Lending a Hand: The Amal Restaurant


The Amal Restaurant is a project of the Amal Women’s Training Center in Marrakech, Morocco.  It was established to empower disadvantaged women through the culinary arts.

The program brings together widows, divorced or single mothers, orphans, and women with little or no education, and enables them to develop essential job and life skills so they can lead lives of economic and social stability.

In the program, these Moroccan women learn to work and manage the Amal Restaurant, from preping & cooking, to working with customers and learning about the overall operations of a sustainable business.

The Amal Restaurant also offers cooking classes in the mornings that are taught by the women in the program, where visitors can learn to prepare some authentic Moroccan dishes.

To learn more about the Amal Women’s Training Center and Restaurant, please visit http://amalnonprofit.org/.






Lending a Hand: The Ability Bhutan Society


ABS supports special-needs children and their families. It provides early and direct intervention and assistance to children with various needs, to help them live independently in Bhutanese society. To learn more, visit http://www.absbhutan.org.

The message on the wall when we entered ABS read, ” If people with disabilities can’t believe in themselves, or if others don’t belive in them, WE will believe in them and hopefully our positivity will spread and encourage more Positivity!

How We Helped

We reached out to ABS in advance of our visit to ask about their needs. They provided a list of items that would be useful but they are unable to source in Bhutan. In partnership with Tarsadia Foundation, Vacations That Matter donated Occupational Therapy kits, several other items and some cash to the organization in person during our visit to Bhutan.

ABS shared a wonderful presentation with us about everything they do, how donor funds are utilized and the lives they have changed.  

Each kit had portable equipment and skill-building toys designed for children with special needs, so that the therapists can help children who are housebound, and unable to visit the ABS facility.

We only brought items that would fit in our luggage and could not be sourced locally. The cash donations were used to purchase chairs, tables, and other items that could be purchased locally, in order to support local businesses as well. 

It is so nice to see pictures of how ABS is using the items we donated. Seeing the direct impact inspires us to want to do more, so we will continue to support ABS through various travel partners who bring tourism to Bhutan!



New Fathom Philanthropy Cruises

Fathom, Impact + Travel is Carnival Corporation’s new Voluntourism based cruise line that has launched itineraries to the Dominican Republic and Cuba for 2016. Here is a link to their website: www.fathom.org.

The VolunTourism Institute shared their opinion on Carnival’s bold move. Here is their perspective.

And if you’re interested in seeing a sample itinerary for the inaugural cruises, here is one of the Dominican Republic itineraries. Dominican_Republic_Journey_2_pg

We’d love to hear what you think of these cruise itineraries and whether you are likely to make this your next cruise experience. Share your comments below.

National Volunteer Week

In honor of National Volunteer Week, I’d like to acknowledge the amazing ways in which people throughout our Nation give their time, money and expertise for the benefit of local and global communities and organizations.

As a Voluntourism specialist, I often work with people who share my passion for volunteering throughout the year and specifically during their vacations. Being able to inspire, recognize and encourage people to engage in their own communities and the global communities they visit is an honor and a real privilege.

I’m always humbled by the stories I share of people giving whole heartedly to make a difference.

Today, I’d like to share from JG Black Book’s Black Blog of Travel, the story of Andy Booth who started ABOUTAsia Travel and ABOUTAsia Schools.



ABOUTAsia Schools: How It All Began


At JG Black Book, we see travel as the ultimate means of discovering our individual roles as citizens of this beautiful world. From Europe to Asia and South America, our partners are the catalysts through which travelers connect with another culture, providing guests a heavenly home base from which to explore and absorb.

ABOUTAsia Travel, a South East Asian tour company and member of the JG Black Book Collection, is the epitome of that vision, encouraging travelers to leave their mark and give back to the locals they meet, photograph, laugh and eat with.

ABOUTAsia began when Andy Booth, a former investment banker from the UK, travelled to Angkor Wat 10 years ago, learning that the local community only benefited marginally from tourism and that most of the revenue remained within the hospitality industry.

Determined to make a difference, Booth moved to Siem Reap and dedicated himself to turning tourist dollars into funding for local education, resulting in the establishment of ABOUTAsia Travel. He then ensured that 100% of its profits would go towards ABOUTAsia Schools, a progressive non-profit organization that provides immediate targeted aid to Cambodian children and schools by acquiring school supplies, employing teachers, and recruiting volunteers.

The combined activities of ABOUTAsia Travel and ABOUTAsia Schools support the education of over 53,000 children in 108 schools in Siem Reap Province.

Today, Andy Booth shares a story to give us an up-close and personal sense of what ABOUTAsia is all ABOUT:

We got a call from a lady who runs a restaurant in Siem Reap. She said that there was something awry with the school in her village near Banteay Srei: It had been built under the Jolie-Pitt initiative but was looking a little ‘unloved’. A couple of days later we were standing in the school yard around 9am and the kids were playing all around us, happy as you like but clearly not in lessons. Eventually we got to meet the Principal of the school and we asked him if it was a special day of some sort as the children were not in lessons today. “No”, he told us, “We ran out of chalk ten days ago so there are no lessons”. Within 2 hours we had returned from town with a year’s supply of chalk and the school quickly got back to normal.

