I have worked as a freelance writer and editor since 1998, including many years for Lonely Planet in Southern Africa. It was during this time that seeing and meeting people, especially kids, living in desperate circumstances motivated me to get involved in volunteer work.
My journey, however, would take a twist in 2010 whilst on a volunteer program in Thailand for a refugee advocacy group. I left soon after with a diagnosis of young-onset Parkinson’s disease. The diagnosis initially shattered me. It was only through the support of my close friends and family, and the compassion and love of my wife, Alison, that I began to come to terms with the condition.
Since those dark days, in many ways Parkinson’s became a strength, helping to inspire thoughts around helping other people. In coming years it would also be a key factor in providing the focus and energy needed to run a small volunteer organisation.
In 2011 it was time to act. I formed partnerships with friends and trusted contacts in Sri Lanka and Zambia. Led by local people in these countries, I initiated development projects with an emphasis on disadvantaged children. These were funded by myself and my wife. Soon after, Friends 4 Life – the forerunner to RoundTrip Foundation – was born.
I love the RoundTrip Foundation concept: ‘give back and complete the journey’. The idea that no trip is complete unless you’ve given back to local communities. For me, this is the essence of travel. It encapsulates all the good things about many years spent on the road as a travel writer.
Most of all, this journey has humbled me. And this has included some very difficult learning. I made plans to help a very sick orphan I met in Sri Lanka. But before I had the chance to help he died. This was instrumental in making me understand that the time to act is now. Right now. I swore I would never put off to later, what I could do now. That boy is never far from my thoughts.
RoundTrip started with me but is about so much more. It is a shared journey. I would like to acknowledge and thank my colleagues, my friends, at RoundTrip. I am lucky and privileged to know them. I would also like to pay tribute to the Africans and Sri Lankans that we support. This is their organisation – they are the decision-makers and if anyone owns RoundTrip, it is them.