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Spotlight: Going, Eating, Giving… and Making a Difference

By Devika Rao Email By Devika Rao
September 2013
Spotlight: Going, Eating, Giving… and Making a Difference

Photo: Sucheta Rawal with famous travel guru Arthur Frommer at the Travel and Adventure Show in Washington, D.C.

“Follow your passion!” they all say. But as many know, it is not always easy to make a career doing that. Sucheta Rawal’s success in a unique enterprise where she combines her love for travel and native dining with charity is therefore all the more inspiring.

Stories like Elizabeth Gilbert’s—read by millions across the globe in the bestselling book Eat, Pray, Love— can tickle awake a sense of wanderlust—a carefree approach to living life through travel and discovering that the world is bigger than the cubicles we spend most of our time in. But if only it were that easy to pick up and leave, even for a moment, to enjoy what the world has to offer, and to let it leave an indelible mark in one’s life!

Sucheta Rawal found a way to do just that. In her former life, she worked in finance and yearned to travel. And travel she did. But the idea of flipping through Frommer’s guide book and taking pictures of the usual sightseeing pit stops started to leave Rawal dissatisfied.

“It became the usual trip where you graze only the surface of the country,” says Rawal, who is based in Atlanta. “There is so much more to see and you really get a feel of the country and its people once you become involved.”

She decided to embark on volunteer vacations where she “had local interaction every day.” She first volunteered in Russia, and as she continued to travel, now with the purpose of helping others, she started Go. Eat. Give as a blog. In June 2012, Go Eat Give was launched as a nonprofit that has embarked on engaging people with international community service.

Rawal’s desire to be involved and help people has been ingrained in her. Her grandmother was one of the founding members of SERVAS, an international, non-governmental, multicultural peace association started in 1949 that is now run by volunteers in over 100 countries.

Go Eat Give (GEG) started with Destination Dinners as a way to expose the local community to food and culture without having to dig out their passports. The dinners center on the upcoming travels, and really expose people to the area and get them interested in volunteering with the organization.

The dinners are hosted every month in Atlanta, and bring a culture and its needs to the front burner. Lately, Go Eat Give has hosted destinations Bali, Kenya, and Cuba. If people cannot afford the vacations, whether monetarily or in time, Destination Dinners are a way for them to get one step closer to getting cultural exposure, she says.

The organization seems to have got its community work method down to a science. “We try to identify partners and nonprofits that really need a voice in the community,” said Rawal. “Our goal is not to provide charitable collections to other nonprofits, but to change the perceptions of people who travel with us or come to our events.

By giving them cultural experiences, we’re helping them better understand other nations, widen their knowledge, and become better human beings. Every traveler has had a life-changing moment after returning from a trip that may include appreciating what they have, not taking simple things like electricity and running water for granted, or becoming more active in the local community.”

A trip to Bali in April had volunteers participate at Bali’s Children Project, a nonprofit that provides education opportunities for disadvantaged children. In terms of monetary value, a majority of the program fee goes towards travel. A small portion is retained for administrative expenses. The organizations GEG supports receive volunteer hours (2000 so far), items (toothbrushes, soaps, office supplies, etc.) and a donation per traveler. Practically all travelers stay involved with the organizations they visit by supporting them throughout the year—for example, by sponsoring a child to go to school. Rawal believes the travelers are more likely to do so after they have met the child, and seen the school and where they live.

On one trip Rawal and her group worked in a safe house for women who had escaped prostitution. “We taught them knitting, sewing, and other skills that will help them get decent work,” she said. Rawal, who moved to the United States when she was 17, is thinking of a trip back to India, to her hometown in the interior of Punjab. When she takes her group there, Rawal and her volunteers will also visit Delhi, Agra, Chandigarh, and the Golden Temple of Amritsar.

Rawal and and those who travel with her—about 40 volunteers so far—have left their philanthropic footprint far and wide.  She has personally traveled to 43 countries; she and Go Eat Give have so far touched 45 countries through a combination of tours, destination dinners, and blog posts.  GEG is now in Cuba. The next tours being offered are to India, Indonesia, South Africa, Spain, Kenya, and Nepal, and more are constantly being added.

Cheryl Garin heard about Go Eat Give through a coworker and has gone on many trips with the organization. Volunteering in Morocco, Peru, El Salvador, and Kenya, the IT Delivery Manager for Scripps Business Network finds each trek an expanding experience.

“It’s strange. We volunteer in ways that are important to that community, and you initially go there for the cultural experience. But within that time, the culture sort of disappears. You are just with each other, and you bond and make friendships for life. You see the destination in a way that you never imagine,” observes Garin.

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Rawal was honored in Florence, Italy in 2012, one of six individuals recognized for their role as influential bloggers of cultural trends.

 

Go Eat Give has been featured on The Huffington Post, WSB Channel 2 Atlanta’s “People 2 People,” The Atlanta Journal Constitution, and more. She recently presented at the Travel and Adventure Show in Washington, D.C., with fellow presenters like Andrew Zimmerman and Arthur Frommers. In 2012 Sucheta was amongst the six international bloggers that were recognized and flown to Florence Italy for their role as influential bloggers of cultural trends.

Rawal has collected stamps of over 30 countries in her passport, and the desire for this work hasn’t waned yet. “The people make the difference,” Rawal remarks. “The interactions and how people engage and live in the community we go to volunteer in are always different and you make friends for life. You can’t help but come back a more aware, if not changed, person.” She remembers a teaching stint in a women’s empowerment center in Morocco where every day at the end of the lesson the women would say to her, “Thank you for YOU.” Rawal recalls, “They told me in their limited English that they were so moved that I had flown all the way from the U.S., taken time out from my work and family, was spending my time in Morocco to teach English to complete strangers. Most people don’t understand that by giving, you also receive. Those women taught me so much about the culture. They would show me their wedding photos, bring me family recipes and advise me on which places to visit.”

Another memorable trip was to Bali, where she taught in village schools. “Once we wrapped up for the day, the entire school was screaming my name, chanting ‘Sucheta, Sucheta!’ The kids wanted to get photos taken with me and everyone had huge smiles on their faces. That was a moment when I felt very proud of what I have created, to be able to make a difference in the lives of so many kids.”

One Atlanta woman who had never been outside the U.S., except to the Caribbean, went to Spain with Rawal last year. They taught conversational English for a week in a small town outside Madrid. She was so touched by the whole experience that she quit her job and now plans to move to Spain to teach English in Madrid next month!

Rawal is quick to explain that Go Eat Give is not comparable to a mission tour, a Peace Corps, or semester- abroad program. “It is for people who will go on a vacation, stay at a hotel and spend on good food. We just make them more aware of the local community they visit by bringing in cultural lessons, people interaction, and volunteer work.”

“There are churches and organizations who do mission trips; there are travel agencies who offer package tours. But there is no other organization that offers a unique combination of learning, fun, and giving back like we do. The people who travel on Go Eat Give trips are looking for a meaningful vacation, where they can experience a new country, get to know the culture a bit more, and feel good about making a difference.”



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