For children without resources, travel feels like an unattainable dream. Millions of kids in America have never set foot outside their home state, let alone in another country. How can anyone respect the vastness of the planet, the differences between cultures, the biodiversity of our oceans, the preciousness of a desert rain, if she hasn’t seen more than a concrete strip, a local deli, and her own backyard? In a world where our actions—our use of fossil fuels, water, and food; our waste; our elected officials; and our rabid patriotism—deeply and dramatically affects the global citizenry, we must educate our children to understand and respect their planetary kin. Learning AFAR, the flagship program of the AFAR Foundation, meets this desperate need.
Voluntour organizations everywhere can take a lesson from Learning AFAR. They have done what any sensible business does: they have recognized and addressed a pervasive and dangerous problem in our society. In business parlance it’s called filling a niche. But for AFAR, it’s about improving the lives of children and, thereby, improving the culture for us all. When a successful business strategy meets a deep emotional and practical need, the result is a thriving program that makes a positive impact on the world.
Learning AFAR is about more than experience, it’s about storytelling. Students are taught journalism skills from AFAR Magazine staff, so they can articulate their stories to communicate their life-changing experiences to others. Learning AFAR students are also taught how to initiate projects at home, in their own communities. Learning AFAR equips young people with all the skills they need to become active and responsible global citizens, and to teach others.
The world is getting smaller. The Internet connects us all, instantaneously, across vast distances. We can even communicate with astronauts in space! When the communication channels are so wide open, it’s easy to forget the importance of physical experience.
Words aren’t enough to create lasting change. Human beings need to touch, taste, and feel new places. We need novel experience that challenges all of our senses. Children from low-income families need this too, and without programs like Learning AFAR, they might never have it. How sad to have such a diverse and beautiful planet that lies just beyond the reach of the most impressionable among us: our children. Showing an underprivileged child what’s possible fuels her dreams. It is the most enduring gift we can give. It’s that rare opportunity to offer something that seems too good to be true, but isn’t.