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Austin charity's 'voluntourism' safari promises a giving African adventure

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Well Aware Kenya tour
Well Aware's trip coincides with the Great Migration of millions of zebra and wildebeest on the Maasai Mara. JB Journeys/Facebook

Well Aware, an Austin-based nonprofit created to bring clean water systems in impoverished communities in rural Africa, is teaming up with JB Journeys for a "philanthropic safari" trip to Kenya— a rare opportunity to go on a combination volunteer/tourist journey to Africa for two weeks next summer.

Building on the experiences and success of the first such program in 2012, the August 2014 trip will visit four schools and villages where Well Aware has completed clean water projects, each a year apart. The positive change that comes from having a clean, sustainable water source will be evident to the traveler.

Participants will travel for a cause as they experience the impact of Well Aware’s sustainable clean water projects, volunteer with local communities and encounter African wildlife and culture, up close and personal. 

Participants will travel for a cause as they experience the impact of Well Aware’s sustainable clean water projects, volunteer with local communities and encounter African wildlife and culture, up close and personal. The group will spend two days with the children of African Orphanage, offering a unique view into rural Kenyan life.

Interwoven in the itinerary are classic safari driving tours. Lodges were selected for their commitment to supporting their community and Kenyan wildlife. The August dates coincide with the Great Migration of millions of zebra and wildebeest on the Maasai Mara, where the group will stay in an iconic tented camp.

Well Aware’s founder and executive director Sarah Evans says that the past trips to Kenya have made a powerful impact on participants and have transformed the lives of the people who go.

“It is a big paradigm shift for people who have never been to Africa before," she says. "Once they actually witness the poverty and lack of basic needs, they understand the full scope of the problem and solution, and they feel different about their own day-to-day lives. Being able to take people to Kenya to see our work and get to know the people we impact is a life-altering experience. No one ever returns without a new outlook and perspective.”

According to Evans, volunteering and travel go hand in hand. “Many travelers turn up to a new destination and feel lost. This 'voluntourism' trip gives travelers the opportunity to instantly immerse themselves into a community, soak up a new culture and travel with a purpose. It is a chance for them to leave their comfort zones, meet likeminded people, make a difference and see unforgettable places.”

Melanie Fish, a Well Aware board member and past voluntourist to Kenya, agrees. Such a trip was once a "someday" for Fish, but through Well Aware she was able to make it a reality, even taking her mother and 11-year-old daughter.

"The trip was the perfect mix of philanthropy and tourism," Fish says. "We thought we were going to help communities where Well Aware has water projects. Turns out, people in those communities just wanted to celebrate with us. That made me finally understand the impact clean water had on their lives. Every person I've told about the trip is amazed at the quality of the places we stayed at the price we paid. Barbara Baggett led the trip with calm authority, and I never want to travel without her again." Sighting lions, elephants and giraffe sightings were amazing as well, Fish adds.

Baggett, cofounder of JB Journeys along with Jean Warneke, will escort the 2014 excursion as well, along with James Wanyoike as a guide. Wanyoike has worked in tourism since the 80s, and his knowledge of Kenya is invaluable. He knows firsthand what philanthropy can do. Aided by teachers and social programs as a child, he now gives back as a director of BushArt Africa Safaris and is co-founder of Afrika Awake Foundation.

Since its founding in 2006, Well Aware has delivered clean water to more than 35,000 people in Kenya, who previously had none available in their communities.  The organization plans to double its impact in 2014.

The full itinerary and contact information can be found here.

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