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The power of transformational travel

Transformationaltravel

Today I’m excited to launch the first of a new series of blogs on transformational travel. Recently I’ve been reflecting about what I want to achieve on this blog. My friend Sarah Duncan of Sarepa asked me to define my intention:

My intention is to inspire you to make conscious choices about your life enabling you to live with purpose and intention. When we live with purpose and intention we colour outside the box, become creative and open our eyes to the wonder of life. By doing this, we live a life that is meaningful to us, we decide how we wish to be of service to the world, and exit with a lasting legacy. 

As a part of achieving this, I will be introducing you to some inspiring people who have either traveled intentionally, or followed their passions to create a career that is meaningful to them. Today, to launch the series on transformational and intentional travel, I’m very excited to introduce to you my wonderful friend Amanda.

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Amanda Cassar: Photo by Katische Haberfield

We met last September at the Business Chicks Gwinganna retreat. (You can read about it here) Since then I’ve caught up with a couple of times, including once when I was privileged to be invited in to photograph her home. Since then she’s raised $10,000 and gone on a transformational trip to Uganda to learn how one organisation “The Hunger Project” is empowering people to change their lives.

I asked Amanda if she would reflect on her journey to Uganda and the lessons she learnt. I hope you find it as inspiring as I have.

Katische

A transformational trip to Uganda

I had always wanted to travel, for as long as I can remember; starting with learning about exotic faraway places in Social Studies and Geography classes in primary school.

The story of Pompeii fascinated me.  Paris sounded romantic and wonderful.  The United States screamed adventure and Europe oozed history!  So many places to visit!  And such a big world to see!

My parents certainly weren’t globetrotters by any means and my first overseas trip was my honeymoon to Hawaii. This was the first of many marital compromises – I wanted the U.S.A. and he wanted the Islands – with Hawaii, we both got what we wanted.  And although the travel bug was firmly planted, two babies came along quickly and I had a business to grow and houses to build.

We managed a couple of Asian trips and Pacific Island getaways with the family, but it wasn’t until 2009 that my travels began in earnest with a trip to the United States with my sister.  We did Los Angeles, Michigan and New York and I was hooked!

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Souvenir in Amanda’s kitchen from her travels to Paris. Photograph: Katische Haberfield

Since then, there’s been lots of travel, with friends, solo and with the family.  Bucket list places have been ticked.  Pompeii is as fascinating as I thought.  Paris is as wonderful as I’d imagined, the States have been full of adventure and Europe did drip history from every cobblestone, museum and church.

More recently China, Malaysia, Bali, Dubai and South Africa have been added to the list of ticks, but it’s one country that had never jumped out and grabbed me, begging to go on my list, that has had the biggest impact on me personally.   Uganda.

I was privileged to apply for and be selected in the Business Chicks Leadership & Immersion Program in May, 2015 to this eastern African nation that straddles the Equator.

My knowledge of Uganda at that stage was limited to, but included a history that involved Idi Amin and human rights abuses, civil war, pictures of malnourished children and the home of some of the last mountain gorillas.  After that, I was pretty clueless.

Our arrival saw us fly in to Entebbe on the edge of Lake Victoria and then drive an hour into the capital city of Kampala.  It was around a 30 hour trip door to door.

The rich red fertile dirt was sprouting with banana tree crops.  Paw paws and jackfruit trees lined the way.  Market stalls were established along the main roads selling ball gowns, bed frames, fruit and mattresses.  Children actually did roll bicycle wheels with sticks along the roadside.  And everywhere, it was busy!

Beautiful dark skins and hair, brightly coloured clothes, big blue African skies and a hive of activity were our entry to this amazing country.  I think every place has its own unique smells and scents.  For me, Uganda is the smell of the dirt, so earthy; and the smoky fires constantly burning… and maybe a dash of armpit…

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Photo courtesy of Amanda Cassar

In conjunction to working in with The Hunger Project (THP,) we were shown a side of Uganda that not many tourists ever get to see.  And some of the locals, had never met white visitors before either!  As part of the program, the 16 women attending had to raise a minimum of $10, 000 each for this incredible cause, and we got to see firsthand where the fruits of our labours and those who so kindly donated, were directed.

And then, after a couple of days settling in, being spoiled by international buffets, cute chefs, spa treatments and hotel life, we jumped on a bus and headed southwest for about five hours.  We were finally going to meet the people.

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Photograph courtesy of Amanda Cassar

Brass band fanfares welcomed the “Chicks of the Business Kind” when we travelled to the various epicentres set in place by The Hunger Project and the smiles of welcome were genuine and large.  Children and adults alike danced and sang in welcome, local politicians gave speeches for us and the women showed off their handicrafts with pride.  It was very special and completely overwhelming.  A total rock star welcome, and although inspiring, I felt a little undeserving.

We learned how none of the changes wrought in the community would have ever been possible without a complete change of mindset.

