Ethical Tourism with Tao Expeditions

This site has been quiet the last few weeks as my partner and I took a break from teaching and ventured off to the Philippines for the Chinese New Year holiday. Though we spent some time relaxing in the well-traveled paradises of Palawan, the bulk of our trip was spent on the water traveling from El Nido to Coron on the Balatik–a stunning, wooden sailing vessel designed after the ancient paraw ships of the Philippines. For six days and five nights, we maneuvered across the brilliant blue waters, our captains Toto and Gener at the helm, tracing our way around remote island villages sprinkled throughout this span of sea with 24 fellow guests, nine crew members, and one fearless Jack Russell, Datu. The sights were, no surprise, completely breathtaking and oh-my-god-amazing. Though I could brag at length about the painted sunsets, intricate and ornate coral reefs, abundance of exotic neon fish, and belly busting feasts prepared by our ship’s very own Chef Jeff, I mainly want to highlight the invaluable work of the organization behind our life altering adventure, Tao Expeditions.
Displaying IMG_8797.JPGPhoto credit to fellow guest Janet Tejada
Tao developed from humble beginnings as two friends with a passion for sailing and exploration transformed their remote expeditions into a business plan. From their simple dream, Tao evolved into a mixed breed of aid organization and travel group. Tao Expeditions is very explicit with guests that their trip offerings are not tours–though they take guests to beautiful sights and comfortable base camps (emphasis on camp), the experience one has is mostly up to the individual. Your day can be spent relaxing and reading on the boat, sun bathing and snorkeling, swimming and hiking at base camps, or whatever else tickles your fancy.
Displaying IMG_8674.JPG
With the money Tao generates from sharing some of the Philippines’ most incredible sights, they provide services and training to under-served locals residing in communities spread across the islands. These services include building and operating schools in villages, providing quality, sustainable materials for building homes and structures in their village, and assisting with garden and farming projects. Additionally, Tao plays a role in improving the economies of these small villages by not only offering locals the opportunity for training in specific skills and trades, but also guaranteeing them a market by which to generate income through the guests that visit while on expeditions.
On our expedition, a portion of our payment to Tao went to the village women who were trained masseuses and thus an evening of our vacation was spent having our sore muscles massaged beneath the starry night sky. Similarly, Tao will pay villagers to use the structures they’ve built, with materials donated by Tao, as base camps during expeditions. Tao also trains young, interested Filipino’s in the ways of the sea–providing training in all aspects of sailing and boat management–and the especially gifted end up working and earning wages as crew on Tao’s small fleet. These are just a few of many ways in which Tao has aided in improving the quality of life for Filipino people, particularly those that are outside of the common zones of government assistance.
Displaying IMG_8739.JPG
As an organization, Tao Expeditions has a demonstrated and palpable mission of sustainability, empowerment, and celebration of Filipino people, land, and culture. I didn’t have to look very hard or far to bear witness to the powerful positive impact this group has had on human lives and the environment. Despite the cliche, it’s no stretch for me to proclaim this adventure a life changing one and it certainly re-affirmed my passion for learning as much as I possibly can about the economics of sustainable development in order to best serve those in need. Organizations such as Tao, and the faces behind it, give me hope that we can meet our shared goals as a planet to do and be better for each other and our Earth.

Things I’ve Learned:

Roughly 1 in 7 people on the planet live in extreme poverty.

Proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day, 1990 and 2010 (Percentage)
Source: The Millennium Development Goals Report 2014.

Bar Chart

Though it’s a staggering, sad figure to consider that 1.2 billion individuals live in extreme poverty in our world today, it’s worth noting that overall the number of individuals living in extreme poverty continues to decrease (and the same can be said for the child mortality rate and HIV incidence rate).

Last year, Bill Gates made the prediction that “by 2035, there will be almost no poor countries left in the world.” There are many in the world, most notably the 24-hour media machine, that weigh in on dooms-day models of our future, painting a grim picture of our current state of affairs: great despair, terror, and violence experienced around the globe. There’s the myth* that people are starving around the world as a direct result of overpopulation; “the fact is, incomes and other measures of human welfare are rising almost everywhere, including in Africa.” Media can distort our understanding of the world through its reporting and our own constant consumption of it. It’s vital to, however challenging, remain objective. Thought it may not seem like it, we are living in a more peaceful, better educated, greater developed, healthier and wealthier world than all those that came before us. Remain optimistic and ever-vigilant in working towards equality all, I suppose that’s fundamentally what I’m getting at.

I’ll leave you with this:

“By almost any measure, the world is better than it has ever been. People are living longer, healthier lives. Many nations that were aid recipients are now self-sufficient. You might think that such striking progress would be widely celebrated, but in fact, Melinda and I are struck by how many people think the world is getting worse. The belief that the world can’t solve extreme poverty and disease isn’t just mistaken. It is harmful.”

-Bill Gates

*There are starving people around the globe, no doubt, but those facing extreme hunger are not suffering due to there being too many people on our planet consuming a too small supply of food. That is a common and convenient myth for those in the developed world. The fact is that people are starving due to income inequality, effects of climate change and lack of infrastructure especially in poor countries, and waste (just to name a few). Our supply of food is abundant, in fact,  in America, 30% of the food grown is wasted. We can, most certainly, do better.