Tag Archive for Carmel Hendry

2012 – a very Responsible year!

I’ve been trying to look back on some of the things that we have achieved over the last year in our efforts to always act sustainably, responsibly and ethically, and give back to the local communities that welcome us so generously on all of our challenges. It was only when I started looking through everything that has happened that I realized what a long year it has been! From our Essex2India cycle ride with Lydia Bright and Denise Van Outen, to launching the business in Canada and landing two Canadian exclusive challenges in 2013 with UNICEF and the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, not to mention the team changes with the leaving and hiring of several new staff members… 2012 seems to have passed in a blur!!
Looking back has been useful; because it has given us all a chance to plan forward… we can see what we have achieved, and what there is still left to do. With that in mind, here are my top 5 Responsible Tourism highlights of 2012. Enjoy!

5. The Rainforest Alliance conference
Earlier this year I was lucky enough to go to a conference hosted by the Rainforest Alliance, celebrating their 25 years. I wrote about the conference in my blog shortly after, but what impressed me the most (and why it deserves to be in my top 10) is that the conference went right to the heart of what sustainability will mean for future economies, focusing in particular on South American and African countries. It showed the important part that western businesses play in supporting other economies… not through charity, but through buying ethically produced goods and on the understanding that this benefits everyone involved.

4. Building schools in Brazil and Nepal
Little known fact about Charity Challenge – most of our business used to be made up of running Community Challenges for exclusive charity or corporate groups, all with the aim of contributing to schools, homes and other building projects, in the developing world. Sadly the call for these types of challenges decreased as the more adventurous trips to Kili and Everest took over, but this year we sent two groups out to Brazil and Nepal to contribute to building projects in some of the poorest areas of the countries. Significant progress was made, with houses being re-roofed, proper windows put in, ceilings plastered and walls painted, not to mention the houses that were completely started from scratch. Everything is done with the help of a proper construction supervisor, group leader and trained crew – to make sure the houses are well made and sturdy.

3. Climate Care and ‘Carbon for Water’
This year we made a payment to Climate Care of just over £23 000 to offset our carbon emissions. Since 2007 we have offset over 10 000 tonnes of fuel, which is the equivalent of taking more than 3000 cars of the road for a year… hmmm fresh air! The money goes to fund carbon reduction projects like the Kenyan project Carbon for Water. This short video will tell you more in a few minutes than I could explain in the next ten pages, but in short, the project distributes simple gravity fed water filters, providing safe water to 4.5 million people in Kenya. It was recently featured in the Guardian, and we are incredibly proud of having contributed to it.

2. Local project support
For each participant that takes on a challenge with us, we make a donation to a local charity or project that works and concentrates aid in the country that the participant is travelling to. This is a long-term commitment of ours, and one that deserves to be at number two on the hit list! Projects who have thanked us and benefited from the support are as wide ranging as the International Porter Protection Group for our Nepal and Stok Kangri trips (IPPG); a small orphanage in Romania for our Trek Transylvania; Community Projects Africa for all Kili adventures and the Sumatran Orangutan Society for our Sumatran Jungle Trek. To read more about the projects that we support, click here. Needless to say we are pleased and proud to have supported so many this year.

1. The Deepen Rai foundation
A sobering note on which to end the round up, but a fitting end nonetheless. We sadly lost one of our most amazing and talented guides this year, Deepen Rai. He has led many, many of our Stok Kangri and Everest Base Camp challenges, and he sadly died in a plane crash while taking a group of British trekkers from another UK tour operator. We had thought to set up a fund in his name, and by cooperating with the other operator in question we have contributed a great deal, with the help of some extremely kind donations from YOU. We are still in talks with Deepen’s wife regarding where the money should be used. Deepen was the sole earner, and he had a wife and children who depended on his income, as well as helping to support a project in the Himalayan region of Nepal. The money will continue to support them, although it still cannot replace the loss of a husband and father.

So a year of ups and downs, providing lots of food for thought. I haven’t even mentioned World Responsible Tourism day on the 7th November, but that’s another story. It has been, on the whole, a good year, and we are looking forward to some exciting things ahead for 2013 so watch this space!

From all at Charity Challenge we wish you a very Happy, Healthy and RESPONSIBLE Christmas period!!

Supporting our Porters!

So, as Christmas comes upon us and Jack Frost is nipping at Great Britain’s communal nose, I thought a little festive cheer was in order from the outside world. It has long been built into Charity Challenge’s policy on Responsible Tourism, that for each person taking part on a challenge, we will make a donation to a local project or charity, with the aim of contributing and giving back to the communities that have welcomed our trekkers. Of course, Responsible Tourism is about the environment, preserving culture, respecting behavioural norms etc… however I’ve always felt that our kind of adventure tourism owes a debt to the local staff that we employ in country. These are people who take on the challenges that our participants have trained and fundraised so hard for, but the difference is that they do them every day, for a living, working hard to make our challenges as unforgettable experiences as possible. Imagine climbing to Everest Base Camp. Incredible. Now imagine taking on the climb EVERY WEEK. With 20kg strapped to your back. Setting up camp, cooking and looking after a group of adventurers, far away from your family at home.

