Destinations / journey
volunteers enjoyed sweet and heartfelt moments giving back to the
Peruvian people who had been so welcoming and friendly.
I had been to jacmel, Haiti, on a relief trip shortly after the devastating
january 2010 earthquake; I helped out by building and repairing tents,
preparing and serving meals, washing and drying dishes, hammering
nails on makeshift homes, and teaching yoga. After leaving, I wanted to
get right back. Later that same year, my husband and 12 yoga practitioners from Marin returned and worked all day in these endeavors. In the
evenings, after leading a yoga class to relax and ground our group, we
would discuss our experiences.
Since that trip, I’ve led seven additional humanitarian trips to jacmel,
including one last summer. With a lot of fundraising help and support
from the Bay Area yoga community, we are building a 13,000-square-
foot home and school for orphaned children called the jacmel Children’s
Center. We were even able to enlist the help of our friend Misha Collins;
the Supernatural television star used the power of Twitter to bring 50 of
his fans, at the fundraising minimum of $5,000, to Haiti, adding $300,000
to the orphanage fund. Another trip is planned for this summer.
Murdock’s husband has a friendship with richard Branson that goes
back many years. She and I researched Branson’s Virgin unite, a nonprofit foundation, established in 2004, that aims to help revolutionize
the way government, business and the social sector work together.
Feeling that a partnership would provide a platform for people to do
good while traveling, Murdock and I took advantage of an already
planned trip to the island to introduce the idea to Branson.
A 28-year-old Branson purchased the island in 1978 for just £180,000,
six years after starting the Virgin Group. After a few years and approxi-
mately $10 million in expenditures he opened it as a luxury retreat in 1984.
With first-class guest services, Balinese-style villas, pristine beaches,
more than 200 flamingos and hundreds of lemurs, necker is now a shining
jewel in the Virgin Limited edition. The ultimate host, Branson greeted
us on arrival with a welcoming smile and a hearty handshake — he is by
far the most fun, friendly and mischievous person I’ve ever met. next,
Murdock and I enjoyed a few days basking in the beauty of necker (and
practicing what we were going to say to Branson) until we felt the time was
right. We pitched him the idea of expanding the Voluntour sector of the
Virgin travel market to provide hands-on support to global communities
in need. He loved the idea and immediately said, “yes! Lets do it.”
Branson has known noor for years and thought it would be a great
collaboration. In his book Scre w It, Let’s Do It he talks about leveraging
his personal friendship with King Hussein and Queen noor of jordan
to help broker the safe release of British hostages being held in Iraq by
Saddam Hussein in 1990.
We extended an invitation to noor, currently chairperson of the King
Hussein Foundation, whose mission is to promote social equity and
peace in jordan, the Middle east and beyond. She said she’d be honored
to accept. In mid-2012 we arrived in jordan bearing a gift: Sausalito
jeweler Amy nordstrom had created a special “Harmony necklace” to
honor noor and the programs that are successfully lifting women and
their families out of poverty.
As a Virgin unite Ambassador, Queen noor treated us to the adventure of a lifetime, steeped in cultural exchange and natural beauty.
Highlights included dining with her at her residences in Amman and
Aqaba; dinner in a Bedouin tent in the stunning Wadi rum desert, followed by a sunrise hot-air balloon ride; touring the World Heritage Site
of Petra; a boat cruise and snorkel in the red Sea; and an afternoon
spent floating in the picturesque Dead Sea.
We also visited places reflecting important causes supported by
Queen noor and the King Hussein Foundation, including Tamweelcom,
a regional and international leader in microfinance. Tamweelcom loans
have given thousands of entrepreneurs, more than 90 percent of them
women, the opportunity to start businesses, generate income, build
assets and raise their families’ living standards. We toured the jubilee
School, a coeducational secondary institution for students from diverse
socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as the Aqaba Business Incubator
and Center, where since its inception in 1986 the number of beneficiaries has exceeded 50,000, the majority of them women.
on our final afternoon we presented noor with her necklace. She
was touched by the gesture and it sparked an idea: Amy nordstrom
is now replicating the necklaces for sale, with 50 percent of proceeds
going to the King Hussein Foundation to support women, children and
nurture social equity and peace in jordan and the Middle east.
What I enjoy most about these humanitarian trips is witnessing
the profound impact our visits have on everybody involved, from the
participants and benefit recipients to tour operators and artisans. It’s
great to see so many people enjoy the collective impact and mutual
reciprocity that become possible as we contribute to making our
global village a better place to live. M