Story by Adrian Brijbassi
TORONTO, ONTARIO — In a just world, the Kielburgers, not the Kardashians, would be the siblings who the media obsesses over. While the Kielburgers have their share of fans, it’s not nearly enough because if it was their mission to free the world’s children would be long complete.
Marc Kielburger’s enthusiasm and devotion to philanthropy is so intense that after a few minutes in his company earlier this year I was ready to flee the comforts of life in urban Canada for the more noble — and no doubt more enriching — experience of building schools in destitute places that need any help they can get.
Kielburger and his younger brother, Craig, have become global celebrities for their philanthropy that can genuinely be described as beautiful. Their program Free the Children has saved hundreds of thousands of lives in the two decades since the program was founded. A few months ago, they began to push their brand of voluntourism to a broader clientele.
Through Me to We Trips, which the Kielburger brothers and Roxanne Joyale, Marc’s wife, started, volunteer travellers can spend their vacation time helping to build schools in parts of the world that desperately need of infrastructure and education.
The trips are spread through the developing world, with opportunities in India, Africa and South America. Unlike some voluntourism products, Me to We offers accommodations that wouldn’t be out of place in a three-star hotel. Joyale, who co-founded Free the Children in 1995 with the Kielburgers, says the comfort level is a key to attracting travellers from North America who are eager to be altruistic but not to sleep, eat and bathe in austere conditions. Guests on one of the Kenya volunteer travel trips can stay at the Toriana Beach House, which feature air-conditioned units, four-poster beds, and a white-sand beach outside your doorstep. While the itinerary includes plenty of time building a school house, there is also time to take in a safari, bead necklaces and bracelets with members of the Maasai Mara, and get to know the residents and their culture of the area.
It is an experience that Marc Kielburger says will change your life. He points to Kenya as being a home away from home for him and volunteer travel as an undertaking that will inspire you to give more.
Me to We Trips Promote Voluntourism
“All of our research shows that people who take part in one of our programs become more involved at home. They are active in their school volunteer efforts, they take more an interest in local politics, and they’re more likely to make sure everyone in their homes turn off the water faucet when they’re brushing their teeth,” says Kielburger, who is also a best-selling co-author along with his brother, a lawyer, and a syndicated columnist.
Me to We Trips have been primarily aimed at school groups. Corporations, families and individual travellers have increasingly become part of the customer base. Free the Children is an entirely non-profit organization but Me to We Trips is a for-profit business; 50 per cent of its profits go to support Free the Children.
It’s been well documented how Free the Children started in Thornhill, Ontario, after a then-12-year-old Craig Kielburger saw a newspaper article about another 12-year-old boy in India who lived in child slavery. The family’s philanthropy had began earlier, with one of the earliest volunteer trips occurring when Marc visited Jamaica with a church group and encountered both a mentor and his passion for giving.
“I slept on a dirty wood floor and I got really sick,” he says, “but it was one of the very best experiences of my life.”
MORE ABOUT ME TO WE TRIPS
Destinations: Africa (Ghana, Kenya), India (Udaipur), China (Guangdong, Sichuan and elsewhere), Ecuador (locations near Quito and in the Amazon Rainforest), Nicaragua.
Rates: Most trips are in the range of $4,000-$5,000 per individual, including airfare, accommodations, meals and activity fees.
Telephone: 1-877-638-6931 (toll free)
Store Location: 223 Carlton Street, Toronto, ON (see map below). The store includes fair-trade items made from artisans and entrepreneurs in the destinations where Me to We operates tours or charity initiatives with Free the Children.