Our involvement can range from building the entire school right down to buying some boxes of chalk: The challenge is to use our limited resources and whatever it takes to make the schools work better. After we built Prey Chrouk secondary school, teachers were recruited and the school opened to initially around 540 children in grades 7, 8 and 9…For that first year we were assigned one English teacher by the department of education and he spoke almost no English. We supplemented the program with native English speaking volunteers and that is how we started running the free volunteering program which has been such a success.

Watch the video below to see how volunteers can make a difference:

VIDEO LINK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VW1wX-CnLs





Vacations That Matter Recommends


In honor of National Volunteer Week

VOLUNTEER Locally or Globally

Whether at Home or on Vacation

With the Intention to Make a Difference or Pay it Forward!!!


Sustainable Difference Before & After

I hope you had a wonderful Easter/Spring Break. It’s hard to believe that we are only 9 weeks away from summer holidays.

We spent our spring break settling back into our home after a major kitchen and backyard remodel. As you would expect from any such project, we encountered the expected delays and the unexpected frustrations of broken or missing parts on appliances, minor details which took more energy than major decisions and the feeling that it’s never going to get done. But it’s been two weeks and it’s starting to feel like home again.


In many ways, this project reminded me of all the projects that are undertaken by organizations worldwide to support communities in need. They all require a plan, funding, a team to execute the plan, and the supporting organization to make sure that the projects move forward, get completed, and ultimately make a sustainable difference in the local communities they reach out to support. And just like any remodel, you need to be prepared for delays and unexpected situations but in the end they are well worth the effort.

In honor of April as National Volunteer Month, I’d like to share the joy of working on  various voluntourism projects over the past year. The before and after images are truely inspiring and warm my heart.

Today’s Inspiring Images 

Last summer a group of 48 of us went to Peru and worked on a couple of different projects. One of the projects supported by Free Wheelchair mission in Lima was the assembly and distribution of wheelchairs to those in need who couldn’t afford one. There is nothing more touching than to see someone immobile gain some mobility and share their tears of gratitude with you.

In Cusco, we worked on a building project through Globe Aware at the Albergue, a boarding home for orphans and children who come from villages with no access to schools. They are provided with basic needs including a primary education and opportunity to learn vocational skills.

The reality for many of these projects is that it takes much longer to complete than we would expect. This project was on hold for 2 months due to heavy rains and the progress is dependent on volunteer hours, so 10 months after we started, the roof is finally going on. They still need to complete the windows, doors, flooring, stucco, and paint before they will be ready for the children who anxiously and excitedly await their new quarters. It is good to know that we helped make a sustainable difference for these children.

Over Thanksgiving we visited South East Asia and helped distribute water filters in one of the many villages in Cambodia through the Trailblazer Foundation. The realization that we take the most basic need of clean drinkable water for granted and use it so liberally and wastefully was most impressionable on our children. To see the way of life in a typical village was educational, eye opening, and left us wanting to do more. To know that we may have made a life saving difference to these village families with a simple water filter was very fulfilling.

On Valentines Day this year, we spent a morning with family and friends along with a couple of volunteers from the Sandals Foundation, painting a trailer which is now the science lab at an elementary school in Turks & Caicos. We never imagined that it would turn out the way it did. What we gained from this experience was the realization that you don’t always have the tools and resources you are accustomed to, however, you “just make do,” improvise, and the results will surprise you.

In retrospect, every voluntourism project no matter how big or small the undertaking, has provided a sustainable difference to the community in need. The key to realizing all the benefits is giving back with your heart and not just your pocketbook. Treat each project as if it were your own house remodel, with the same inspiration, patience, effort, and vision and you’ll be sure to experience the fruits of your labor and feeling of accomplishment, success, gratitude and fulfillment.

Hotels with a Heart

As I get ready for an upcoming trip to the Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean, I was just thinking about how a vacation experience can be so different from one destination to the next.

Our visit to Vietnam and Cambodia was full of cultural immersion, local experiences and amazing architecture and history, but also luxury accommodations and ground transfers, english speaking private tour guides and all the amenities that we are accustomed to. We were by no means “roughing it” as many volunteer travelers do, but then again we were not taking a typical volunteer vacation which involves mostly service work with a little bit of sightseeing. We were on a Voluntourism trip which involves mostly sightseeing with a little bit of service work.

So in the Turks & Caicos, we plan to have a very relaxing vacation, spending most of our time enjoying our all-inclusive resort amenities and activities around the pristine beaches, pools, and spa, and once again just spending a little bit of our time doing a service project. We’ll be visiting a school on a “Reading Road Trip” which is actually offered as one of the guest activities through the resort for a couple of hours. We will also be doing a half day science lab painting project at the same elementary school sponsored by the Sandals Foundation, which was planned just for our group of family and friends.

