This is discussion about the Hermanos Project...... A model of Micro-Philanthropy.
On my recent trip with Esprit, I was amazed with the small town that we were based out of, and grateful for the wonderful reception that I received from the locals. At the end of my trip, I wanted a way to say thank you, and after hearing about the Hermanos project, I knew that this would be a wonderful way to give back to the community. Knowing that I provided food to an elderly woman so that she could eat without worry, and school books to a young girl so that she could be a child, was amazing. To be so grateful for something that I consider so small, is unimaginable. We often forget as tourist that there is more that meets the eye to the wonderful places that we visit - Thank you Esprit for allowing me to face these realities and to give back to the people that make these trips truly memorable.
I never imagined that the simple act of screwing in a light bulb could move me to tears, but that is exactly what happened at the end of my recent week long Eco-Adventure Discovery trip with Esprit in Jalcomulco Mexico. I learned about the Hermanos Project my first day there but to be honest it didn’t really sink in. I was much more focused on the beautiful scenery and the amazing activity packed days that were to come. I had no idea going into this trip that what would impact me the most was the people and their culture. The people of Jalcomulco and of the other small villages we visited during our travels were so warm and friendly. Some have so little, yet they seem genuinely happy. The more I experienced the culture and interacted with these wonderful people, the greater was my desire to help in any small way I could. The Hermanos Project presented me with the opportunity to give something back, to help in some small way. Thank-you Esprit for one of the most humbling experiences of my life.
I recently experienced the Hermanos project first hand and it moved me to tears. Tears rising from the blatent inequality in our world. But I had good fortune to witness this inequality because it opened my eyes once more. In our busy, day-to-day lives we can forget. We can forget to give to those that need it most. But Esprit helped me remember and reacquainted me with the joy of giving. The warmth from a smile and hug from an elderly Mexican woman after receiving a food basket will be a feeling I will keep forever from this trip....thank you Jim, Erin and the Esprit family for the opportunity to experience Hermanos.
I recently participated in an Eco-Adventure Discovery with Esprit in Jalcomulco, Mexico. The local community opened their arms and hearts to people they had never met and most of us whom couldn't even speak their language. Just walking down the street everyone greeted you with a smile and you could not help but feel so safe and welcomed. I learned of Hermanos about three days into my trip and immediately knew that I wanted to give something back to all the lovely and warm residents of Jalcomulco.
Being able to meet with the families in their homes and deliver what to me seemed such a small item such as lightbulbs absolutely changed my outlook on life and the blessings I have been given.
Thank you so much to Erin, Jim and the Esprit family. Without their sincere devotion to the residents of Jalcomulco, I would never have been given the opportunity to take part in such a life changing experience.
Can you please explain what the campaign "A New Ear for Walter" is and what the "World's Smallest Museum" is? What are the "bigger and better ways" you mention that some guests are inspired to contribute?
Can you give some examples of the business ventures that the donations make possible?
To what extent does the community influence the gifts they receive? Do individuals come up with lists or top choices of what they need?
Instead of small donations being used to purchase small (but necessary) things, have you ever considered using donations to start a trust in which money could be pooled for the collective good. For example, several donations combined could eventually purchase something large that the community needs like a school, a library or a community well. What do you think?
I look forward to hearing your response.
Thanks for your comments. You have started to "scratch below the surface" to what really is a driving force behind Hermanos. Our Micro-donations open a few interesting doors for both Donors (our guests)) as well as beneficiaries (the least fortunate in our community... beyond the touch of tourism). The Donor gets an opportunity to experience the "joy of giving' (pardon the chlche). The experience (as evident in some of the other comments below) can be a mutually beneficial, rewarding and often a moving experience. For a meager $25 investment our guests are getting "turned on" to giving, to contributing, to making a connection.... to making a difference.
A very high percentage of our guests take advantage of Hermanos..."giving back a little" to the community. As we pass from house to house, recipient to recipient we also get a look at some underlying issues, problems, and needs that are hidden "below the surface" in our community. One day a few weeks ago someone donated a soccer ball and jersey as well as a "school set" to a young local family. Upon visiting the family we noticed that the young boy " Walter" has a cosmetically deformed ear. An average earning for people not involved in tourism in our community is 100 pesos. Walter's parents have been trying to save to have his ear cosmetically repaired... but the cost of the surgery has been "out of reach' for their earnings. Get this..... the cost is $350 dollars. With a few donations and our company covering the rest Walter will "get a new ear" after Semana Santa. We would have never met Walter or had the opportunity to help his family financially if the door to his house was not opened by Hermanos. A perfect example of Micro-donations leading to something grander...... from small things... big things grow.
More on the museum later.
We have currently started a "fund" where our company matches donations to build "the world's smallest museum" in a remote community called Xopilapa. Xopilapa is at the base of a 1500 yr old Totanac cemetery and years ago local campesinos found many ancient artifacts that were buried there while clearing the land to plant beans. Two of the boys from town would bring the artifacts to Jalcomulco to sell them for a few 100 pesos. Realizing that selling their communities "heritage" was a bad idea a former partner and friend (Memo Aceves) and I purchased all the pieces, and gave them back to the community. We put one of the boys (Dimas) and his family in charge of the pieces and paid them every time we brought our guests to see them. Dimas and his family thought we were crazy... buy the pieces, give them back, pay to see them.... we explained that this is how "Museums" work, and that they are the curators of "the world's smallest museum".
Recently we recognized that the need for a proper "independent structure" is paramount. With this in mind we are currently raising funds through Hermanos to build an underground "museum" in the form of a Temescal.... which is like and adobe igloo. Here the ancient artifacts can return to earth where they were found but with the opportunity for the community to share their ancient heritage with visitors.
