About ME to WE Trips – General

ME to WE Trips are grounded in over 20 years of sustainable development work that empowers communities as active partners in positive change. As a ME to WE traveller, you will experience an immersive cultural experience rooted in community friendship and trust, and be an active contributor to the story of change through hands-on project work and knowing that a portion of the profits from your trip are donated back into WE Charity to support other community projects. It’s a safe, immersive and socially responsible way to travel.

ME to WE offers trips for adults, corporate groups and families in Ecuador, Kenya and India. Trips for youth and schools are offered in Ecuador, Kenya, India, Tanzania, China and Ethiopia.

Voluntourism is a term that refers to travel which includes volunteering for a charitable cause, but there are many different types of volunteer travel options.

The primary objective of ME to WE Trips is to provide education and awareness of global issues through deeply connective and immersive cultural experiences with the communities that WE Charity partners with. These community led programs are what make ME to WE Trips vastly different from other organizations.

Although there is always a service element built into every trip, the amount of time spent on a project is dependent on the travel segment (youth, adult, family, corporate). Typically, our youth programs consist of one-third learning from and engaging with the local communities, one-third leadership and skill development, and one third service-oriented activities, where our adult and family trips have a stronger focus on cultural immersion. Therefore, ME to WE does not fit in to the typical description of voluntourism.

Every ME to WE Trip consist of two key parts: cultural immersion and community development. The ratio between the two differs depending on the trip segment. Our youth and school trips also include daily workshops guided by trained WE Facilitators that focus on education, skill development and action planning to prepare them to tackle the issues that are important to them.

Understanding the local culture and people is at the heart of our trips. ME to WE Trips include many community led tours and programs where local leaders share the joys and challenges of life, the past, present and future outlook for the community, and how the work done by WE Charity and ME to WE supports positive and sustainable change for them.

With the understanding of the impact that the WE Villages model has on the community, travellers are invited to take part in a development project alongside community members and actively be a part in that impact. Projects can include digging trenches for water systems, laying the foundations for schools, farming and crops and tree planting, or other projects that are needed in the community.

Our youth trips also include educational modules focused on leadership development and action planning. For a sample itinerary of a trip, please contact us [email protected]

The accommodations for our trips vary by destination and by trip segment.

Our youth trips stay in tents or cabins and are located close to the communities that we partner with. Travellers are housed in separate accommodations by gender. Each tent or cabin fits 4-5 people, has its own storage, and easily accessible showers and bathrooms.

Travellers on our adult, family and corporate trips stay in the ME to WE operated properties in Kenya, Ecuador and India. In both Kenya and India there are options for cottages and larger permanent tents (equipped with their own bathrooms). In Ecuador travellers stay in cabins.

Each trip is led by highly trained and experienced facilitators who help the travellers understand the history and politics of the region, the culture of the community they are in. A local facilitator or guides are provided and assist with translation where required.

Furthermore they engage youth travellers in leadership training, skill-building workshops and action planning so when they return home, travellers have the tools to give back to their communities.

ME to WE facilitators are with our travellers at all times. In the community, travellers are also accompanied by local guide(s).

The price of the trips can vary based on many factors including travel segment, destination, itinerary, etc. Youth trips have the option to include airfare into their trip costs. For the most updated prices, please visit the http://www.metowe.com/trips website or call us at 1.855.959.8330.

The “ground price” (cost without airfare) includes all accommodation, travel within the destination country, three meals a day plus snacks, purified drinking water, ME to WE facilitators, security guards, all in-country materials (language books, etc.) and in-country excursions as outlined in the itinerary. International airfare is NOT included unless otherwise specified.

The trips cost does not include legal documentation (e.g. visas, exit fees, etc) as required by government, any vaccinations (if required), and cancellation and travel medical insurance. We recommend that travellers consult a reputable service provider for requirements in these areas.

Yes! Participants on our youth trips will be credited volunteer hours for the volunteer work they do on their trip. The number of hours is dependent on the length of the trip.

For school trip participants, the number of volunteer hours credited will depend on the specific itinerary of the trip.

Travellers will eat a mix of western and local dishes. Our chefs and kitchen staff are trained to provide options to suit every taste, and are able to accommodate for a wide variety allergies, food sensitivities and dietary requirements. Be sure to mention any requirements to when you book your trip and we will ensure that it is added to your record.

