sex trafficking

Womens Travel Groups: An Interview with Our Travel GirlFriend

Malia Everett, CEO of Altruvistas, oversees all of our women's travel groups going out each year to places like Kenya, Cuba, and Nicaragua!
Malia Everett, CEO of Altruvistas, oversees all of our women's travel groups going out each year to places like Kenya, Cuba, and Nicaragua!

This week's blog post is an interview with Malia Everett, who has over two decades of experience pioneering cultural and educational exchanges, and has graciously jumped in (with little immediate pay-off!) to oversee all of our GirlFriendCircles TravelCircles trips to such places as Cuba, Kenya, and Nicaragua!

Malia believes in the power of travel as a transformational tool for education and social change and facilitates tours to over 80 countries around the world focusing on international relations, human rights, political economy, sustainable development, women’s issues and the resilience of indigenous cultures.

As the founder and CEO of Altruvistas she is personally putting together the most thoughtful itineraries and experiences for all our trips geared around the woman's life and voice to each country!

At the bottom of the interview, we highlight some of our upcoming trips!

Shasta:  Malia, people talk all the time about how important it is to havepassion for their jobs, but there's passion and then there's the kindpassion you have!  It's deep and amazing-- can you share with us wherethat comes from?

Malia: I love what I do and I know my passion is contagious. Working in the world of socially responsible travel that is educational and truly philanthropic is a vocation for me. I consider myself deeply blessed to have found my calling and to share that with others. What keeps me excited about the work every day, is the same truth that has fed my soul for the past 20 years: I get to experience the transformational power of travel firsthand.

For example, when a GirlFriend comes back and calls me with excitement and enthusiasm sharing how the journey changed her life, that she learned things she'd never even thought about before; I know the work is worthwhile. The journeys create well-being, not only for the traveler but also for the host communities. This is being in service to me.

Shasta: When most of us hear of ethical travel, I'm not sure we even knowwhat's involved with that term!  What is important to you in the planningof trips to other countries?

Malia: In order for travel to be truly ethical, it needs to incorporate the best practices of both ecological and social responsibility. Some travel companies focus on one or the other. Altruvistas philosophy is holistic in its approach; we focus on both eco-consciousness  AND social responsibility because we believe that travelers should benefit the people and places they visit.

Sustainable Tourism helps sustain livelihoods, support local communities and conserve the world¹s natural and cultural heritage. At Altruvistas we know that responsible tourism is a powerful tool in poverty reduction. Our staff is experienced travel professionals with a shared commitment to sustainability and a passion to ensure the benefits of responsible tourism globally.  In order to maximize the benefits and full potential of tourism we must acknowledge that conventional tourism has negative impact. A few issues of concern to us are: capital flight in our globalized economy; the commodification of cultures and people (including sex tourism and human trafficking); and the environmental impacts of flying that contributes to greenhouse gases. In fact, climate change poses a severe threat to those things that responsible travelers hold sacred: ­ local communities, biodiversity, and environments around the world. Altruvistas tackles the lack of equity in the conventional tourism economy and encourages best practices for ourselves, for our travelers, and for those we partner with globally.

Shasta: You've been a huge advocate for our TravelCircles.... What, in youropinion, makes our trips special?

Malia: I LOVE the GirlFriendCircles brand and have personally and professional learned a lot from traveling with you, Shasta. During our first professional delegation of women to Cuba I saw firsthand how you facilitated

Malia and me in Cuba last summer, at a rooftop restaurant overlooking Havana!
Malia and me in Cuba last summer, at a rooftop restaurant overlooking Havana!

friendship circles and truly helped women quickly make friendships. Right away the group dynamic was smooth and connective. Since then I have seen how your ambassadors are deeply committed to the girlfriends well-being as they consistently encourage the travelers to meet and share with others.

I think TravelCircles are special as they combine the BEST of GFC and Altruvistas. Together we are creating unique experience. These are journeys BY and FOR women, to experience great sites in a sustainable way that honors the women you are traveling with and exchanging with. Yes all the trips see the major world heritage sites and important cultural monuments, yet we also get off the beaten path and into the businesses, schools, artists studios, organizations and homes of women.

