is what I love
to talk to people about– if you have that desire, but you don’t really
want to volunteer, you can support
these social enterprises, businesses that are addressing
a social issue, in their own community. And, perhaps it’s a coffee shop. And you go drink coffee.
Not so hard, right? And they are using those tourism
dollars to then fund a project. And it’s as easy as that to be able to support
the local community. When we first spoke
a long time ago, you told me that one problem
with volunteering is it’s not always delightful. Sometimes it’s hard,
sometimes boring, sometimes you don’t feel
you’re making an impact. So how is a traveler
to address that? A traveler who might only
have a week in a country? I think
it’s a perspective shift. You’re not going to go
and in a week– really see
noticeable change in any way. But if you’re there
to be of service, instead of saying
“I’m there to teach.” or “to specifically work
with this animal and if that doesn’t happen
it’ll let down my expectations”” If you go and you say,
“I want to be of service,” you may show up–
and it’s happened to me– where I show up and
say, “Great, this could
be really intriguing,” and they say,
“You know what we really need? We need you
to file some paperwork.” ( chuckles ) -And you go, “Oh.”
-Yeah. “Okay.” Because I’m there
to be helpful. Yeah,
so what are your next steps? Where are you headed now? -So–
-I know the answer. -I’m excited for you.
-Thank you! I’m excited
and a little nervous. Actually,
I’ve never been to Africa. So, in two weeks, I’ll head
on a solo overland journey for four months
up the east coast of Africa. And the plan is–
Grassroots Volunteering, the site that you mentioned–
is to find social enterprises and independent
volunteer opportunities to add them to the database,
and other travelers, who perhaps have
just a week or two, can use the database
to find a project that looks intriguing
as a starting point to find cool things
in that area. Well, thank you so much
for sharing your story with us. Thank you so much for having me. ( clapping ) It’s an honor now
to welcome Alison Wright. A veteran photojournalist who’s spent her career
capturing the human spirit through her lens. Alison has traveled everywhere,
snapping people and places. And, though there have been
many sunny days in her life, or you could say
great exposure, there have been
some unthinkable storms too. While traveling in Laos, Alison nearly lost her life
in a horrific bus accident on a remote jungle road. It was every traveler’s
worst nightmare. But she survived,
thanks to the villagers who never left her side. Her brush with mortality
changed the way she worked. She wanted to do more
than quote, “make pictures,” as she told me. So, three years
after her near-death experience, she returned to the village
that saved her life and she brought along
a team of five doctors and $10,000
worth of medical supplies. That was her first foray as founder of
the Faces of Hope Fund. She now runs a global
non-profit that helps
support women and children in crisis areas
throughout the world. So, thank you for being here. Thank you very much. ( clapping ) How did
the horrific accident change you as a traveler and as a person? I was doing a lot of,
besides travel stories, non-profit aid,
humanitarian work. So, in that regard
I’m doing the same kind of work, but now it’s brought
a whole new empathy to the work. You hope
that making a photo will create awareness
and make a difference. And that’s what I do
with this Faces of Hope Fund. As I go around,
I speak about these people that are in need,
like this child, a Burmese refugee in Thailand, that I wanted to give people
a place to go to. That they could donate,
that they could help. And then,
with financial resources, I could give money
back to the communities that I was photographing
to directly help them. When we spoke a while ago,
you talked about Faces of Hope and how they could be
both the people who are helping but also– The people
who are being helped, but also those
who are helping. Yes. It’s people like my friend,
one of my heroes, Olga Murray, that almost singlehandedly
stamped out girls being sold into bonded labor
in Nepal by giving piglets to families,
so that they’d sell the piglet instead of the girl child
at the end of the year, which is a sad statement about
what a girl’s worth in Nepal. I’m very struck by people that are out there
making a difference. And these are the people
and small organizations, grassroots organizations,
that I’m supporting. Recently, I was on a National
Geographic assignment when I discovered
these Burmese refugees that were working
as basically indentured servants near our hotel, and so I stayed
to photograph that. Now I’m helping them
get a mobile medical unit. So, it’s just wanting
to give back even more and helping support the people
that are making a difference. They’re the ones
that are creating change. When you said
that you’re alive today because of the kindness
of strangers, it really moved me. Tell me about that. This accident that I was in was on a very remote
jungle road in Laos. And these villagers cared enough
to bring me into their village and sew my arm back
with a needle and thread. An upholstery needle.