Since 2002, over 40,000 youth and adults have travelled safely with our organization across the world. Safety is top priority and we have numerous proactive safety measures, protocols and training in place.

Our safety measures include:

PRE-TRIP

  • ME to WE Trips abides by the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs travel advisories and also monitors US and UK travel advisories for updates prior to and during travel
  • Canadian and American travellers are registered with their respective embassy before departure to ensure accountability in case of emergency. For all other nationalities, ME to WE strongly recommends travellers register with their embassy prior to travel
  • Copies of all passports, medical and travel insurance, emergency contact information, and dietary and medical requirements are collected well in advance of the trip
  • Our extensive facilitator training program includes emergency evacuation protocols, standard operating procedures and crisis prevention and risk management. All facilitators are trained in first aid and carry a first-aid kit at all times
  • Emergency communication is available 24 hours a day between our in-country team and our headquarters
    Modern and fully equipped local hospitals are aware of our trips and prepared to handle minor or major medical situations

DURING TRIP

  • All accommodations have a 24-hour security system and travellers are given an orientation to their accommodations and know where to find resources
  • All transportation is run by our trusted private transportation providers, and all travel occurs under the guidance of ME to WE’s in country team
  • Purified bottled water is available at all times and all food prepared by cooks who are trained in proper food preparation
  • During all building activities, travellers are given thorough instructions on the use of equipment and wear protective gear at all times.
    For a more information on ME to WE’s safety procedures, please visit: www.metowe.com/volunteer-travel/youth-trips/safety/

ME to WE offers Open Youth Trips during the summer, giving young people a chance to volunteer abroad, supporting their independence, but within the safety of a group of peers (approximately 20-25 people). These trips have pre-scheduled dates, and are usually 14–20 days long and are available to teens ages 13 and older.

School groups traveling with ME to WE, must be accompanied by at least one adult chaperone and are recommended for students ages 13 and older, but it is up to the school to assess whether the trip is appropriate for any student.

ME to WE Family trips are recommended to families with children over the age of 5, but it up to the parent/guardian to assess whether or not this is a suitable trip for their child.

Our facilities are well equipped to handle kids and our facilitators have extensive experience working with children.

ME to WE welcomes travellers of all ages and fitness levels.

All travellers are encouraged to work at their own pace and take breaks whenever necessary.

If you have any physical conditions that will hinder your participation in any of the activities, please let our staff know and we will do our best to accommodate your needs.

About our partner – WE Charity

Each ME to WE Trip takes place in a community where WE Charity puts its 20-year history of holistic, sustainable development to work, and a minimum of 50% of ME to WE’s net profits are donated to WE Charity—helping travellers make an even bigger impact on the place they visit. The other half is reinvested to grow the enterprise and its social mission. Learn more about the relationship between WE Charity and ME to WE.

WE Charity’s development model is called WE Villages, and it focuses on five pillars that are crucial to sustainable development. Those five pillars are Education, Water, Health, Food, and Opportunity. The WE Villages model is an ecosystem of sustainable development that has been praised by emminent experts such as the Skoll Foundation, the Clinton Global initiative and Mission Measurement as a model sustainable change.

WE Villages embodies WE Charity’s 20-year history of holistic, sustainable development work. It empowers entire communities to break the cycle of poverty by implementing sustainable solutions to issues that they identify as barriers to education.

All programs put in place under the WE Villages model are designed to be owned and maintained by the community, within the five-year period after the project is implemented.

Travel is an integral part of our opportunity pillar, allowing community members to build a sustainable source of income to continue to support the changes implemented by the WE Villages model.

Learn more about the WE Villages sustainable development model.

WE Charity’s sustainable development model is not about implementing stop-gap measures and temporary fixes.

Sustainability and community ownership is the goal of all of WE Charity’s development projects. WE Charity strives to leave after five years, when the community takes ownership over the maintenance and sustainability of these projects.

Work is carried out all year by local contractors and construction workers who WE Charity employs. Work schedules and logistics are overseen by on-the-ground, local staff who ensure projects run smoothly and donations are being used effectively in communities that need them most.

Furthermore, travellers’ volunteer efforts help pre-planned projects move along more quickly.

