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Erin Michelson of GoErinGo.com
The VolunTourist™ is a premium Newsletter for the Travel Trade. For those interested in discovering what is happening in the world of VolunTourism™ and seeking emerging practices, general information, and case studies, this is your Source.

Volume 9 Issue 4 Highlights

Adventure Philanthropist Book Cover

Wisdom & Insight

Wisdom & Insights from an "Adventure Philanthropist"

The intersection of travel and intentional beneficence is birthing in many ways across the planet. In any destination we offer time in the form of voluntary service; we give money or products or services; we reach out to friends, family, colleagues, and even businesses to increase our giving capacity. Distinctions in types of, and degrees of, commitment are expressed in the terms which are utilized to describe the intersection - be it adventure service, learning service, traveler's philanthropy, gap year volunteering, volun-traveling, voluntouring, or, as Erin Michelson explains to us, "adventure philanthropy." Erin is the author of the recently released Adventure Philanthropist: Great Adventures Volunteering Abroad. In this issue for Wisdom & Insight, Erin shares the "Introduction" of her book.

[Editor's Note: This excerpt from Adventure Philanthropist: Great Adventures Volunteering Abroad, by Erin Michelson, represents the "Introduction" to the book.]

Hi, my name is Erin, and I’m an Adventure Philanthropist.

What I really am is someone who is curious about the world, with a thirst for adventure and exploring the unknown. I love learning about new communities and meeting interesting people. And I want to lead a more purposeful, personally fulfilling life. That’s why I decided to spend two years travelling around the world, volunteering with local organizations along the way and having a whole lot of fun. There were plenty of adventures, some of them heartening, some of them harrowing, many are found in this book.

I became an Adventure Philanthropist by accident. I had just quit a loathsome job in the corporate world and decided to escape to Africa for a few months. I went white water rafting on the Nile River, I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, scuba dived in Zanzibar, and trekked the Usambara Mountains.  

It was an incident here in the mountains of central Tanzania that set me thinking. I was staying in the town of Lushoto, when a group of fellow travellers and I visited the Mpanga Primary School, serving students between the ages of seven and fourteen.

In preparation for our visit, we went on a shopping expedition to buy some gifts for the children. Tito, our local guide, suggested that we buy paper, pencils, chalk—basic necessities for the school. But we collectively rejected Tito's advice (school supplies seemed so boring) and instead bought an assortment of sports equipment, musical instruments, and art supplies. Much more fun!  

We arrived at Mpanga Primary and met the school principal in his office. When we presented our gifts, he thanked us profusely, telling us that the sports equipment and art supplies would make school more enjoyable and help encourage the kids to attend.


He then took us on a tour of the classrooms and we discovered that the children go to school in shifts, due to lack of space. Even so, they still sat squeezed six to a desk, sharing one book. Some classrooms had more than a hundred students in them. Groups of students sat on the floor.

Seeing the condition of the school made us tourists take a step back. It became crystal clear that we had selfishly bought the children what we wanted them to have, not what they needed. Here the students didn’t have any paper for their assignments and few books, and we had given them playthings. We were the ones learning the lesson that day.

For their part, the students were excited to meet a group of foreign visitors and honoured us by lining up outside the school to sing and dance for us in the African tradition. Next it was our turn to sing and dance. Our group of international travellers chose the one song that most of us knew—the chicken dance—which we had practiced the night before.
We got up in front of the students and quacked with our hands, flapped our wings, and shook our tail feathers (more or less in unison). We pulled a couple of students from the audience to join us and the kids were beside themselves with laugher. Several fell to the ground in hysterics, especially when the principal got up to shake his rear-end too.

Afterwards, a couple of us decided to make a group donation to the school, which our tour company handsomely matched. Jointly we were able to raise $800 towards the purchase of building supplies to make twenty new desks and give those kids more room to learn. How great was that!

The new desks were a much better use of funds than the flutes and paints we originally bought. That said, the kids loved the soccer ball, which replaced a ball of rags they had been kicking around. Can you imagine: 750 kids sharing one ball of rags?

Meeting these children was the highlight of my first trip to East Africa. Their commitment and sense of fun made me realize what my travels could offer beyond simple enjoyment: personal enrichment, political edification, a more profound understanding of humanity. Pretty heady stuff.

This insight offered me an enormous opportunity to grow as an individual. To my mind, I had been given a prized gift. And part of what I learned is that I could give a gift in return.

