Plant a tree in the rainforest. Provide clean water for a river community. Deliver school supplies to an Amazonian school. By traveling with International Expeditions, not only will you experience the rich cultural and biological diversity of the world, but your trip will also help ensure that future generations can experience it, too.
IE, a world leader in nature travel and Amazon conservation programming, offers trips to awe-inspiring locales including the Amazon, the Galapagos, Antarctica, Belize, India, Kenya and South Africa.
The efforts by IE and its travelers take the term “voluntourism” to a new level, demonstrating just what it means to see the world and save it, too. Led by local naturalists and historians, their goal is to cultivate a greater appreciation and understanding of the earth’s natural wonders as well as the welfare of the local people and communities within them.
To learn more, I caught up with Maggie Hart, President of International Expeditions, to discuss the program, its conservation efforts and ways that travelers can get involved. See full interview after the jump.
Tell us about how International Expeditions got its start.
IE pioneered the Peruvian Amazon for eco-tourism starting 30 years ago. We partnered with Explorama Lodges to build a canopy walkway in the rainforest, and started the non-profit organization, the Amazon Center for Environmental Education and Reasearch (ACEER).
There was the walkway, a research center, and medicinal garden built through ACEER, which was headquartered in IE’s office for some time.
ACEER eventually left those projects to get involved in other parts of the rainforest, and IE and Explorama started the NGO CONOPAC, which is still the NGO we support to do our projects in the Peruvian Amazon.
IE works a lot with education programs. Can you tell us more about those?
CONOPAC is responsible for operating the Adopt-A-School
program, which now supports over 70 remote rural schools in the Peruvian Amazon. School supplies, books, anything the schools will need, are all very thoughtfully organized, purchased in Peru, and the supplies delivered in April each year. Recently IE funded the building of a small boat, outfitted it with a powerful outboard motor, so that CONOPAC employees would be able to travel between the villages without being dependent on other boats.
Another new initiative we are excited about is in Iquitos. We are working with Las Malvenas High School to teach environmental education of the rainforest, including sustainable farming, small family fish farming, and a project to help protect endangered turtles by protecting the eggs until hatched, and when the turtles are ready, reintroducing them into the Pacaya Samiria Reserve. We have transformed the school grounds, which are now producing enough fresh produce for the students to sell to local people and eco-lodges.
Any other new projects you can tell us about?
A very exciting new project started this year. IE funded two simple water treatment plants, built by CONOPAC, in remote villages. These pilot projects proved very successful in providing clean water to two villages. The health benefits are enormous, but the clean water also provided micro-economic benefits in the way of a bakery and the canning of jams and jellies. The villagers are able to sell excess clean water, bread, jams and jellies. Now that we have proven the success of these projects we plan to build as many mini-water treatment plants in remote villages as possible and we will give our guests the opportunity to contribute toward building them.
How else can those traveling with IE get involved in the program’s conservation efforts?
Because of the success of these new pilot projects of early 2009, we will expand them, include them on itineraries, and give our guests the opportunity to contribute to them if they wish through Travelers’ Philanthropy.
In September we will launch a voluntourism program in Iquitos, where people can volunteer at the Las Malvenas High School as a gardening assistant, or as a teacher’s assistant at a public kindergarten school, or work as an assistant at the Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm & Animal Orphanage. After five days of volunteering, volunteers will travel to Ceiba Tops, an eco-lodge in the rainforest, for three nights. During the stay at Ceiba Tops they visit a remote village with one of the water treatment plants. Volunteers will also be able to add onto their Peru visit if they choose with opportunities to go to Machu Picchu, Nazca Lines, Lima, virtually anywhere in Peru of interest.
IE also has a student travel program, which we are expanding. Students visit one of the villages with a water treatment plant. Students always have a service project, which can be painting a school, or building a playground…working on some project needed by a village. The day usually ends with a soccer game between the villagers and the students. We know that these kinds of experiences can change lives.
How do your tour guides enhance the experience?
IE has always been known for its extraordinary naturalist guides. They are gifted and passionate about their country and local communities. All of our guides in the Amazon are from the rainforest, well educated, and deeply caring about their people and the environment. They are the link between communities and travelers that make the connection worthwhile and comfortable.
Furthermore, tour operators match contributions made by guests to the Galapagos Conservancy, a group dedicated to preserving the islands, and donates $100 per traveler on India itineraries to the Tiger Trust, which funds the protection of endangered tigers.