Good to include links to videos and other materials about projects

Impact on Community Partners

How you choose to support the WE organization is entirely a personal choice, our responsibility is to give you the option that is best for you. ME to WE Trips are a great option and provide additional value that goes far beyond the charitable donation, such as:

  • People are looking for immersive travel experiences for themselves and their families anyway. ME to WE Trips helps satisfy your wanderlust, but in a socially responsible way that has a positive impact on the local community.
  • Engaging directly with partner communities and projects is far more impactful than just giving money. You build a deeper understanding of the joys and challenges and it fundamentally changes your thinking. It’s an investment in education and understanding.

No, they do not. In fact, WE Charity’s sustainable development model creates local jobs.

The main objective of WE Charity’s model is to ensure sustainable development. WE Charity empowers local community members to become key contributors to the health of their community. With WE Charity, they find jobs as engineers, project managers, supervisors, support staff, among many other roles—all in communities where work is incredibly difficult to find.

ME to WE Trip travellers volunteer on pre-planned projects. They volunteer alongside community members and paid local WE Charity employees. Travellers’ efforts do not determine which projects we start or work on, rather they get projects completed more quickly. WE Charity employs many local people who work on its projects year round, both when trip participants are on and off-site.

ME to WE Trips also supports our opportunity pillar. Travel and tourism is one of the greatest job creators in developing countries and ME to WE Trips has created more than 350 jobs to support our trip operations. The projects our trafvellers contribute to also support our education pillar, like at the WE College in Kenya where we offer a travel and tourism focused program that offers employment opportunities to community members in the region.

WE Charity ensures development projects are driven by the community’s needs. Because community leaders and members are engaged in every step of the development work, they are proud, equal partners in our sustainable initiatives.

The community’s priorities drive the volunteer efforts. Volunteers help accelerate the implementation of WE Charity’s initiatives, which benefit everyone.

Learn more about our 5 Pillar sustainable development model here.

Tourism is one of the biggest drivers of GDP and job growth in many developing nations.

ME to WE Trips create jobs for local community members employing translators, drivers, mechanics, cooks and household staff to maintain accommodations, and so many more, in communities where it is extremely difficult to find work.

The World Bank1 commissioned a study of the role tourism plays in driving growth and improving the livelihood in Africa. The study identified the tourism sector is directly and indirectly responsible for 8.8% of the world’s jobs (258 million); 9.1% of the world’s GDP (US $6 trillion); 5.8% of the world’s exports (US $1.1 trillion); and 4.5% of the world’s investment (US $652 billion). Specific to the UN-classified Least Developed Countries, The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) estimates that 3.8 million jobs will be created by the tourism industry in Sub-Saharan Africa over the next 10 years, creating the more jobs than any other industry sector. Likewise, the WTTC report on The Comparative Economic Impact of Travel & Tourism found that “tourism is the second most efficient job creator” and is “one of the few services that can thrive in remote and rural areas, helping to reduce rural-urban migration through local job creation.”2

1 The World Bank Study (2014). Tourism in Africa: Harnessing Tourism for Growth and Improved Livelihoods

2 The World Travel & Tourism Council (2012). The Comparative Economic Impact of Travel & Tourism.

The incredible work that has been completed by WE Charity would not be possible without ME to WE Trips. A minimum of 50% of the net profits of your travel cost are donated to support WE Charity’s work in the community (with an average of 85% over the last 4 years). The other half is reinvested back into ME to WE to improve and support our operations.

Over the years, the contributions of ME to WE travellers either through funding or direct service have supported WE Charity in establishing a full-service medical clinic serving 10 communities in Ecuador, two full-service clinics and one hospital in the Narok region of Kenya, and the construction of three high schools and one college, with accompanying scholarships, providing education in 24 Maasai Mara communities and 11,500 Kenyan students

Core to the success for our non-profit partner, WE Charity, is the idea that we want to give communities a hand up, not a hand out. We succeed when people no longer need charity.

WE Charity empowers people to be partners in identifying solutions that are barriers to transformation, to help them implement solutions, and then to educate and empower them so they can be independent.

That is WE Charity’s definition of sustainable development.

Trip participants volunteer alongside community members. Whether it’s helping to lay the foundation for a new school, or planting crops or digging trenches for water systems, they contribute towards the goals of WE Charity’s sustainable development model. Sustainability and community ownership is the goal of all of WE Charity’s development projects, and building local capacity to strengthen the community and its capabilities. WE Charity strives to leave after five years, when the community takes ownership over the maintenance and sustainability of these projects.