This got me thinking about all the hotels and resorts around the world that support their local communities and truely have a heart. So, I thought I would share some that I have visited or stayed at and others which I hope to visit someday.

Please feel free to suggest or recommend properties that you may know about. I’d love to hear from you.

Hotels with a Heart

If you’d like to take a luxury vacation while making a difference, you may want to consider staying at one of the following hotels with a heart.

1. Sandals & Beaches Resorts, Caribbean

The Sandals Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Sandals Resorts International and here is their promise: The Sandals Foundation seeks to help fulfill the promise of the Caribbean community through investment in sustainable projects in education; environment and community which improve people’s lives and preserve our natural surroundings.. http://www.sandals.com/difference/foundation.cfm

2. Hotel de la Paix, Siem Reap, Cambodia

This luxury hotel in the heart of the city and close to Angkor Wat is very much involved in supporting the local community through various projects such as the Life & Hope Academy Sewing School which helps disadvantaged women learn basic seamstress skills. http://www.hoteldelapaixangkor.com/en/community/

3. Amansara, Siem Reap, Cambodia.

What I found intriguing about the Amansara was that it supports the local community in so many ways through staff visits to villages bringing supplies, or bringing the kids from a local orphange to the resort for cultural dances and music performances, etc. But they have a very discrete way of sharing their support so that it is not bombarding or intrusive to their discerning guests.


4. Alila Villas Uluwatu, Bali, Indonesia

Through its Gift to Share programme,this multi-award winning romantic Bali retreat supports the Bali Life Foundation, an orphanage in Jimbaran, South Bali. Children here not only receive shelter and support, but also lessons in English, IT, farming and cooking. Alila Villas provides all of the foundation’s basic food needs each month, assists with recycling and sustainability projects and employs some of the older children in its kitchens. This contemporary clifftop retreat was also the first hotel in Indonesia to attain the highest level of certification for Environmentally Sustainable Development (ESD).(Reuters, May 2011)http://www.alilahotels.com/uluwatu

5. Ka’ana Belize

This boutique hotel in Belize is supporting a local elementary school with scholarship funds, nutrition programs, sports programs, and building bathroom facilities for the children.


6. Azura Benguerra Island, Mozambique

Located in a national marine park, it’s Mozambique’s first carbon-neutral hotel, and is committed to sustainable and responsible fishing, as well as building projects to help the local community. The Rainbow Fund was used to build the island’s school, and there are plans for a clinic. Azura also sponsors the island’s football team, and provides English lessons as part of its Khani Kwedho, or ‘Our Home’ programme. (Reuters, May 2011)


7. Anantara Golden Triangle Resort, Chiang Rai, Thailand

Chiang Rai boutique retreat Anantara Golden Triangle Restort & Spa plays host to the northern branch of the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre (TECC), a park for both wild and domesticated pachyderms. Guests can take elephant-driving classes from a local mahout, go on eye-opening jaunts through the jungle, and even join in at bath time (don’t wear your best beach kit). Its sister resort, Anantara Phuket Villas in Phuket, turns its focus to the sea, supporting the Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation, which protects sea turtles that lay their eggs on the beach. The hotel donates $1 a room a night, and participates in the turtle-releasing festival in February, when babes are ceremoniously released at Mai Khao Beach. (Reuters May 2011)


8.Kasbah du Toubkal, Atlas Mountains, Morocco

Perched in the Atlas Mountains at the base of Jbel Toubkel, North Africa’s highest peak, Moroccan boutique hotel Kasbah du Toubkal is regarded as one of the world’s best eco-lodges. The crumbling kasbah was restored in the mid-1990s by British brothers Mike and Chris McHugo using environmentally friendly building materials that had to be ferried in on mules and constructed without electricity. Today, this breath-taking mountain retreat is managed by local Berber couple Hajj Maurice and Hajja Arkia, and employs staff from surrounding villages. Five percent of each bill is donated to community projects, helping with grassroots tasks such as rubbish removal, health services and education. (Reuters May 2011)


9. Bon Ton Restaurant & Resort, Langkawi, Malaysia

Set on a former coconut plantation near Pantai Cenang beach, luxe Langkawi getaway Bon Ton Restaurant & Resort isn’t just an island refuge for world-weary travellers. Bon Ton’s owner Narelle McMurtrie also runs a private animal shelter next-door called the Langkawi Animal Shelter and Sanctuary (or LASSie for short). It has a no-kill policy and instead acts to rehabilitate injured and sick animals before returning them to their natural environment where possible. Narelle uses profits from Bon Ton to fund work at the centre, and it’s not unusual to get a visit from resident cats or dogs during your stay.(Reuters May 2011)