Traveler Gail Sawosik uses her inspiration for giving back to help inspire others
Like most people, Gail Sawosik isn't comfortable asking people for money, even if the cause is a worthy one. But unlike most people, she doesn't let that stop her.
Independent by nature, Gail prefers group travel when visiting countries where language or infrastructure make traveling difficult. She was attracted to OAT because of the "commitment and vision of the owners to give back to worthy causes" along the paths of its adventures. For her first OAT adventure, in 2005, she chose a land she had always wanted to visit: Africa. "I had always wanted to see animals in the wild," she explains.
Knocking on doors to help purchase windows
As much as she thrilled to her Tanzanian safari, however, it wasn't the animals that impressed her the most. "Everywhere I go, it's the people who make the difference," she says. And when her small group visited the Bashay Primary School in the village of Karatu, she was immediately moved to help.
"OAT is helpful, because they give you the opportunity to talk directly with the people involved," she says. Wherever she goes, Gail seeks out chances to interact with the locals, and at the school, she made sure to talk personally with the teachers. "I asked them, 'If you could have anything, what would you want?'" she recalls. "I expected to be overwhelmed by a request for computers or something like that, but instead, they told me they would like glass windows to replace the wooden shutters." The wooden shutters were closed whenever it rained, but still, it got wet inside the classroom, making it difficult for the children to concentrate. "It was such a simple request," Gail says.
As her safari continued, Gail managed to do some research on the cost of a window and discovered each one would total roughly $50. Despite her hesitation about approaching others for donations, she launched a "Buy a Window" campaign upon her return home, creating a flyer with photos that illustrated the condition of the windows—and the children who would be helped by a gift for the school. "It's hard not to promote the importance of education," she says, "and the importance of the environment for the capacity to learn." She took a personal approach, stopping people to talk about where she had been and what she had learned—and what the need was.
The campaign was a huge success, raising a total of $625. With Grand Circle Foundation's help on the ground, the windows were replaced—with extra funds left over for the school.
The gift of music for a school in Peru
An intense interest in archaeology led Gail to choose a trip to Peru—featuring an overnight visit to Machu Picchu—for her second OAT adventure. Yet, once again, "Some of my most memorable moments from that trip are the fine times I had with the children," she says. Knowing that a school visit was on the itinerary, she thought long and hard about a gift she could bring with her for the students.
She remembered that her brother had given her a crank radio, which she decided to donate to the school. Though worried that there might be no reception in that remote location, she asked Edgar, her Trip Leader, to introduce her to the school principal, who was delighted to receive her gift. Soon, the sound of music was filling the air. "I love music, and it made me happy to think that, in a small school high in the Andes, children could hear music and smile," Gail says. "Small moments like that are so meaningful to me. Those are the memories that are the most touching to me."
Sewing threads of compassion in Egypt
For her most recent OAT adventure, Gail decided to return to Africa—this time, to Egypt. "I wanted to see the pyramids up close and personal, and to touch something that was 4,000 years old," she explains. But again, it was the people she met along the way that made the deepest impression. And when she visited the Women's Sewing Workshop in Bearat, she had what she describes as "the kind of 'aha moment'" that prompted her to give back in Tanzania.
In Egypt, Gail had been saddened to see women on the street begging, because they had no other means of support. What she saw at Bearat, on the other hand, was women on their own—divorced, single, or widowed—who were able to support themselves and even enjoy themselves through sewing. "A sewing machine, some fabric—it's concrete. It's manageable," she says.
She "used the formula that worked before" upon her return to her home in Westford, Massachusetts, crafting an illustrated flyer describing what she had encountered and how even a small donation could help. "For every project, I set a targeted amount of time—usually about two weeks—and a fundraising goal," she says. "I usually exceed it." In this case, she crushed her goal of $500, raising $700 so far and counting.
Setting an example
About her fundraising activities, Gail has praise for OAT and Grand Circle Foundation. "They make it easy to get up close and personal with the entities you're doing it for," she says. "And because they help you talk directly with the folks involved, you know exactly who the recipients are and where the money is going." She points out further that OAT Trip Leaders are helpful in overcoming language barriers, and having a presence on the ground in the destination makes it possible to implement her vision.
Still, Gail remains humble about her accomplishments on behalf of others. "Wherever I go, I'm always incredibly appreciative and grateful for what I have," Gail says. "I never take on a project looking for anything in return. I'm telling my story for anyone who has been touched or moved by their experiences and are thinking of giving back and raising money for a specific project. I'm hoping they'll read my story and become more inspired themselves."
Give back to the Women's Sewing Workshop in Bearat, Egypt:
Featured in our November 2010 E-Newsletter. Read full issue here.