Sustainable tourism practitioner Ameer Virani is offering tourists the chance to spread the joys of travel to underprivileged children in the South-east Asian countries they visit with innovative social project, Share The Wonder.
Virani first came up with the idea of organising fun, educational day trips for poverty-stricken youngsters living in the region while working for EXO Myanmar three years ago.
“Originally, it was my passion for travel and the desire to share that with people in the countries I was promoting,” he said. “I was selling these great packages, and at the same time, thinking that travel is such a privilege. You get to meet new people and learn new things – something every young person should have the opportunity to do.”
Tour operators he spoke with said they often seek sustainable avenues to give back in the countries they sold. However, finding truly beneficial projects can be tough. Additionally, NGOs operating in the countries noted they lack the funds or time to organise trips for the children they work with.
“This is an interesting way for travellers to support children in the countries they’re visiting without having to interact with them, which I don’t think is the right way to go about it,” noted Virani. “It also still feels like it’s an experience as you’re not just donating directly to an NGO, but to a travel project that’s allowing young kids to enjoy some of the activities tourists themselves might be doing on their trip.”
After carefully selecting partner NGOs in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam to put forward children to benefit from trips, Virani teamed up with EXO Foundation. It works as a fundraising and logistic partner, helping to organise trips on the ground.
In December, Share The Wonder officially launched. To date, it has operated trips in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
“One of the key things is we don’t want to organise run-of-the-mill trips just to get the kids out for the day; we really want to create special experiences,” said Virani. “We put a lot of time into curating each itinerary depending on each NGO and their needs.”
For example, in Laos, Share The Wonder works with Luang Prabang Special Education School, who said its deaf and mute students would benefit from a visit to the nearby Laos Buffalo Dairy. The award-winning social enterprise was able to tailor-make a trip around their specific needs.
While launching mid-Covid has not been ideal, Virani noted it does present opportunities. “Now, a lot of people are talking about domestic travel, flying less in the future and how to travel more sustainably. People are thinking more about how they can do good when they start travelling again.”
In the short-term, Virani plans to organise one trip a month. In the long-term, he hopes to increase this to one monthly trip for each destination. He is currently looking for tour operators and other industry-related businesses to partner with. One trip costs US$25, with partner businesses offering clients the chance to donate or “add-on” the fee to their travels. “It’s like adding a fee for carbon offsetting when you fly somewhere,” Virani said.
All donors receive detailed reports on the trip they have helped finance.
“It’s important young people have the opportunity to learn about and appreciate their own culture,” said Virani. “People travel half way across the world to experience them and that opportunity should be passed on.”
For more information, visit https://www.sharethewonder.org/.