In the summer of 2016 I found myself on the rainy hills of Matagalpa, Nicaragua, digging in the dirt of our 170 acre joint-venture farm with an enthusiastic group of Spark Ventures impact travelers. Among the group were families that included several Chicago-area elementary and middle school students. Together we dug holes, fertilized, found worms, watered, honed our machete skills, and reflected on how farming in the jungle is nothing like farming in the Midwest. As we triumphantly placed baby cacao trees into the holes we made, I was continually impressed by the enthusiasm our youngest travelers had for the work we completed under the supervision of our Nicaraguan farm management. I know I shouldn’t have been surprised at their youthful energy, but watching them go through the full experience of our impact trip was a new kind of inspiration.
Later, these young travelers got to meet the youth beneficiaries at Las Tías, our Nicaraguan community partner. They saw from the ground up (literally!), as did all the travelers on the trip, how Spark’s investment in the farm will generate profits to support these two community centers. I watched these young travelers closely as they connected with the Nicaraguan youth of their same age. At first this involved furtive smiles as they stumbled through a blend of Spanish, English and hand gestures, but it quickly grew into full belly laughs and running games with complex rules.
When we say Impact Travel is “life-changing and world-changing” we know that to be true. We see the impact our programming has on the lives of our community partners, and we also see how these experiences impact those who have traveled with us. I have watched in admiration as our travelers have made life-changing decisions upon their return: seasoned business professionals pivoting in their careers, parents taking a return trip with their children, young adults choosing business schools offering social impact/enterprise programs.
I look forward to what our most recent (and youngest) travel alumni will do in their futures. I know that in a globalized, yet increasingly polarized world, impact travel can expand our definition of community. Learning and sharing and laughing and working together, is inspiring. It is sometimes hard to feel like one individual can make a difference, but the types of connections fostered on a Spark trip make it real and tangible.
I am proud and humbled to share some of our accomplishments from the past year here in this report. As we reflect on our successes in 2016 and look to the future, I encourage you to join me in 2017 for your own life-changing and world-changing experience.