Can travel change the world? Perhaps if more people were like Lee-Ann Gibbs. The Torontonian left her job as a corporate lawyer last fall to tour the world – but on her own terms, in a responsible way. In Nepal, she volunteered with Samrakshak Samuha Nepal (SASANE), an organization that helps female victims of human trafficking become paralegals. When she discovered women without a high-school education couldn’t receive legal training, she thought they could work as tour guides. Gibbs, 38, pitched the idea to GProject, a fund sponsored by the Planeterra Foundation and G Adventures, and earlier this week won $25,000 to start the program.
You were on the verge of tears when accepting your award. Clearly this is means a lot to you.
I Skyped with the women last night and that was so humbling and wonderful. They’re so thankful and grateful. They couldn’t be more excited to start.
When everything is up and running, what sort of experience can travellers expect?
They can expect to be taken around as family, just like I was. They’re going to see all the amazing and cultural sites around Kathmandu. And they can expect to be overfed, I’ll tell you that. Nepali portions are insanely large. They’re bigger than any super-size American portion you’ve ever seen.
Tell me more about your bucket-list world tour.
I set off on Dec. 30 last year. So far I’ve visited 20 countries, doing everything from bungee jumping in New Zealand to gorilla trekking in Uganda and in between I’ve volunteered. It’s all about travelling with a purpose. I can’t imagine just wandering around the world. It’s the connection with people is really what gets me out there.
What advice do you have for travellers who want to do things in a more conscious way?
Travel with tour operators and providers who employ locals. It’s very easy. The Internet has everything you need to identify those places. It’s the smallest bit of research. You’re dreaming about your trip, why not make it even that much better? Because eating local food, chatting with local people makes for such an amazing travel experience.
To learn more about SASANE and make a donation, visit SASANE.org.np.
This interview has been condensed and edited.