No sutures, no painkillers. I had broken my back,
my pelvis, all my ribs. I had so many broken bones,
major internal injuries. I was to the point
where I realized I was not going to get out
of the situation alive. I wrote a note to my family
and I told them how I died and where I died. I wanted them to know
that I didn’t die alone and in fear. And that–
You don’t get closer than that. Like dipping my toe
into feeling my own mortality has been a touchstone for me,
for the rest of my life now. You know,
and just thinking what– Not only they changed my life, but then a British aid
worker who happened
to come by found me, drove me eight hours
in the back of his pickup truck, all the way to Thailand. So, he was instrumental
in saving my life as well, as was the one doctor
in this border hospital. So every day I think, “What kindness
would you do for a stranger?” “What kindness would I do
for a stranger?” You know? And how can people
help Faces of Hope Fund? They can go
to and look at some of the projects
that I have photographed. And a little bit
is a trust for me because, as I go
around the world, I don’t know
what I’m going to find. But I feel the need to give back
directly to these communities. My next project is really
going around the world focusing on women and issues
of the global empowerment -of women at work.
-Can’t wait to see
those pictures. -Thank you.
-Well, thank you -for being with us tonight.
-Okay. ( clapping ) Now, I’d like to
welcome a travel
educator, Tracey Friley. ( clapping ) So, just about a third of
Americans have a passport. And this is a problem, not least because in Canada
70% of the people have one, but it’s a problem
because it limits our horizons. Tracey has a big vision. She wants to put passports
in the hands of almost everyone. And she’s starting local. She’s based
in Oakland, California, and she realized the challenge
to passport ownership isn’t merely monetary,
but it’s also about world view, how to travel, where to travel. How to get going. These problems are even more
pronounced in poor urban areas. Tracey’s solution was to launch
the Passport Party project. This is a grassroots initiative
to provide underserved girls the tools they need
to obtain their first passports. When the program’s first phase
wrapped up last summer, 100 girls
had their first passports and six young girls
made their first
international journey, to Belize… which had to be
a lot of work for you. ( chuckles ) And now, Tracey is busy
plotting the next phase of the Passport Party project.
Thank you for being here. Thanks for having me. So how did you get this idea? I was taking a group of girls
to the U.S. Virgin Islands and, while you don’t need
a passport to get there, I found that only one of them
had a passport. That piqued my interest
and about six months later, I just took a group of kids
in my neighborhood and we had
a travel awareness day. And then, I was able
to give them the money, out of my purse, to get
their very first passports. And how do you see travel
changing these young people? It turned
into a rite of passage. There’s this shift that occurs
when these girls get a passport. And it’s not necessarily
about getting on a plane, a train or a bus,
but it’s the idea that they can, and that the world
is now available to them. I find that the kids,
surprisingly enough, when you line them up
and ask them all where they want to go,
they’re shouting out. “I want to go to Paris,
I want to go to Hong Kong.” They know where they want to go. It’s just a matter
of fostering their dreams. They’re learning
geography in school? They are learning
geography in school. I think what this program does
is giving them a reason to want to be
in geography class, or in history class. And that little blue book
has a lot of power. Yeah. Is there
any particular story that you find really summarizes
the possibility and potential of any individual traveler
who– who’s just surpassing joy
of being someplace? Well, these are the six girls
that I took to Belize. Every one of them is special
for a very different reason. The young lady in the front,
Jasmine, actually I’m personally funding
a trip for her to go to Paris. She’s a budding photographer. She was
in the NatGeo photo with me. And she got to assist
the NatGeo photographer which was huge for her,
and it’s keeping her motivated. Her mom just
told me the other day that the one thing–
You know how teenagers are, they’re interested in this,
in this, in this, in this– But the one thing she notices is that she hasn’t
put her camera down since that day. So, I think that the impact
isn’t always immediate. It’s something
that you see over time. So when I’m able to follow up
with them, I’ll be back. Sounds like you will be back.
Congratulations. And I’m excited
for your next steps. Thanks. I’m working
on Phase II right now. I was awarded $2,000
by American Express -and their PassionProject.
-Very good. And that’s going to fund
the first ten passports -for Phase II.
-That’s cool. -Yes.
