Transformational Travel - Social Impacts Of Journeys Abroad

Want to Help Someone? Shut up and listen! is an excellent TEDX talk by Ernesto Sirolli regarding working abroad for charities. Whether someone is setting up a business, charity, or both -- there exists fundamental problems with how Westerners, in particular, help. In this talk, he points out that many supporters either patronize or are paternalistic towards the communities they are supposed to serve. And they often do this without understanding the history, needs, or region’s current state of affairs. This is a template for failure.

In order for any program to be successful, however, & paraphrasing Ernesto Sirolli, you never arrive in a community with any ideas, instead you sit with the local people. You don't work from offices, you meet at the cafe or a pub. You have zero infrastructure. Instead you become friends, and you find out what the person you want to help wants to do. You don't come in as a hero, you come in as a sidekick.

Denise Brown, Co-Founder and Sales & Marketing Director and Robert Tarimo, Co-Founder and Operations Director of Sababu Safaris are exemplifying this practice in the Safari Industry.

Who are you? What is your organization/business/performance? Who are the clientele/audience that you hope to serve/ help? And why is diversity important to such clientele/audience?
I am Denise Brown, Co-Founder of Sababu Safaris. We are a small safari business operating in Tanzania (with an office in New York) that aims to unite safari guests with local communities to build bridges, foster understanding and ultimately make a difference in their lives. We want to give our guests the opportunity to easily do good while they’re having the time of their lives on safari.

We think it’s important for visitors to not only experience Tanzania’s beautiful scenery and amazing wildlife that is unparalleled in the safari world but to also get to know the human side of Tanzania. This is what made me fall in love with the country in the first place. Tanzania’s people are some of the warmest, kindest, happiest and most welcoming and graceful human beings you will ever encounter in your life. And what struck me the most when I first visited the country was that little to no effort is required on our end to make a positive impact in their lives.

Some people might argue that a white savior complex might play a role here, which is a reasonable assumption. However, I didn't come here to lead but to listen and learn. My business partner and our co-founder, Robert Tarimo, is Tanzanian and has lived there all his life. Together, we want to support and work with local projects that are mostly run by the Tanzanian community. We do not claim to know the answers to all the problems, but communities have a pretty good idea of what they need to be able to help themselves. And we just want to support those existing efforts – together with our guests.

What is it that your organization/performance does? What does it hope to accomplish? What is its purpose/mission? How does diversity concepts tie into it?
Our mission is to use responsible travel experiences to raise awareness of and support successful community projects in Tanzania. We want to create a win-win situation: on the one hand guests will be able to immerse themselves in the Tanzanian culture and gain experiences that will change their hearts and minds and have a long lasting positive impact on them. We believe in the power of transformational travel and how it can be the catalyst to inspire us, touch our souls and make us feel truly connected and alive.

On the other hand, the local communities we support will benefit in two ways. There is the short-term monetary aspect (our guests are charged a fee for their visit(s), which will go directly toward these projects and of which we will not make any profit) and there is the long-term effect we hope to achieve: that our guests will spread the word and maybe even decide to support the project(s) they visited in the long-run, like sponsoring a child and providing for their education, for example.

Where is the office/performance? Where is most of the work done? Is it local? National? International?
We have offices in both New York and Arusha, Tanzania. All our operations are in Tanzania, since that is where the safaris take place.

When was your performance/organization created? -- i.e. what is some of the history of how this event came about?
Sababu Safaris was created early this year. I had fallen utterly in love with Tanzania, its awe-inspiring wildlife, spectacular nature and beautiful people, and it was clear to me that I wanted to stay involved and do something on the ground that has meaning. My business partner Robert used to be my guide on my first visit to Tanzania and we became close friends.

We came to the conclusion that we share a brain and – more importantly - a heart, and that is how Sababu Safaris came about. The idea to create Sababu Safaris came naturally and grew organically. Utilizing Robert’s extensive experience in the safari business (over 18 years!) and my own personal experience in event management and in planning amazing experiences was a no brainer. But we wanted to offer more than just “regular” safaris like so many other safari companies do – it had to be something with a purpose and a meaning. And that’s why we decided to call our organization Sababu - the Swahili word meaning “purpose”.

Over time, how have trends in diversity affected your organization/performance?
That is tough to answer, since we are such a young enterprise. But there is a clear trend in the travel industry toward transformational travel experiences. People want more than just a simple visit to a new destination and crave an authentic, meaningful and life-changing travel experience. And this involves meeting people from all over the world.

Why was your organization/performance created? What needs does it fulfill? What does it do to promote diversity?
We created Sababu Safaris because we saw a gap in the safari industry. Most safari companies are all about the wildlife and nature – which is absolutely amazing in and of itself but there aren’t a lot of opportunities for visitors to authentically connect with the communities on a deeper level. You land at the airport, get into your safari vehicle, do your safari and return to the airport afterwards but other than being with your guide, you won’t get to interact much with the local population nor will you get a better idea of the true Tanzanian way of life that exists outside the National Parks.

Most safari companies offer to take you to a local Maasai village on the side of the road but these aren’t authentic; sadly, many of them have been commercialized. These visits also usually only take about a half hour, and you will be pushed to buy some bead work. There is nothing authentic about that. We want to show people EVERYTHING Tanzania has to offer and that includes its culture and people –but it has to be done in a genuine way.

Meeting the people in the community and getting to know them and their way of life puts your own life into perspective and might change your view on others back home. It might open your heart to those around you that you might not have previously connected with in your home town. If travel shifts our perspectives of the world, of our self and others, then we will shift our behavior. Ideally those behavioral shifts are positive shifts. When you have positive behavioral changes, they trickle down to those around you, including family, friends and the community.

How does it accomplish it goals? How can someone help the organization/performance?
We accomplish our goals every single time we take our guests on safari with us. Every single time we connect our guests with the local communities we hope to change their hearts and minds and to make a difference in the lives of everyone involved.

*Article and Interview by Christine Fischer.

Denise Brown