The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent collapse of international tourism may have undermined the financial and functional stability of our “dream destinations,” but the reality is many of these communities already faced tremendous challenges on a day to day basis. In the absence of travel, organizations in these locales now play the role of fundraiser for their neighbors and ecosystems. 

While some places are slowly trying to recover from the impact left by the pandemic, many others are still struggling and will continue to do so. This is particularly true of those in which local, already vulnerable communities depend solely on tourism and day-to-day income for their survival.

In hope of a response, we’ve rounded up a list of initiatives, NGOs, and fundraisers set up around a few of our favorite travel destinations in the Global South to help local communities thrive — not just during Covid-19 times, but also on a long term basis.

Costeño Social – Tayrona Park, Colombia

Costeño Social is a non-profit organization helping the autonomous development of children and youths living in the communities surrounding Tayrona National Park in the Colombian Caribbean.

As the pandemic forced them to suspend their usual weekly activities and after-school workshops — including English lessons, sports, and environmental care — their efforts shifted to collecting funds for the purchase and distribution of groceries and supplies amongst the neighboring families. The majority of these families usually rely heavily on tourism-related activities to survive, and are completely lacking governmental support.

You can visit their official website to get to know more about what they do and contribute to their relief fund, sponsor a student, or help them build a bigger space for their workshops to be offered by donating here.

Corcovado Foundation – Costa Rica

The Corcovado Foundation’s work usually takes place in the Osa Peninsula, in the South Pacific region of Costa Rica where one can find their namesake national park. Recently however, they have extended themselves to protect a large part of the country’s natural heritage, a job they do by promoting education, community empowerment, and the sustainable development of local tourism and protected wildlife areas.

Once COVID struck, they quickly shifted their focus towards the most populations most at risk from tourism evaporating.   

Currently, they’re raising funds to deliver food baskets and supplies that help lessen some of the health and economic burdens that the elderly, who live in mostly isolated, rural communities must bear. These people usually depend entirely on their now unemployed families to survive.

However, they’re not the only beneficiaries of donations: one of the main programs of the foundation, aimed at protecting nesting and baby sea turtles in the area, has suffered greatly due to the lack of international volunteers who used to come to assist them. 

With the crisis hitting harder and locals struggling to find income for food and other essentials, many have resorted to hunting, leaving sea turtles even more vulnerable than they were before. As a way to protect them, the foundation has hired people from the community to do the job formerly done by volunteers. The salaries they provide are much needed relief for the population, but they also need help to financially cover this expense. Such is the case that support of donors becomes essential.

Check out the work of the Corcovado Foundation, and donate to each of their fundraisers here.

Masoala Forest Lodge – Madagascar

Madagascar was already one of the world’s poorest countries long before COVID-19 brought about a global recession. Living on less than $2 per day, locals lack the ability to adjust to the economic crises brought by the suspension of tourism, one of the main sources of income on the island. 

With this in mind, the people behind the Masoala Forest Lodge began delivering packages of food to communities around the Masoala National Park where they operate. At the same time, they use funds to employ community members to complete projects around the area. Locals now take care of the marine reserve and forest trails, and members of a women’s association in their nearby village have benefited directly from the new employment opportunities.  

Click here to go to their GoFundMe page and support.

Reteti Elephant Sanctuary – Kenya

For over 4 years now, the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary has been rescuing abandoned and orphaned elephants, rehabilitating them and releasing them back into the wild. As the first community-owned elephant sanctuary in eastern Africa, they provide employment opportunities for the local Samburu community, particularly to women and pastoralists, whose intimate knowledge of nature is seen as an asset.

Bringing together the community to look after the animals, they’ve managed to raise awareness on how a happy, healthy ecosystem can help improve everyone’s livelihoods. As the elephants enjoy a better life, the locals also gain employment, education, and the secured opportunities that more protected grasslands bring. 

However, with tourism gone and local markets closing, employment is down and so are the opportunities for pastoralists to continue selling their livestock. Without a steady income, wildlife poaching for bushmeat becomes an option some are willing to take, retarding the progress made by the Sanctuary.

In such uncertain times, donations are needed for them to continue operations, pay employees their full wages, and keep working to protect and rehabilitate elephants.

Visit here to help the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary with substitute funding.

Khiri Reach – South East Asia

Khiri Reach works as a non-profit organization that helps solve some of the most pressing issues in Southeast Asia, using sustainable tourism as a tool to promote a circular industry, respect of nature, and development for local families.

During “regular times,” Khiri Reach supports a net of many different projects and communities in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Cambodia. As the independent charity arm of Khiri Travel, a travel agency, they identify projects that need funding, advise donors and volunteers, distribute funds, and ensure coordination with resident NGOs.

After the COVID crisis hit though, local freelance tour guides employed by Khiri Travel were left without income. In response, the Khiri Reach Freelance Tour Guide Fund was created as a way to support them and their families through these difficult times. Visit their fundraiser site to contribute to this cause, or go straight to Khiri Reach’s main website to donate to the other many great initiatives they collaborate with.

Know an organization we should add to the list? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter

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Mavi Parra
Mavi Parra is a bilingual freelance writer, film photographer and full time nomad. Her work takes a reflective look into issues such as travel, gender, culture and the experience of humanity in a rapidly changing world. Follow her on Instagram @mavi_parra.