-See you around the world. Thank you, George. ( laughs ) ( clapping ) Now, I’d like to welcome
twoTravelers of the Year,who work together
on one project, Molly Burke and Muyambi Muyambi. ( clapping ) They met
while they were undergraduates at Bucknell University
in Pennsylvania. Muyambi is from southern Uganda,
Molly is from New York. They discovered
that they loved to travel, they loved nooks and crannies
and they also loved bicycles. They saw an opportunity
to merge their passions, interests, and worlds, when in a dorm room
they launched an organization called Bicycles Against Poverty. This organization uses
a microfinance model to distribute bikes
in rural Uganda. So far, the non-profit
has distributed about 830 bikes to low-income entrepreneurs, who make monthly
payments of $3 to cover the price of a bike. How do bikes
help alleviate poverty? A bike in Uganda
is a lifesaving tool because we work
in these remote areas, where they’re hours
from the nearest health clinic, they’re hours from markets
to make a living, from clean water,
from education. There’s a man
in a village that we work in and his name is Ornak.
And he has a four-year-old son. He started coughing one day–
His four-year-old son. And his cough persisted. When you live in a remote area
where healthcare is hours away, you don’t take a child
to the hospital for a cough. His son
is growing thinner and thinner. And then, he starts
coughing up blood. But Ornak didn’t have a bicycle. So, in the morning, he picks up
his three-year-old son and he carries him
for six hours. So, we provide bikes, because bikes
are alleviating poverty by giving people
access to medical care. With farmers who have
100 pounds of crops thrown on a carrier, it’s–
It’s absolutely life-changing for people who are
cut off from resources. You shared with us
a really cool video that puts
into context your work. So, I’d like to show that now. ( music plays ) There are villages
deep in rural Africa. Their way of life
remains difficult. But our lives
have tremendous potential. It’s not the lack of money
that holds us back… but the distance
from where we live to where we can find
opportunities. Like work… and education. This story is about an answer. About taking responsibility
for our future. About taking responsibility
for ourselves. This story is of bicycles. This is the story
of Bicycles Against Poverty. That was a really cool video,
and it shows so much. So, tell me about yourself,
your background, and how you came up
with this idea. The story Molly
just shared right now is not particular to one family
that she talked about. It was the same case
with my family, and all families
around the area I lived in. I grew up in southern Uganda.
As you mentioned, in particular, my mom
couldn’t get to the hospital easily when she was sick. So, we needed to get a bicycle
every time she was sick. And, you know,
when sickness hits, it doesn’t tell you
when it’s going to come. She would get sick in the night
and you’d have to deal with it right there and then. So going through that,
I think gave me– put something in my mind. And, when I had the opportunity
to come to this great country, the land of opportunities, I figured I had to do something.
And beyond that, other people believed
in what we were trying to do. They believed in the power
of the bicycle to change lives. One of those
organizations is the
Clinton Global Initiative, where we got
our first seed money. From there onto now,
we’ve never stopped. And people like Molly
make it what it is. And we hope to keep growing. One thing that you told me
that I found really interesting is, of course
you’re a world traveler, but this project
has also compelled you to travel within Uganda,
within your home country. And often when we think
about traveling, we think about going
someplace far away. But sometimes
it doesn’t have to be so far to feel very far. Yeah. Exactly.
I don’t think you have to. When I was getting started
on thinking about the area we work in right now,
northern Uganda, part of the country where,
I don’t know if you’ve heard, but this area went through war
for 20 years, since 1986. Right now it’s okay.
You can visit. So– Exactly. Please go. So, I had read the news. I had seen the news articles,
like you probably see things about Iraq or any other country. But I’d never been there,
so I decided, “Why not?” But everywhere I went,
the common thing I saw was bicycles everywhere. Somehow, they seem
to always find their way into every region in Uganda. So again, I think that
kind of stayed in my mind. Molly, where’s Bicycles
Against Poverty headed next? We’re definitely very focused on expanding our organization
within Gulu, which is in Uganda.
That’s where we’re
based right now, but we want to look out.
So, Kenya, Tanzania, across the globe.