Shasta: Some women have wondered about the safety of some of the countries we've chosen, including our trip to Afghanistan this fall, can you tellus why you think it's important to visit these countries?

Malia: Traveling to places, where the US or the West has strained political or economic relationships, is important. I believe that when we break bread together, learn about each others struggles, share hopes for the future and hear others aspirations for the future we create understanding and that fosters peace building. Traveling to Afghanistan, Iran and other countries  like Cuba are important examples of how GFC courageously embraces a women's citizen diplomacy. Women return informed and engaged with first hand stories that are much more complex and candid than dominant media coverage.

Shasta: One of the special elements on all our trips is visiting a few NGO'sin each country that are supporting the causes of women-- how do youthink that adds to the experience of a trip and why is it so important?

Malia: Meetings with women's organizations is a grounding element of the TravelCircles. This is one vital way for us to learn what our shared struggles and successes are as women. While the whole trip is not focused on a gender rights struggle or issue, we make intentional time to explore important issues impacting women's lives where we go. Our women are curious and engaged.  Thus adding a few meetings that examine themes like political representation, cultural and religious norms and gender rights, poverty and socioeconomic equity provide a lot of opportunities to exchange and share with our hosts and in our group. Additionally we have visited with NGO's serving elders and children, tackling domestic violence and human trafficking. These are important issues to not gloss over.  At TravelCircles we include these visits to bridge differences, to build solidarity between ourselves and our hosts, and hopefully to inspire Girlfriends to give back when back home.

Shasta: We make a donation every quarter and we'd love for you to pick one of your favorite causes and organizations-- tell us about the one you pick!

Malia: I am SO honored! I am really excited to share the work of MISSSEY with GFC. I love working locally and internationally and one of the issues very close to my heart is modern-day slavery. Altruvistas is a signatory of the ECPAT's Code  an industry-driven responsible tourism initiative with a mission to provide awareness, tools and support to the tourism industry in order to prevent the sexual exploitation of children. The work MISSSEY does is vital for educating and advocating for vulnerable Bay Area youth in the face of poverty, sexual exploitation and human trafficking. I've supported their work for years.

Shasta: On behalf of GirlFriendCircles.com, we will be making a donation to MISSSEY because of you!  And finally, each trip for us is connected to building friendships--tell us what role friendships play in your life right now.  In what waysis your life better because of your female friends?

I can not imagine my life without my friends! I am not just saying that either. After I become a mother in 2000 I had so little time to be me, just Malia. I was a mother of, lover of, worker of, activist of...I was always on!  After reading a book called the Red Tent, a friend and I decided to create a Full Moon circle, our own GirlFriendsCircle if you will. We needed a ritual to connect in our overwhelming lives. We are now celebrating 13 years in friendships. We have celebrated births and new loves together. We have toasted new jobs and beginnings. We have mourned the loss of parents and friends. We have held each other through divorce and break ups. We have giggled, danced, cried and eaten hours a way in fellowship. I count my wealth in the love I have of community, family and friends.

Thank you Malia!  Thank you not just for what you're giving to us GirlFriends as we travel the world, but to what you're giving and doing for the world overall! xoxo

Our TravelCircles are open to ALL women over the age of 21.  To be on our list that announces new trips, sign up here.

womens travel groups
womens travel groups

Plus, we currently have room for a couple more women to join us this fall to:

  • Nicaragua*
  • Greece
  • Cuba
  • Afghanistan
  •  Kenya*
  • Chile & Argentina

For all trips and details, go to www.WomensTravelGroups.com

*We also have two upcoming live Q & A calls where you can learn more about the trips to Nicaragua (Saturday May 17th at 9 am PST) and Kenya (Saturday, May 24th at 10 am PST) trips.  Email Malia@altruvistas.com for more information!

Vagina Monologues, Violence & Friendship

I just returned from participating in a One Billion Rising Pop-Up Video Shoot sharing why I rise against violence for women.

You watch this 3-minute video and tell me how we could do anything but choose to rise.

Let's rise together.  One billion of us between now and February 14, 2013, which is the 15th Anniversary of V-Day.

We are collectively going on strike against violence done to women. We are participating in a revolution.