ME to WE and WE Charity are committed the safety and security of the people in the communities we partner with, and also minimizing any impact we have on local culture. We have established guidelines and procedures for our travellers and staff to address key areas of concern.

ME to WE has also collaborated with experts like the former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations in Canada, Shawn Atleo, to ensure ME to WE Trip experiences are conducted in a culturally appropriate manner that engages local communities and embraces an asset-based approach

Child Protection Policy

ME to WE is a member of Plan to Protect, an organization committed to abuse prevention and vulnerable sector protection. With their consultation and guidance, we have created a comprehensive guide and policy for our staff and teams on how to work with trip participants. Some examples of these policies include not working with orphanages and ensuring that all time spent in communities where children might be presence are also supervised by a trained representative of the organization.

Photo Policy

ME to WE has a strict photo policy with it’s travellers. This policy exists to preserve the positive relationships we have with our partner communities. We want to ensure that the photos we take are not exploitative, and that we are taking photos of solutions—not problems—to share with friends and family.

We ask that photos are only taken of people with whom we have a relationship, after obtaining their permission – we will never take photos of people we see while driving or walking by.

Our travellers have plenty of opportunities to take photos and highlight key moments on their trips and our the trip facilitators will let the group know when it’s appropriate.

Gift Giving Policy

At WE and ME to WE, we have worked for many years to create strong partnerships with the communities we work with. The WE Villages program works toward sustainable development and empowering people and communities to support themselves. This means that the work we do is in solidarity with our communities, not an act of charity. Instead of looking for a hand-out, WE Villages community members are partners in giving their communities a hand-up.

We have a strict no gift-giving policy, which means that participants are not to bring gifts from home to give to local children or families. This includes anything and everything from a soccer ball, to school supplies, to the sunglasses on your face.

If you do have supplies to donate, we ask that you connect with WE Charity before your departure to arrange for the items to be donated to the WE Charity office and they will arrange the appropriate shipment and distribution through our community mobilization program. Please be in touch with your trip coordinator prior to departureto make arrangements.

Impact on Travellers

ME to WE Trips aim to balance education, cultural immersion and volunteering to allow travellers to truly understand the positive impact of the work being done by WE Charity.

Travellers learn first-hand from community members about the joys and challenges of daily life in the region and build empathy and compassion for different cultures and environments. We Charity works hand-in-hand with community leaders, who are proud equal partners in these holistic initiatives, lifting themselves out of the cycle of poverty. This immersive story-driven experience builds empathy and compassion and makes the travellers work on a development project all that more meaningful.

Travellers benefit from an expanded world view by experiencing different cultures, languages and customs. The most important impact on travellers is usually something deeply personal. It’s a change in the way they see the world and how they approach it.

ME to WE Trips have a proven impact on all travellers. In 2014, independent third-party research by U.S.-based social-impact consulting firm Mission Measurement found that youth travellers who had been on a ME to WE Trip were even more motivated to make change when they returned home:

  • 89% feel empowered to make a positive difference in the world
  • 85% of our travellers get involved in volunteering their communities
  • 77% have a greater respect for their own education and school
  • 73% are motivated more than ever to go to college
  • 93% intend to play a leadership role in social justice activities in their community
  • 95% report feeling a strong sense of responsibility for the well-being of people in developing countries when they return home.

Truly memorable travel experiences are about more than just sights and tours. They’re about connecting with local cultures and with people.

It’s because ME to WE didn’t start as a travel business that our travel experience are better than most. We started as a movement that was out to change the world and improve the lives of the communities we partner with, which has given us a relationship with those communities that would not be afforded to a tour operator.

Far removed from the tourist path, our partner communities welcome ME to WE travellers like family for a deeply personal and immersive cultural exchange. You will leave with the knowledge of a new culture and discover more empathy and understanding in your life overall.

You also know that when you travel with ME to WE that you are spending your money in a socially responsible way, and providing a positive impact to the community you visit through WE Charity and the WE Villages 5 pillar development model. Through this holistic approach, travellers can contribute in a hands-on way on a project, but also by supporting the local tourist economy which is a primary economic driver for community members.