Ultimately, that’s the scale of the organization. No brakes for you. ( laughing ) Thank you both,
Molly and Muyambi. Thank you, George. ( clapping ) United Airlines
and National Geographic teamed up to create
the Sustainable Travel Leadership Award. We’re very excited
about this new partnership. ( cheering and clapping ) So, here’s a story,
and it’s pretty amazing. John is a lifelong traveler. In 1989, he bought 2,000 acres
of coastal forest to protect four miles
of turtle-nesting area. He established
The Pacuare Nature Reserve at a time when nearly every nest
was pilfered by poachers. Today, beach patrols have
reduced poaching losses to 2%, thanks to you. And their once depleted
coconut farm is now home to 30 species
of mammal and 230 bird species. But poaching remains a problem
all over the world. And the Denhams travel
from London to Pacuare, to work with volunteers
and field biologists to protect hatchlings
and to push for policies that protect
their coastal ecosystem. So, thank you for being with us,
and congratulations. Thank you. ( clapping ) Tell me, how did travel
help you hatch your plan? ( laughing ) Well, in the mid-eighties,
a friend I met in Mexico said, “You’ve never been
to Costa Rica.” “It’s worth it,
just for the turtles.” So I went to Costa Rica,
just for the turtles, and I must say
I was quite smitten. There’s something very moving
about seeing a turtle coming up a beach,
slowly digging its nest and laying its eggs there. And then,
this magic is shattered, when you see the poachers
are just ready to take it. And that was happening all over.
Completely uncontrolled. And there was nobody
doing anything about it. And then, I found by pure chance
this wonderful area of forest–
Well it had been forest. It was a wreck. Four miles of the very prime
leatherback turtle beach. So, I bought it. It seemed
the logical thing to do. And that’s the way it started. What have you achieved
over these years? I think– The turtle poaching
was the obvious problem. The biggest problem. For the first years,
I didn’t make much progress. In 1995, I think,
we really turned the corner. And we got on top of it.
And after that, we got really– The poachers
were sort of on the run. And for the last 15-18 years,
we’ve had our own guards. We have to employ
our own guards. That’s not armed guards. They’re just armed
with a very powerful flashlight. They could throw it. It frightens them off. And that’s the only thing
that keeps that beach free. We have to employ six guards
for seven months of the year. And they’re patrolling
night and day. That’s the only way to reduce– to keep
the poaching rate down to 2%. So, that’s
the very obvious improvement. The other,
of course, is the forest. It’s amazing what nature does. It’s now a secondary forest, except for a little bit
of primary in the north, but it’s full
of animals and birds. It’s a really high density
of animals. We’ve even had a jaguar
we photographed at night. We had a crocodile nesting– ( laughing ) There are all sorts of animals,
some of them quite rare. They’ve populated the place.
It’s a sort of oasis there. That’s very gratifying. Hilda,
could you tell us a little bit about the local impact
you’re making? Your education and preservation
programs you’re working on. It’s a very exciting project
that we have now. We’ve always had
students coming from the UK or from the US. They would come
for four days, and they’re a very important
part of the reserve. But that was kind of teaching
to the converted, because we had
all these wonderful people coming, and they
just wanted to help. But we realized that we needed
to change people’s mentality. We need to change
what has been a tradition for many years. So, we needed
to work with children. So, we have now a project
that we get the young ones, primary school,
and they come for a day. And that is
where really traveling starts. Many of them live about
30 to 40 minutes from the beach, but they have
never seen the sea. They have never ever
been on a boat. But then they arrive,
and for them it’s marvelous. They just go
down the Tortuguero Canal, see all these different animals.
Then they come to the reserve, and we take them
around the forest. It’s fantastic
to see how they learn, the questions they ask, how they pinpoint
at the different animals. Then, we show them
the importance of the turtles, of the life cycle, and the importance
of not eating turtle eggs because it will be
one little turtle less. And we also have
another bit of the program, where we get
the secondary schools. It’s different because they come
and they stay the night. They spend two nights with us. So they go, they do
a bit of reforestation and learn
about the various tree species, how to make a hole.
They use a machete and– They really have
a wonderful time. And then, the biologists
as well teach them about the life cycle,
about what we’re doing. And then they go out,
and they patrol. So, many of them get to see
these amazing animals. Animals that haven’t changed
in 65 million years. They’re from the Jurassic.
And they just cannot believe it. It does have
a fantastic impact on them. And that’s what we are doing. And we’re also trying to bring
the people from the communities as well, to help us,
to see what we are doing. And to love what we are doing.
And do it themselves as well. Thanks to your work
we’re getting closer to
that every day. So, congratulations. We’re moving
in the right direction. Yes, thank you very much. ( clapping ) ( music plays ) ( drumroll )

4 thoughts on “Travelers of the Year 2013 | Nat Geo Live

  1. I plan to be traveling around the world for a year starting October 2014 and this was very inspiring. Thank you. 

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