The incredible feats performed by our porters inspire our choice to send our Everest Base Camp and Stok Kangri donations to the International Porter Protection Group (IPPG). Just last month we received a letter from them confirming that this has been the right decision. We have sent, over the last 2 financial years, a total of £2613 to the charity, and their letter has iterated exactly how the money has been put to good use, and the incredible importance of donations to the continuance of their work.

In association with Community Action Nepal, IPPG have been building a medical rescue post and porter shelter where porters can have access to cooking facilities, warm blankets and a place to sleep within the shelter. They are in the process of building a similar outpost in a neighbouring valley, and both provide medical treatment to the lowland porters who are generally poorly equipped for high altitude. One of the greatest problems facing porters in Nepal is that they can be abandoned by their trekking group if they are sick, and made to descend alone where they will not be paid for their work. They also often carry a weight that far exceeds the regulations, although IPPG are stamping down hard on this.

It’s always great to get feedback about the projects that we support, so if you have any comments then  do get in touch with us. To read more about what IPPG do, and how this money supports their daily work, visit www.IPPG.com.

To learn more about all our charity challenges, and find out how else we get involved with Responsible Tourism you can read our Responsible Tourism policy here, and you can visit our website at www.charitychallenge.com . To keep up to date on all our challenge news, you can subscribe to this blog by clicking on the orange RSS button, you can also enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.

25 years of the Rainforest Alliance… where will they go from here?

Recently, I was lucky enough to go to a conference celebrating the Rainforest Alliance’s 25th anniversary. I’m not usually the person in the office who looks after our relationship with the organisation, so learning about what they had achieved since their beginnings in 1987, and their visions for a sustainable future, was a welcome learning experience for me. The list of invitees was impressive, including several big shots within the corporate world of Kraft, Nestle, Marks and Spencer and Costa among others, and left me with the impression that I was rather a small fish in a big pond (or a small tree in a large Rainforest…).

To give you a potted history of the Rainforest Alliance’s work through the years, their main aim in the beginning was to conserve biodiversity by transforming land-use practices and changing consumer behavior. Their system of Certification of farms and forests – RA helped to establish the Forest Stewardship Council. Think you don’t know the FSC? Check your orange juice packaging, or the toilet roll you buy. Their logo is instantly recognizable, once you know where to look – has led to tangible benefits for ecosystems and human populations. In the Minas Gerais region of Brazil, the ape population density is significantly higher in FSC certified forests. That’s a win for ecology! Elsewhere, yields in certified cocoa farms are higher than in non-certified farms, which have lead to an improved productivity of 30-40%, and therefore an increased income. This incentivizes farmers, who have better access to healthcare, higher pay and a better quality of life.

I could go on and on. That would, however, mean glossing over the more uncomfortable subject of the work that is left to do. Recently the Rainforest Alliance launched their ‘Follow the Frog’ campaign (watch the below hilarious video for the finer details), which directly targets consumer attitudes towards responsible buying. Ie, what can WE do, actively, and what should we do? Is it reasonable to believe that, instead of buying your usual coffee/tea/chocolate, if you purchase a bag of coffee with a Frog on it the world will suddenly undergo a significant change? I’m not sure about that. But what if 50 people did it? And then 100? These are the kind of large-scale behavior changes that can engender positive repercussions.

If there is one thing that I learned from the conference, it’s that big businesses such as the aforementioned powerhouses have a responsibility to offer the right things, rather than expecting customers to buy them. I rather enjoyed the thoughts of one of the ladies on the panel, who impressed upon her audience that the value of kindness was going to be good business in the future. Consumers are tending towards better products, better service, a better ethos, and going away from the value of ‘more’ that was so predominant in the Noughties. So why not transfer this sentiment to tourism too?

Indeed, surely kindness should be one of the most important values in an industry that connects many millions of people across the world each year, forcing disparate cultures into contact and bringing many tourists into the world’s most fragile ecosystems. As a tour operator, we hold a role of great responsibility within the industry, and it is our duty to ensure that our expeditions benefit the host communities so that these destinations retain their natural and cultural treasures for future generations to enjoy. The tourism section of Rainforest Alliance is small but growing. To be a member of the international community of tour operators, TOPS (Tour Operators Promoting Sustainability), we signed an agreement committing to encourage our suppliers out in country (lodges, hotels, restaurants etc) to become verified and to give priority to certified and verified suppliers always. It is, admittedly, really difficult to police and enforce this, but like the directors and officers at companies such as Costa and Marks & Spencer, we realize that a big change is necessary to get long-term results.