We prepare travellers for the culture shock they may experience before they arrive in a WE Charity community, and for possible “reverse culture shock” they may experience when they return home.

Before each trip, travellers are given an overview of the country they will visit, and we encourage them to read more about the destination prior to arriving.

These materials discuss issues that affect the community, development needs, provide details about current projects, as well as information on cultural and traditional practices.

In addition, all trip facilitators are trained to ensure that travellers are prepared to handle the cultural differences they will see and experience. We encourage travellers to embrace these differences.

Reverse culture shock may occur when travellers come home after a life-changing experience. ME to WE Trip facilitators prepare travellers for this possibility and ME to WE staff and past trip travellers are available to support travellers who may experience challenges adjusting to life back home.

We also take the trip experience a step further. Trained ME to WE Trip facilitators and staff empower trip travellers with tools and tips on how to take their experiences and turn them into long-term action. This preparation begins while travellers are still on the trip.

The WE organization offers travellers many opportunities to continue to impact the communities that they visit, long after the trip is over, including:

  • WE Day: Every ME to WE traveller is invited to the WE Dayevent closest to them to celebrate with the other youth, adults and families that are a part of the WE movement.
  • Take Action Camp: Youth travellers can continue their journey with WE at our summer campin Bethany, Ontario or at our Take Action Day Campat our head office, the WE Global Learning Center, in Toronto.
  • Leadership Programs: Youth can also take part in our leadership programs.
  • Become a WE Family: Registerto become a WE Family and get regular tools and tips on how your family can live WE in your everyday lives.

Commitment to Sustainable Tourism

ME to WE is committed to reducing our ecological footprint as much as possible.

We reduce the carbon footprint of each trip by growing organic produce in local gardens. We also have a tree nursery program, which supports reforestation projects in Kenya. Since 2008, ME to WE has planted almost 700,000 trees and saved almost 40,000 pounds of pesticide.

In addition, WE Charity ensures all development projects that are part of its sustainable development model take environmental sustainability into account.

ME to WE has strict rules for its travellers that minimize the impact of our trips. Whether it be our no gifting policy, waste removal protocols, to our permission based photo policy, we take every steps to maintain and preserve cultural traditions and the local way of life. The only impacts we try to leave are the ones that align with the WE Villages model and benefit the community.

Dr. Jane Goodall, who was an early advisor on our work, noted that the only way to ensure environmental protection of sensitive areas is to ensure that there are economic systems in place that support that goal and provide benefit to the local community. A philosophy we have remained focused on in our WE Villages model.

We ask that travellers do not bring cash or gifts of any kind for local people and children on a ME to WE Trip. Why? Our goal is to give these communities a hand up, not a hand out.

Your time, commitment and open mindedness is the greatest gift you can offer.

WE Charity works with overseas communities and engages with them as equal partners. Partnerships are developed with communities to create sustainable solutions to meet their long term needs, not build a dependency on charity.

ME to WE and WE Charity strive to provide the means by which local communities can maintain economic sustainability in addition to ecological sustainability.

We have built a college in Kenya to train community members in nursing and tourism on the edge of the Maasai Mara to ensure both jobs for the local community and also to teach conservation to preserve resources that support the tourism industry. This has resulted the tackling of sensitive issues like animal poaching and animal exploitation.

Similar project have been taken on in the Amazon of Ecuador, where we are working to provide a school to train tourist guides who learn about the indigenous cultures, flora, fauna and history of the rainforest, promoting sustainable tourism and reducing serious threats to the Amazon like clear-cutting.

Equity and Accessibility

We offer scholarship and financial aid options for youth. With this support, more than 200 young people travel on ME to WE Trips each year, either free of charge or with at a significantly reduced cost. Learn more about scholarship and financial aid options.

There is a dedicated fundraising program to help youth raise support so they can have a ME to WE Trip experience. Learn more about fundraising for a ME to WE Trip.

We also strive to eliminate barriers, making ongoing investments in upgrade g our accommodations and transportation to ensure they are physically accessible and safe for all of our travellers.

Travellers will eat a mix of western and local dishes. Our chefs and kitchen staff are trained to provide options to suit every taste, and are able to accommodate for a wide variety allergies, food sensitivities and dietary requirements. Be sure to mention any requirements to when you book your trip and we will ensure that it is added to your record.