This week's blog post is an interview with Malia Everett, who has over two decades of experience pioneering cultural and educational exchanges, and has graciously jumped in (with little immediate pay-off!) to oversee all of our GirlFriendCircles TravelCircles trips to such places as Cuba, Kenya, and Nicaragua!
Malia believes in the power of travel as a transformational tool for education and social change and facilitates tours to over 80 countries around the world focusing on international relations, human rights, political economy, sustainable development, women’s issues and the resilience of indigenous cultures.
As the founder and CEO of Altruvistas she is personally putting together the most thoughtful itineraries and experiences for all our trips geared around the woman's life and voice to each country!
At the bottom of the interview, we highlight some of our upcoming trips!
Shasta: Malia, people talk all the time about how important it is to have passion for their jobs, but there's passion and then there's the kind passion you have! It's deep and amazing-- can you share with us where that comes from?
Malia: I love what I do and I know my passion is contagious. Working in the world of socially responsible travel that is educational and truly philanthropic is a vocation for me. I consider myself deeply blessed to have found my calling and to share that with others. What keeps me excited about the work every day, is the same truth that has fed my soul for the past 20 years: I get to experience the transformational power of travel firsthand.
For example, when a GirlFriend comes back and calls me with excitement and enthusiasm sharing how the journey changed her life, that she learned things she'd never even thought about before; I know the work is worthwhile. The journeys create well-being, not only for the traveler but also for the host communities. This is being in service to me.
Shasta: When most of us hear of ethical travel, I'm not sure we even know what's involved with that term! What is important to you in the planning of trips to other countries?
Malia: In order for travel to be truly ethical, it needs to incorporate the best practices of both ecological and social responsibility. Some travel companies focus on one or the other. Altruvistas philosophy is holistic in its approach; we focus on both eco-consciousness AND social responsibility because we believe that travelers should benefit the people and places they visit.
Sustainable Tourism helps sustain livelihoods, support local communities and conserve the world¹s natural and cultural heritage. At Altruvistas we know that responsible tourism is a powerful tool in poverty reduction. Our staff is experienced travel professionals with a shared commitment to sustainability and a passion to ensure the benefits of responsible tourism globally. In order to maximize the benefits and full potential of tourism we must acknowledge that conventional tourism has negative impact. A few issues of concern to us are: capital flight in our globalized economy; the commodification of cultures and people (including sex tourism and human trafficking); and the environmental impacts of flying that contributes to greenhouse gases. In fact, climate change poses a severe threat to those things that responsible travelers hold sacred: local communities, biodiversity, and environments around the world. Altruvistas tackles the lack of equity in the conventional tourism economy and encourages best practices for ourselves, for our travelers, and for those we partner with globally.
Shasta: You've been a huge advocate for our TravelCircles.... What, in your opinion, makes our trips special?
Malia: I LOVE the GirlFriendCircles brand and have personally and professional learned a lot from traveling with you, Shasta. During our first professional delegation of women to Cuba I saw firsthand how you facilitated
friendship circles and truly helped women quickly make friendships. Right away the group dynamic was smooth and connective. Since then I have seen how your ambassadors are deeply committed to the girlfriends well-being as they consistently encourage the travelers to meet and share with others.
I think TravelCircles are special as they combine the BEST of GFC and Altruvistas. Together we are creating unique experience. These are journeys BY and FOR women, to experience great sites in a sustainable way that honors the women you are traveling with and exchanging with. Yes all the trips see the major world heritage sites and important cultural monuments, yet we also get off the beaten path and into the businesses, schools, artists studios, organizations and homes of women.
Shasta: Some women have wondered about the safety of some of the countries we've chosen, including our trip to Afghanistan this fall, can you tell us why you think it's important to visit these countries?
Malia: Traveling to places, where the US or the West has strained political or economic relationships, is important. I believe that when we break bread together, learn about each others struggles, share hopes for the future and hear others aspirations for the future we create understanding and that fosters peace building. Traveling to Afghanistan, Iran and other countries like Cuba are important examples of how GFC courageously embraces a women's citizen diplomacy. Women return informed and engaged with first hand stories that are much more complex and candid than dominant media coverage.
Shasta: One of the special elements on all our trips is visiting a few NGO's in each country that are supporting the causes of women-- how do you think that adds to the experience of a trip and why is it so important?
Malia: Meetings with women's organizations is a grounding element of the TravelCircles. This is one vital way for us to learn what our shared struggles and successes are as women. While the whole trip is not focused on a gender rights struggle or issue, we make intentional time to explore important issues impacting women's lives where we go. Our women are curious and engaged. Thus adding a few meetings that examine themes like political representation, cultural and religious norms and gender rights, poverty and socioeconomic equity provide a lot of opportunities to exchange and share with our hosts and in our group. Additionally we have visited with NGO's serving elders and children, tackling domestic violence and human trafficking. These are important issues to not gloss over. At TravelCircles we include these visits to bridge differences, to build solidarity between ourselves and our hosts, and hopefully to inspire Girlfriends to give back when back home.
Shasta: We make a donation every quarter and we'd love for you to pick one of your favorite causes and organizations-- tell us about the one you pick!
Malia: I am SO honored! I am really excited to share the work of MISSSEY with GFC. I love working locally and internationally and one of the issues very close to my heart is modern-day slavery. Altruvistas is a signatory of the ECPAT's Code an industry-driven responsible tourism initiative with a mission to provide awareness, tools and support to the tourism industry in order to prevent the sexual exploitation of children. The work MISSSEY does is vital for educating and advocating for vulnerable Bay Area youth in the face of poverty, sexual exploitation and human trafficking. I've supported their work for years.
Shasta: On behalf of GirlFriendCircles.com, we will be making a donation to MISSSEY because of you! And finally, each trip for us is connected to building friendships--tell us what role friendships play in your life right now. In what ways is your life better because of your female friends?
I can not imagine my life without my friends! I am not just saying that either. After I become a mother in 2000 I had so little time to be me, just Malia. I was a mother of, lover of, worker of, activist of...I was always on! After reading a book called the Red Tent, a friend and I decided to create a Full Moon circle, our own GirlFriendsCircle if you will. We needed a ritual to connect in our overwhelming lives. We are now celebrating 13 years in friendships. We have celebrated births and new loves together. We have toasted new jobs and beginnings. We have mourned the loss of parents and friends. We have held each other through divorce and break ups. We have giggled, danced, cried and eaten hours a way in fellowship. I count my wealth in the love I have of community, family and friends.
Thank you Malia! Thank you not just for what you're giving to us GirlFriends as we travel the world, but to what you're giving and doing for the world overall! xoxo
Plus, we currently have room for a couple more women to join us this fall to:
- Chile & Argentina
For all trips and details, go to www.WomensTravelGroups.com
*We also have two upcoming live Q & A calls where you can learn more about the trips to Nicaragua (Saturday May 17th at 9 am PST) and Kenya (Saturday, May 24th at 10 am PST) trips. Email Malia@altruvistas.com for more information!