Our contributors to this project have been inspired by their original Hermanos experience to take their 'philanthropy" one step further. I think that by turning people onto 'small scale travel philanthropy" by making it easy and accessible, that contributing to the communities that our guests visit could become the norm in tourism rather than a rarity.
Next up...... Micro-philanthropy goes viral.
Our "off the shelf' Hermanos donations are conceived by our local staff who have lived in the village their whole life. These donations are inexpensive (by our guests standards) and are filled with basics that really just lend a helping hand financially to the participants. One item that has been very interesting is the donating of energy efficient light bulbs. We see these as "environmentally friendly"..... local people here see them as "cost saving". Most homes we enter are unaware of the energy savings as well as the cost savings.... this makes for an interesting point of discussion between donor and recipient. Being one of the tallest persons in our community has resulted in me changing a lot of light bulbs!!!
Keeping it simple.
Although we have managed to collect and pool funds for larger community projects.... it is not necessarily the "ultimate goal". Hermanos is trying to "plant the seed" of giving and let people share in the experience. As a model to spread to other outfitters we do not want to complicate it with bank accounts, financial statements, treasurers, and accountability issues. The beauty is in its simplicity. We purchased the product for $25, our guests purchase "gifts' for $25 and we then purchase another gift for $25. it is a "in and out" "regenerating investment". We invested a mere $200 but have given away almost $5000 in product. Imagine 100 other companies following the model.... or 1000 companies worldwide.
We hope that in the future our guests consider "investing' their tourism dollars and time with other outfitters that also have "Hermanos' type projects as an integral part of their programs. I am also excited to think that our clients may choose to "invest" their holidays with David Chaimberlain's Exquisite Safaris or Travel With Conscience. I would be very proud if a worldwide network of Hermanos... projects "went viral" ... infecting international tourism with empathy.
Earlier this month I experienced the Hermanos Project first hand with 15 fellow high school students and teachers. When we arrived in Jalcomulco we could not believe how friendly and warm the residents were to people they had never met and spoke a different language. During the first couple days Jim and the Esprit team spoke of the "Hermanos Project" but we didn't really understand what it meant until went to Xopilapa. Our group helped hand out school supplies, soccer balls, food baskets, and changed lightbulbs. None of us knew how rewarding something as simple as changing a lightbulb could be. I am hoping more outfitters will follow in Esprit's steps and adopt the Hermanos project or build their own. I also hope more students will get involved with trips like these, not just ones with a beach. This was and extremely rewarding experience and I cannot wait to do it again.
Thank you Jim, Erin & team Esprit
For 2 weeks in March this year, I had the opportunity to stay with Esprit and participate in the Hermanos project. During this trip, we spent time in the towns of Jalcomulco and Xopilapa. In both of these towns, everyone was so friendly and welcoming even though we were complete strangers who couldn't even speak their language. It was a very rewarding experience to bring them gifts that would be otherwise difficult for them to obtain. In Canada, we take something like buying lightbulbs or school supplies for granted. Everything we ever need is always right at our fingertips. In Xopilapa, getting these things could mean hiking 2 hours up and over a mountain to get to the nearest town. It was great to see how these simple gifts were greatly appreciated by the recipients. Especially how something like a soccer ball could provide countless hours of excercise and entertainment for all of the children in the town. If it weren't for Esprit, there would likely never be any tourism in Xopilapa and certainly less in Jalcomulco than there is now. This flow of people not only brings gifts through the Hermanos project, but it also puts money into the local economies. This was truly a wonderful and life-changing experience for me, and something that was beneficial for everyone involved.
Just when you think an outstanding company can't possibly get better it does! I am not surprised to see one of the finest examples of selflessness, kindness and compassion demonstrated through Esprit's new Hermanos project. I have visited Jalcomulco, and I know how great of an impact Esprit has had on the spirit of the community. One may think that an adventure outfitter could leave a negative footprint on a small village, changing their traditions, values and culture. Esprit has done the complete opposite during their whole time operating out of Jalcomulco. They have brought opportunity, education, life, spirit and friendship to a warm community. They have been welcomed with open arms, and they have fallen in love with Jalcomulco and its people. Jim and Erin have made Jalcomulco part of the Esprit family. They open the eyes of their guests who visit and share their special Jalcomulco gem. The privileged guests of this warm family spread their "random acts of kindness" with this new opportunity with Hermanos. I think the Hermanos project is fantastic! Jim and Erin Coffey have done it again with another beautiful innovation in making this world a better place through experience. Esprit is one of a kind! They are not only the best outfitter on Earth ... but they are making changes on this Earth in the right direction. I look forward to experiencing more of the Esprit (spirit) movement! Spirit of Adventure, Spirit of Kindness, Spirit of Excellence, Spirit of Making this World a Better Place to live in! That is Esprit.
Thanks you for your very kind comments. We have just returned to Canada to start our summer season and work in ernest to spread and assist other outfitters to adopt the Hermanos model with adventure travel companies worldwide.
Our ultimate goal is to have 1000 companies follow the model raising through their guests $5000 each for a worldwide injection of $5 000 000 per year to those in developing communities that are not beneficiaries of the "touch of tourism". I realize that this sounds ambitious but we are going to aim for 100 companies by the end of 2008, 500 companies by the end of 2009 and 1000 companies by 2010.
I realize this sounds ambitious... but when has that ever stopped us. the groundswell of support from those who have experienced Hermanos first hand is unbelievable and unstoppable.
These certainly are exciting times here at Esprit!