Uganda has now had generations of war, murders, hunger and poverty.  The team from The Hunger Project work with local communities and help them to see that change is possible, it can be real and that the people living these lives can overcome these hurdles themselves.  They are the key to ending chronic persistent hunger – and it can and is being done.

Those who had embraced the key pillars of The Hunger Project were living positive, empowered lives, making a difference to their immediate and extended families and to their communities.  Functional adult literacy classes meant parents could now proudly sign documents.  Children had clothes, school uniforms and shoes.  Parents were taught to save and apply for small loans to improve their lot through rural banks or SACCO (Savings and Credit Co-Operatives.)  Nutrition lessons are provided, best agriculture practices taught and health centres are available for AIDS testing, midwives and nurses were on hand, baby weighing is done and consultations are accessible.  Husbands bragged about their empowered wives who were now partners with them, instead of just another mouth to feed.

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Photograph courtesy of Amanda Cassar

But that’s not all we saw.  There’s those who are too proud to change their ways and learn something new.  There’s some too ashamed to admit their ignorance.  There’s those who live too far from an epicentre to get there for education and there’s those, who just don’t want to know.

And for them, the despair is still there, and it’s real.  Their children still sport the large swollen bellies we recognise from years of relief organisation campaigns.  They have thin, frail limbs, lightened hair, sores, runny noses and go to bed hungry.

And then we became frustrated and angry.  It was a hard road to travel.

Why couldn’t we help the people who we’d met and had impacted on our lives?  Those who’d invited us into their modest homes and shared their stories with us.

Why couldn’t I directly give Eveline some money to send her children to school?  Eveline’s husband abandoned the family when their third child was 9 months old, selling everything including the mattress before leaving and never returning.  She has terrible allergies and syphilis and earns around $1 per day tending the fields of others for up to 8 hours.  She stays up all night to brew a local form of alcohol to supplement her income.  She can’t afford school supplies, let alone her medicine… And the unfairness drove me crazy.  I had two months’ wages for her in my purse floating around as spare change.  I just didn’t get it… yet.

Eveline waving at Amanda.

Eveline waving at Amanda.

Photo courtesy Amanda Cassar

Photo courtesy Amanda Cassar

I shared my concerns and upset with my fellow travellers and the local Hunger Project staffers, and their confidence and determination were refreshing.  At present, they impact around 1-2% of the population, but to those thousands, they’re having an enormous effect.

Word is spreading and more want to become involved.  I needed to get over myself and my ambitious desire to ‘save them all’ and now.

I’d never been so confronted and felt so useless, yet learned so much.

The resilience of those who had turned their lives around through a simple change in mindset shone in their beautiful smiles.  I do have the trust that there are a lot of good people doing their absolute best to assist their fellow countrymen who can make the best decisions about where the investor dollars flow.  Handouts cannot achieve this.  They need to have a vision of what the future can look like, commit to that, and learn how to act to make it a reality.

I know now, that I can spread the word of the great work that this charity does in giving a ‘Hand Up’ rather than a ‘Hand Out.’

My business allows me the freedom to travel, to be able to gift time and money to devote to the things that are important to me.

The lessons learnt in rural Uganda have impacted me deeply.  Most trips I’ve been on before have been ‘transactional’ rather than ‘transformational.’  I went there, took the pics and bought the T-shirt.  Great memories.  Uganda provided great impact.

I can no longer ask ‘I wonder what the poor people are doing?’  I know.  I’ve been there.  I’ve sat in their dirt, windowless homes on the mud floors and heard their stories.  This in turn has provided a clarity.

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Photograph courtesy of Amanda Cassar

I’ve always enjoyed what I do.  As a financial adviser I get to also impact people’s lives for the better.  When things go pear-shaped, I’ve set up protection strategies that can assist financially.  I can make that holiday a reality.  I can assist in making retirement a better place.  How cool is that!?

I’ve also joined the Qld Development Board of the Hunger Project and can be part of a charitable form of giving that I know has an end in mind.  THP aim to end world hunger by 2030.  (And I thought I was ambitious!)

Now, being able to give back and contribute in a meaningful way gives me a greater and enhanced enjoyment for what I do.  Perspective is a beautiful and ever changing thing.  I’m very grateful that I haven’t needed to lose a limb, be in a tragic accident, survive horrific circumstances or test my endurance beyond what’s considered humanly possible to have the deep gratitude for the many experiences that I’ve been so privileged to be part of.

If you ever get to be a part of something like this, please put your hand up and jump in feet first.  Think about the logistics later.  You’ll take away so much more than you ever could have given.

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Photograph courtesy of Amanda Cassar

To find out more about Amanda’s trip, and how you could be involved with the Hunger Project,  you can contact Amanda at http://www.wealthplanningpartners.com.au or via the following details below.

E: amanda@wealthplanningpartners.com.au

T: 07 5593 0855 M: 0410 455 158

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