I have had many things to think about after the conference, as both an employee of an organization whose mantra is to be responsible, and also as a consumer whose duty it should be to buy responsibly. Perhaps the best thing I learned was the phrase ‘Net Positive’ (never heard that before). It means that we are striving not to be ‘less bad’, not just to dilute negatives with one positive action, but to strive to produce 0 carbon; 0 waste; to buy food that you know has come from sustainable sources, whether from Waitrose or from your local butcher; to research your holidays and ensure that they are being operated responsibly; to try and make real, verifiable changes to human life with your actions.

No pressure then!

To learn more about all our charity challenges, and find out how else we get involved with responsible tourism you can read our Responsible Tourism policy here, and you can visit our website at www.charitychallenge.com . To keep up to date on all our challenge news, you can subscribe to this blog by clicking on the orange RSS button, you can also enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.

Tales from the Trek Transylvania, By Charity Challenge bookings Manager Carmel

As the Bookings Manager at Charity Challenge, I am usually busy helping to coordinate the bookings in the office and spend most my time in envy of our freelance leaders who get to meet inspirational Challengers and experience the treks first-hand. Not this August though, when I was lucky enough to take part on one of our best and toughest European challenges in the so-called ‘Transylvanian Alps’ of Romania.

Romania isn’t an area of the world I had visited before, although I’ve heard some really great things about the country, so I really had no idea what to expect from the challenge other than it was going to be tough… and when my group of 7 got through Heathrow airport and onto the plane with only a few slightly worrying bag searches (Ewen’s rogue tarot cards seemed to have caused a disturbance), I knew that it was going to be a good week.

I think our EU challenges have a reputation for being slightly easier than others, but this is a total misconception. On our overseas challenges there are always days factored in to acclimatize and overcome jetlag, whereas in Transylvania you enjoy 4 solid days of trekking sandwiched in between tiring flights and sightseeing. The first day after touching down in Bucharest, where we met our infamous guide Ion, who was to become one of the heroes of the challenge, the group was taken immediately to the bus and we enjoyed a sightseeing tour of the beautiful Transylvanian city of Brasov, which still retains many of the 14th Century architectural features as well as the slightly bizarre ‘Hollywood’ inspired sign, set high up in the mountains surrounding the town.

This challenge is made up of 4 days, of which two are sort of a warm-up and cool-down day but will be long, hilly and extremely beautiful, and the other two are very tough, with difficult ascents and descents throughout the day.  One of the great things about the challenge is that you barely see anyone else on the trails at all. In fact the first and the third days were a real opportunity to see the shepherd huts and rural villages that make the culture of this area of Romania so unique in relation to the rest of the country. Although we didn’t see many people, we certainly saw a lot of sheep – I’m always going to remember Adriana being split from the group by a herd of sheep and running through them, arms flailing, while the rest of the group took a break to laugh at her situation! (we were concerned, of course).

Although you do need a certain level of fitness to complete the challenge, it was a testament to the group that we had so many people of different ages, backgrounds, injuries (I’m thinking of you Vicki!) and everyone managed to push themselves out of their comfort zone and get a lot out of the challenge. Which is basically our aim! After 3 hours of uphill struggle on day two of the challenge, Andrew, who has the Brecon Beacons on his back doorstep as a training ground, said that it’s ‘probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done’. And Kevin, who had already booked a place to climb Machu Picchu next year, was glad that he had taken on Transylvania in preparation for the dizzy heights (pardon the altitude pun) of the Andes. But the great thing about this challenge, without a doubt (aside from the scenery!), is the help and support you will get from the guiding team in country throughout. Despite a discovery of a fear of heights at the top of the narrow and steep ridge, Xanthe got past it and to the summit with the help of one of our amazing mountain guides, Florin, who helped her through the rough patch without having to look down. Meanwhile Ion was helping to push and pull Vicki up the scrambling section as she had her hand in a cast. Massive respect to her for completing that part with only one hand – I’m still impressed and not sure how she managed it! The scrambling day is the last day and after reaching the summit of 1800m we were rewarded for our efforts with lunch and a fantastic view over Transylvania, stretching from the Bucegi massive to the section of Pietra Crailui that we had just ascended.

I mentioned something earlier about Ion being a hero… well after Katie had taken the descents so hard on her knees over the week, it was impossible for her to go on for the last 90mins of the trek. Ion carried her (sometimes literally) down the hill, beating the rest of the group, before returning to help the rest of us. He then drove us home, served us all dinner and left in the morning at 5.30am to take part in a mountain biking competition with Florin. And, digressing from the trek a little, he ended up withdrawing from the competition in order to help an ambulance find an injured competitor. What a guy.

