How O.A.T. Travelers Marci and Dave Utela Support Women and Children in Africa

O.A.T. and Grand Circle travelers are generous in bringing pencils, notebooks, postcards, and other small gifts to distribute to students during their visits to local schools. But some travelers decide to do even more for the children who touch their hearts in faraway lands. One such couple is Marci and Dave Utela of Kenmore, Washington, veterans of 23 O.A.T. and Grand Circle trips, with a 24th already booked for 2020 and a group trip pending for 2021.

“When we first started traveling, we’d carry all this stuff with us,” Marci says. So the couple decided simply to donate to Grand Circle Foundation instead. Marci went even further, however. When she turned 70 1/2 and had to begin taking a required minimum distribution (RMD) out of her retirement savings, she learned that she could avoid having it taxed by allocating it directly to a charitable organization. Marci chose Grand Circle Foundation as a beneficiary.

Her first such donation, in 2018, benefited Kenya’s Amboseli Primary School and Amboseli Lewis Secondary School, as well as St. Mary’s Primary School in Zimbabwe. Marci reveals that one of the reasons the couple chose these schools was a visit to the Amboseli Lewis Secondary School. “We happened to take three blow-up globes,” she says. “One was celestial, one was a political map, and one was geography. When my husband gave them the globes, the science teacher was ecstatic, saying ‘Now I have a way to show the kids that the world is round, not flat!’ It’s amazing how far a small gift can go there.”

For this year’s donation, Marci and Dave asked that the funds support another group that particularly impressed them, this time during their trip to Morocco: the Imik Simik Women’s Center of Ait Ben Haddou. The cooperative was founded in 2012 by 13 women and became a Grand Circle Foundation partner in 2016. Our partnership has enabled Imik Simik to expand their pastry and couscous production along with creating sewing and embroidery workshops. The group has outgrown its current cramped quarters, and, after two years of negotiation, construction of a new women’s center finally got underway last year.

“We were really impressed with the women’s group,” Marci reveals. “They sat down and told us about the organization—how they formed their group and their challenges with getting the land and just with being with women.” She adds that many of the women have been abused or are single mothers, who had to act contrary to cultural norms in this part of rural Morocco in order to make Imik Simik a success.

Marci also was impressed with the new building, which is still under construction. “It’s just lovely!” she says. She decided that allocating this year’s RMD to help speed the project along would be a great way for her to help. “It’s exciting to do this,” she says. “We were so impressed with the women, and the building looks so good. They need to finish it!”

In all, the Utelas have donated $10,500 to the Foundation since they began traveling with O.A.T. and Grand Circle in 2005. Marci appreciates traveling with a company that donates a percentage of its profits to giving back, and she likes being able to specify where her gifts are directed. “It makes you feel pretty good,” she says.