This trip to the Usambara planted a seed in my life. I was at a crossroads in my career and had been planning to launch a consulting firm. I still did this, but with a new-found focus. I arranged my contracts so I could travel overseas at least three months a year. During these trips, I was able to spend time volunteering with local communities.

My life was no longer about solely building a business back home. It was about building a life across the globe. Little did I know where this would take me.

The Adventure Begins


After running my consulting firm for several years that seed grew and blossomed into an irresistible idea. After my most successful year as a consultant, I decided to use the money I was saving to buy a house to fund a two-year trip exploring the world. In addition, I sold all my possessions to start a charitable giving fund so I could make donations along the way. I was all-in.

See, I’m not a trust-fund baby. Those were hard choices I made. That said, I’m grateful for the advantages I had growing up in a loving middle-class home and for the opportunity to attend college. From an early age my parents introduced me to international travel, giving me a taste for adventure that is never quite sated. I’m always ready to pack up and head overseas, explore new locales, sample foreign foods, and experience fascinating cultures first hand. 

So the idea of volunteering as I travelled made great sense. It was a way to delve even deeper into a culture, to connect with people, and make new friends. It turned out to be all that—and so much more.

Before I set off, I started my blog: www.GoErinGo.com. It was a way for me to report back in real time what I was experiencing while living my life on the road. Sharing what I learned about world issues and fostering a dialogue was a crucial part of my journey towards being an Adventure Philanthropist.

One of the most important features of the blog became the Donate My Dollars poll. Nearly every month I launch a poll and readers of GoErinGo.com vote on which projects we should support and how much I should give to each organization. My objective here is to encourage everyone to participate in philanthropy. It’s so easy to be involved that you don’t even need to give away your money, you can donate mine!

Are you an Adventure Philanthropist too?

Since you’ve bought this book, I’m guessing you share some of my passion for travel, community service, and adventure. There’s actually a lot of us out there, regular everyday people having an extraordinary impact with our lives.
Take my friend Jo from London. Jo runs a human resources division at a medium-sized corporation. Each year, Jo takes a month off to travel to a new region of the world. While there, she spends several weeks volunteering. I met Jo hiking to see the mountain gorillas in East Africa. When we parted, she was heading to Malawi to join a non-profit organization which encourages children to read and delivers books to remote areas of the country. Jo spent several weeks riding in a mobile library and reading to children.

Then there’s Caroline and Nieve, best friends and British doctors who were working with the chronically ill in Sub-Saharan Africa. They’d finished their medical training and decided to do a gap year, travelling around Africa providing palliative care to those in need. When I met them in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, they were going into the city slums to administer pain medication to people suffering from HIV/AIDS and cancer.


Or check out my friends Peter and Helen, a former advertising executive and stylist respectively, and true New Yorkers. At the height of their careers, this married couple sold their Brooklyn loft and set out to explore the world. After several years of traveling, they settled in Bali to run a marine research center tracking the manta ray population in the warm Indonesian waters.

Each of these friends combined what they love to do with a charitable intent. And it’s when they coupled their passions—encouraging children to read, attending the sick, or conducting environmental research—when their lives became extraordinary and they began living their dream.

The best part is you don’t need to venture far and wide to be an Adventure Philanthropist. You can combine your passion and philanthropy right in your own back yard.

Like Tracy, who lives in Chicago, Illinois. Tracy’s a mortgage broker with a passion for helping animals, particularly pit bulls who have been rescued from the fighting ring. To celebrate each mortgage she closes, she gives a donation to the local animal shelter to help care for injured and abandoned animals. Tracy is making a real difference in the lives of the abused animals she loves.

Or my friend Chris, a business manager with a massive software company. He’s contacting local schools in San Francisco to provide technology audits. Once he assesses the school’s hard and soft technology needs, he arranges for software donations and a technical team to come in to update the school’s systems. He’s found a way to combine his business skills with giving.

And how about Tom, the tow truck driver I met in Reno, Nevada. I met Tom when my car broke down and I needed a 3-hour tow to Sacramento. During the ride I learned that Tom, an outlaw biker, used to own a biker bar and hosted an annual poker run to raise money for one of his waitresses who had a child with a chronic disease. Eventually, the annual biker event was raising close to $10,000 each year to help the family with their medical bills.

Jo, Caroline & Nieve, Peter & Helen, Tracy, Chris, and Tom are just a few of the fabulous people I’ve met during my travels around the world. Everyday people who are combining their passions with philanthropy. They’re making the world a better place and having a great time doing it.

They are all Adventure Philanthropists—and you can be one too!

Erin Michelson, Founder-Creator, GoErinGo.com

Erin Michelson Headshot

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