So with thanks to the brilliant guides, and lots of spectacular photos to take home, I said goodbye to the group at Heathrow airport. Through our struggles, successes and overdose on cheese (three meals a day!) we’ve all had some interesting bonding moments and I hope that they take away some great memories of Transylvania.

Noroc! (Cheers)

If you’ve been inspired by Carmel’s adventure, you can find out more about our Trek Transylvania here. You can find out more information about all our amazing challenges on our website at www.charitychallenge.com. To keep up to date on all our challenge news, please subscribe to this blog. You can also enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.

A Bookings Manager in Bolivia

Our intrepid Bookings Manager Carmel Hendry has been inspired by our new Andean Mountain Trek to come out from behind the bookings desk and reminise about the time she spent traveling across Bolivia…

“What does every traveller like doing? Talking about their travels! So when I was given the opportunity to step out from my role as Bookings Manager and write a little about my experiences in the fabulous county of Bolivia, I leapt at the chance.

We’ve added a number of new challenges to our portfolio this year – including an exciting Mexico Cycle and a rather different Snow-Shoeing Expedition in the beautiful mountains of the Pyrenees. So why not enthuse about Mexican macho men, or frogs-legs in France? Why Bolivia, the black-sheep of the Andean family?

To be honest, that was my first thought when my friends took the executive decision of outvoting me on one of our many ‘where to next?’ conversations. We had just spent the last 7 months working together in Ecuador, and were deciding whether to travel onwards to Chile, or across Peru and through to Bolivia. My preference was for the former. I mean, who’s ever heard of anything good in Bolivia? My friends outvoted me, and although I think their decision was more about money than their extensive knowledge of Bolivian culture (Bolivia makes Ecuador look outrageously expensive), I’d like to thank them and their stinginess for introducing me to the most extraordinary country I’ve ever been to.

 From our first view of Lake Titicaca on a hillside on the Peruvian border, I was hooked. We sat there in silence until sunset. The beauty was intense, and I never lost that feeling of awe in the many days we spent on and around the Lake. Although Bolivia is one of only two South American countries with no coastline, the Lake extends further than the eye can travel, creating the impression of an enormous sea stretching before you. You could almost forget that the sprawling metropolis of La Paz lies only kilometres away. I am not a spiritual person (believe me), but if you ever feel in need of tranquility then the intensity of the stars on the Isla del Sol provides the kind of extreme calm that you will never regain.

The peacefulness of the lake is the complete antithesis of the gigantic and frankly bonkers city of La Paz. Prepare to feel out of breath – the angles of the road are so steep that the tiny ‘colectivo’ minibuses feel like they are going to roll backwards each time they stop to let someone out. One such road leads up to the highest football stadium in the world – home to bizarrely-named Bolivian team ‘The Strongest’. If football isn’t really your thing, then you can take in the llama fetuses lining the shelves at the Witches Market. In La Paz you feel like there will be something interesting and exciting just around the corner. While I was there, I even managed a cycle trip down the most dangerous road in the world!

If THAT wasn’t enough to persuade the most staunch llamaphobe to visit Bolivia, the country’s biggest secret lies on the western Altiplano, a 12hr train and bus ride from La Paz. Don’t let that put you off though, what you are about to see could change your life (OK let’s not go that far, but it is awesome). The Salt Plains of Uyuni are an ethereal, other-worldly landscape where the sky and land blend into one white, disorientating mass. When the light catches the plains correctly, the reflections in the salt are so perfect that they will amaze and confuse you. This was honestly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been; it was literally stunning – the whole place is so… weird. You not only have the everlasting white landscape of the salt plains, which looks like a bizarre sci-fi film’s idea of heaven, but you can also visit the red lake, which plays home to hundreds of bright-pink flamingos, or the explosive geysers nearby.

The Andean country of Bolivia doesn’t deserve its obscurity, but I am grateful for it. In no other country in South America can you enjoy so much tranquility, and experience so much interaction with the locals, outside of the tourist throng. And after all that, I realized I haven’t actually mentioned the trekking at all. Three words: really huge mountains.

If you would like to challenge yourself in a country that enjoys altitudes rarely experienced on any of our other treks (you will be climbing up to 6,088m on Huayna Potosí), and take in the sights and sounds of one of South America’s most interesting countries, click here to see our 2012 date and find out more.”

Visit our website at charitychallenge.com for more infomation on all our challenges. To keep up to date on all our challenge news, subscribe to this blog by clicking on the orange RSS button, you can also enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.