Packing for a Purpose

Drew Coffman / CC by 2.0

By  April 17, 2015

Before you check your luggage, check out these two organizations that transport much-needed supplies overseas.

Baggage allowance on airplanes is strict these days. But we still stuff articles into our luggage that we never use. Or worse, wish that we had brought much-needed supplies for a local community instead of those far too impractical shoes.

Before a recent trip to Indonesia, while researching accommodation, I stumbled on Pack for a Purpose, a non-profit organization that connects travellers with community-based projects in more than 50 countries worldwide.

“We do the research for travellers, target the projects and inquire at the local sources about what their projects need most,” explains Pack for Purpose’s founder, Rebecca Rothney. “Although the desire to help can be very powerful, well-informed kindness offers most benefits to everyone involved.”

Toothbrushes and deflated soccer balls, didn’t add much weight to my luggage—and were much more useful than impractical shoes.

Through Pack for Purpose’s website, you choose a project in your destination and then determine what supplies will fit in your suitcase. Each of the projects is paired with a partner – a local hotel (like the lodge that I’d been researching in Indonesia) or tour operator. Although Pack for Purpose has only been in operation for five years, they already have more than 370 partners. You then choose between dropping off your packages with the partner, or bringing them directly to the project site.

One of the projects listed, the Yaysan Pak orphanage, happened to be close to my destination in the Toraja Highlands. Some of the requested supplies, including toothbrushes and deflated soccer balls, didn’t add much weight to my luggage—and were much more useful than impractical shoes. When I showed up at the Yaysan Pak home, the children were all smiles. It was rewarding to be able to make a contribution, albeit small, to their lives.

Pack for Purpose isn’t the only organization doing this type of work. Not Just Tourists, helps travellers transport pharmaceuticals and medical equipment, donated by Canadian doctors, to clinics and medical professionals overseas. Travellers carry a letter signed by a Canadian doctor to inform customs officials about contents, sender and destination, and return with a letter signed by the recipients.

As for those pesky baggage restrictions, Rothney has some final words of advice. “Weight can hardly be an obstacle—a stethoscope weighs less than one kilo, but can touch ten thousand hearts, especially in a community that is without one,” she says.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of Verge. 

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Published in Beyond the Guidebook
Lies Ouwerkerk

Lies Ouwerkerk is a Montreal-based writer who travels the world with a purpose, on rides and roads less travelled.

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