Rebecca and Scott Rothney have been making regular trips to Africa for years from their North Carolina home to visit Kenya, Namibia, South Africa and other wildlife destinations. While touring the region they saw first-hand the needs of the local communities -- particularly in the schools and health facilities.
After one trip where Rebecca watched the local boys play soccer with a ball of rags tied with string she got the idea to pack some deflated balls to bring along the following year in her baggage.
The impact of leaving just a little extra room in her suitcase to bring some small items was worth its weight in gold for the boys who got real soccer balls. For Rebecca, it was the beginning of an inspiration to launch "Pack for a Purpose." The newly founded non-profit works with travelers to pack needed educational materials and medical supplies for children around the world. The Pack For a Purpose team has begun compiling a list of lodges and safari companies located throughout the world where local communities could benefit by small donations brought by travelers.
Before departing, travelers can access the Pack For a Purpose Web site to find participating lodges in the areas where they are visiting. Once they arrive, all the locations have agreed to collect the items and distribute them to the local community.
"Five pounds can be as much as 400 pencils or five deflated soccer balls," said Rebecca. "It's surprising to see just how little some of the schools and clinics have to work with. I believe we can all find a little space in our luggage for a bag of supplies. If enough people make small contributions, we have the potential to make an enormous positive impact. "
Most American carriers will allow 50 lbs for the first bag when travelling internationally. Instead of taking that one more pair of shoes, Pack for a Purpose encourages people to leave a little extra space for much-needed items.
The Rothneys have been bringing supplies in their luggage for years now, but it was after Rebecca realized that many of her fellow travelers had room to spare in their bags without going over their baggage allowance that the idea came to her.
Back in Raleigh, Rebecca called upon her friends to make her idea a reality. "The fact that this site is up at all and also so quickly is really about friendship and to me the great American spirit of volunteerism. Every board member and most of the other people who made this happen is either a member of the Raleigh Professional Women's Forum, married to a member or a friend of a member. With their immediate buy in to the idea and the hundreds of hours they gave so we were able to make my idea a reality."
One of the first contacts established by the program was with Michelle Puddu of Wilderness Safaris in South Africa.
"The idea is a brilliant one – it costs almost nothing on the part of the donor, just a great deal of kindness and a small amount of effort," Puddu said. "Rebecca has proven on several trips how so very little can affect those who desperately need assistance to improve their lives. This is the type of goodwill that nobody really thinks about, but makes a big difference."
Travelers wishing to participate or suggest lodges that would be willing to participate in the program should visit www.packforapurpose.org.