Sunday, June 16, 2013

Meet Clabbe, Founder of the 200 Days in Africa Project

Born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden, Clabbe moved to Prague, Czech Republic, in July 2006. After relocating, he started traveling on a more serious basis as he came to realize that travel is what he loves the most in life; he also started a travel blog to share his experiences. In reflecting on the ways he has managed to change his own life by working through the bad and creating something good, he came to see and understood that life is not about the things you own but about the things you do and experience. This realization led Clabbe, in late 2012, to begin a project called 200 Days in Africa. In his own words, "Travel is the only thing you can pay for that makes you richer."

1. What gave you the idea for 200 Days in Africa, and when will your trip begin?

I will leave my manager job to start this life-changing journey in November, and this will be my fourth visit to the African continent but the longest to date. The 200 Days in Africa project is actually a product combining several thoughts I have had over the years. The biggest part of the project will be the volunteer work I will be doing in Sierra Leone for almost three months where I will be working with street children and their situation.

Growing up in Sweden, you cannot see the difference between rich and poor due to the social security system we have. This became more noticeable to me when I moved to Czech Republic in 2006 and more and more during my travels to different parts of the world. I have learned to appreciate that I grew up with everything I wanted around me in terms of comfort. Coming from a divorced family I did however miss some of the family life in terms of security and love which made me rebel in school with frequent trips to the school counselor. I felt disadvantaged only growing up with one parent when I was a kid, but when I look back today, I have managed quite well in my life. However, there are those in the world who grow up without any parents and this is hard for me having had the feeling of being "let down" by my parents when they divorced.

My uncle was a missionary and also worked for the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency which took him to Africa on several occasions, not to mention being evacuated from Rwanda when the civil war started in 1994. His sons, my cousins, followed in his footsteps and also volunteered in today's Congo. So in a way you can say that it lies in my bloodline to do this.

One part is the pure adventure of traveling in Africa as I love the African continent and how life passes you by in a slow phase. Patience is a skill you will develop when traveling in Africa. The third part of the project will be the creative and inspirational part where I will be interviewing people I meet on my journey about their dreams. Do we all share the same dreams? The events, impressions and interviews will later end up in a book that I have decided to call 200 Days of Dreams.

By saying life-changing I mean it will change my life, and if I manage to have some impact on those I work with, I will be happy.

2. How did you first connect with the organization Street Child, and what kind of work will you be doing with them?

I had decided that I wanted to start in the western part of the continent, so I searched the internet for information about any organizations operating in the west. There are a few, but not so many as in the "safer" African countries like Ghana, South Africa, or Tanzania where it seems like most organizations deploy themselves.

Unfortunately the volunteer business has grown and there are agencies that have no more interest than for you to pay them a lot of money. They take your money and ship you off for a few weeks or even just ten days to a remote village to do something not specified. I don't fully agree with the payment-to-work policy, but I can understand it in some cases as nothing in life is for free. With this in mind I started to weed out the organizations that I had found operating in the western part by checking their requested fees and what it would get you. Some investigating by using Google would also pull up information if there were any warning flags posted about the organization in question.

In the end Street Child was the last standing organization, and I started to investigate even more deeply to find if this was a legit organization or not. Fortunately I have a lot of friends in United Kingdom where they are based, and it turned out that even a friend of a friend had previously worked for them and gave the thumbs up.

I will be joining their street work team and will be working alongside their social workers assisting them with their daily activities with the children, follow up home visits and writing reports. I will also help the business team with setting up businesses for the families to keep them self-sufficient. And I have also personally requested to help out with school building as I have a pair of hands that I want to put to best use.

3. How can people around the world participate in your project?

A project like this of course involve some economical investment from my side, and I am currently saving money and also have raised some through advertizing and articles on my other travel blogs. I am also organizing different events and am currently looking into organizing an African movie night later this year.

The biggest cost will be my stay in Sierra Leone and the volunteer work. On this project I ask everyone who can to help me out. If you see it like this, a lot of people donate money to some organization to get that "I help out" feeling, but do they really know how much of their donated money actually reach its destination rather than disappears in "administrative" costs? By helping me out you will actually get visual proof that the money goes to what the money is intended for. I will be posting pictures and also blog about the volunteer work I am doing on the project page and my blog.

People can help me help others and see that in person through the material I will provide. I understand that people can be reluctant to just donate money to me as they have no idea who I am. As a response, I have created a few small tokens such as silicone wristbands and T-shirts that you can buy cheaply to support the project. So instead of just giving me money, you are actually buying a product that will support this project. The persons who help me out in some form will also be recognized as supporters on the site.

My oldest supporter is the grandmother of the woman who helped me with the translation of the site into Polish. She is turning 85 this year and lives in Wolsztyn. She heard about my project and wanted to help out as "No one can do everything, but everyone can do something" and bought one of the wristbands.

4. When did you first discover your love of traveling?

It wasn't until I moved to Czech Republic in 2006 that I realized that it is easy to travel. I joined a hospitality network which helped in reducing the costs as well as started hunting different websites for cheap flights here and there.

Before I moved to Prague, I had done some travels in the Nordic countries, some visits to UK, a week trip to Cyprus and a road trip through Western Europe with some friends. And that was collected over a total of 28 years. Since I really started traveling in 2007, I have managed to visit some 30 countries including three trips to Africa and one trip to Asia, and I also lived in Bulgaria for almost two months.

I am very keen on history and to discover the world and its history makes me understand more why the world and its people looks and behave as they do today.

5. What advice might you give to other people who are looking to translate their personal interests/strengths/etc into a means to help others?

Do it.

Don't think too long about it.

Don't doubt yourself.

Now is better then never.

And make sure that you enlist in something that is really helping out in some way if you are going for a longer trip. In my opinion, a ten day trip to an animal sanctuary in Africa is not the best way to help out unless you are a veterinarian. If you still want to do that, then you can volunteer at your local zoo instead. And don't believe that you will be saving the world. Most likely it is the world that will change you to a better person while you might have some impact on the people you want to help. Accept that other people live in different ways and adapt your own standards.

Most of all, don't feel pity and sadness for people just because they don't have tile floors or a TV or anything similar to the western world's desires. They might even feel pity for you having all these worthless possessions.

Thanks, Clabbe!

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