The One Billion Rising campaign  is "inviting ONE BILLION women and those who love them to WALK OUT, DANCE, RISE UP, and DEMAND an end to this violence. ONE BILLION RISING will move the earth, activating women and men across every country. V-Day wants the world to see our collective strength, our numbers, our solidarity across borders."

Below I am re-posting a blog that articulates why I will keep rising.

I hope you'll rise with us.  Be a part of the one billion of us who will rise up together, for our sake, for theirs, and for the world.

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This blog was written February 18, 2010. Still feels ever current.

Vagina Monologues, Violence & Friendship

Last night I attended an interview with Eve Ensler*, made famous as the playwright of the Vagina Monologues. She has released a new book called "I Am An Emotional Creature" which chronicles the struggle of girls to overcome the obstacles, threats and pressures that can rob them of their originality and power.

When asked what she felt was the biggest problem facing the world today, her response was "violence against women."

Women as Victims I doubt I would have answered the same question in the same way, and yet her case was nevertheless compelling and thought-provoking. Her point was that as long as we have a patriarchal system, we will have power taken from women that could be put toward different causes. That violence is damaging the very lives that could hold the solution to so many other needs. Imagine what you would do with all the energy in your life if you didn't have to focus it on overcoming something that wounded you.

It's obvious to see it play out in the Congo and Pakistan where sex-trafficking, rape and genital mutilation aren't punished. But even in our own country, our statistics still suggest that one in every three women face rape, abuse or molestation before they turn 18.

And to bring it even closer to home, she would expand the word "violence" to include any oppression that women face which includes spending much of our lives trying to become "more" girl in being skinnier, prettier and sweeter; and yet also trying so hard to be "less" girl where we're told to not run like a girl, throw like a girl, cry like a girl or be emotional like a girl. It is hard to know how to show up at our best.

Women as Offenders While we are certainly still a patriarchal world, it struck me that often the worst judgment of what it means to be a woman, comes from our own gender. I don't want to understate the trauma done by men around the world to women in any way whatsoever, but I simply want to point out that we ourselves are not always known for being the most uplifting of one another. Much of my greatest criticism in life has come from other women as they placed judgments on me for not living up to their expectations or values. The famous battles are between the stay-at-home moms and the career women or those who are domestic versus those who shun domesticity for a different role, but even when it comes to beauty, fashion and what shoes one wears, I have witnessed women dis-empower each other.

Furthermore, I've seen us not always give the same gift to men that we demand for ourselves. We want the right to choose to be home or work, but we still expect them to be "providers." We want the right to not have to cook all the meals, but we still think a "real man" should know how to fix the car. We know the long-term effects of being hit, but we have been known to downplay the damage we inflict on them with emotional control and manipulation. It's complicated isn't it?

Women as Friends I cannot listen to anything without filtering it through my lens of how much I believe in the power of friendships, community and belonging. And in that vein it struck me what a powerful tool our friendships can be. Certainly, they are a support place for us as we process our own wounds and they are also a source of empowerment as they remind us of our value and worth.

But importantly, they also provide us a container with which we can practice encouraging women who make different decisions than we do. We can engage in cheering for people whose authentic voices sound different from ours. I can love my friend who is on strike against cosmetics because of what she thinks it represents and I can love my friend who spends her every paycheck on getting her nails manicured. I can love them both and in a small way I am helping two women become more of themselves. I don't have to judge, devalue or in any way belittle them.

They may still face judgment, violence and discrimination in this world, but not from me. And that's no small gift. As I practice empowering the people I love (which sounds easy but can be difficult) then I become more adept in the occasions of life where I am called upon to empower even those I don't know, don't agree with or don't admire. My friendships are the places where I practice being the kind of person I want to offer to this world.

Indeed I agree with Ensler that the more we protect each other against violence, the more positive and vibrant energy we will have to participate in the creating of good. And the more we empower women, the more our world is capable of creating that good together. And that gives me hope.

* I attended this interview because I saw that one of our GirlFriendCircles.com members, France K., had posted it on the GirlFriendCircles calendar! Thank you for putting it out there!

Update 10/01/2012: This was my belief then... now you can see it on my homepage in my "I Have a Theory that Friendship Can Save The World" video.