Steppes Bake & Buy for Myeloma UK

Sausage rolls, Victoria sponge, cupcakes, quiche – the list of treats we’ve had today is filling and fantastic!

After a great friend and close colleague of Steppes Travel was recently diagnosed with the bone marrow cancer Myeloma we thought we’d do something to try and raise some money (also any excuse for some Friday over indulgence)!

Usually, when I send a general email around alerting teams to one thing or another, there can be slow response, perhaps I’m nagging them to load up the dishwasher or put teabags in the bin but not today! Within 10 seconds of my telling everyone the bake sale was ready to go there was a small stampede – those of you who’ve seen the African migration may have found this familiar. Within 10 minutes there were empty plates, crumbs on the floor, icing being hovered up by the Border Terrier but most importantly nearly £200 raised in the collection tin!

What a great effort for a great cause and what a perfect way to enjoy a Friday.

What a team!

You can find more about the charity and their great work here.

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Ebbing the Flow of Ivory

People are bored of the story; elephants and rhinos are getting poached, animals being exploited for their tusks to boost egos in the Far East. What’s new? There is nothing as boring as news that’s not new.

We have heard this same message since the 1980’s. It seems to happen in waves; it hits the headlines, action is taken, everyone assumes the problem is dealt with and then it rears its butchered head again sometime later. Every time it gets re-reported our level of ennui rises.

We have seen the photos of elephants with their tusks chainsawed out of their heads, carcases bullet ridden by AK 47′s. We have been as shocked as an innocent bystander ever could be.

So why care now?
We have bigger fish to fry than worrying about elephants – they won’t ever really get wiped out will they? After all, everyone loves elephants and they are an intrinsic part of our psyche. From childhood they appear in fuzzy felt cartoon books, as stuffed toys and as a comic figure always hilariously squirting water.

The problem is that parts of Africa are losing elephants to poaching at a rate that means extinction shortly. This is a fact. Whole gene pools are being wiped out, enclaves are protected but these are untenable in the long term. Every news report about wildlife in Africa is tempered by reports of slaughter for tusks – the figures are beyond depressing. What can be done? The problem isn’t being addressed by governments and there are claims of complicity to make a fast buck, there are too few rangers to police the ground and the rewards are too high for the locals not to want a piece of the action before it is too late and there are none left.

It’s not as simple as no longer buying ivory as we don’t do that anyhow. So how do we change our stance from innocent bystander to getting involved? Money will go some way to supporting patrols but this will not cure the demand.

The story of China crushing 6 tonnes of ivory this week might well be a political red herring but it’s not old news there – it went viral with the story reaching over 10 million Chinese Nationals. The answer must therefore lie in digital social media to educate the end user and create a dearth of demand.

Never thought I would want people to engage through social media as much as right now, but that’s exactly what we need to do.

Steppes Travel champion the work of Tusk Trust and Save the Rhino for exactly these reasons, working to conserve viable populations of critically endangered elephants and rhinos and campaigning to raise awareness.Join us and make some noise on social media, you may even be interested in where our very own Ryan the Steppes Rhino has travelled with us in 2013.

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Fundraising for Haiyan Relief

According to Philippines officials, the death toll from Typhoon Haiyan has now reached 3,621 and the Red Cross approximate at least 22,000 people to still be missing.

With the spirit of Children in Need, our Steppes team have taken to their (slightly embarrassing) onesies, brought in their cuddly toys and homemade (hopefully edible) treats to hold a special lunch to fundraise for the Plan Philippines Typhoon Appeal.

Whilst the focus has been concentrated on Tacloban, relief workers are concerned of the several other islands that have also been badly affected. Up to 20 typhoons hit the Philippines each year, but the true destruction of Haiyan will be immeasurable for quite some time.

Up to 4.5 million children are said to be in a desperate state, having lost their families, being stranded without food or shelter.

“Children are always badly affected by disasters like this; some will lose their lives, or lose parents, siblings and extended families. Everything that is familiar and safe is disrupted or destroyed, including homes, schooling and family livelihoods. Some of these children will witness things no child should have to see.”

– Carin van der Hor, Plan Philippines Director.

Steppes have a long history both with the Philippines – providing clients travel beyond the ordinary to the islands – and with Plan; having worked together to build schools for children around the world over the last few years.

The money raised will help to provide shelter, fresh water and emergency supplies, enabling aid workers from Plan to help survivors in the worst hit areas. Plan is just one of the many charities that are part of the UK Disaster Emergency Committee, collectively raising money to reach those who need it quickly; should you wish to donate you can do so here.

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Guatemalan Charity begins in the Garden

Yesterday, we visited an amazing Plan project here in Guatemala that I hope we can support in the future.

In my previous blog I said that children’s diets are very limited – tortillas, rice and beans, this project is encouraging families to grow their own vegetables and fruit. The families receive no money but training to know what to plant, how to make organic fertilizer with a box, worms and left overs and importantly educating the Mums on how to cook nutritious food for their children.

Plan work with the communities for just 1 year, by which time the community becomes self-sufficient, sharing seeds and helping each other. The gardeners that we met are very proud of their gardens and they grow all kinds of vegetables in small spaces. I was blown away by the simplicity of it and could see how just small things can have a massive impact.

Now we have a day of R&R in the beautiful old colonial city of Antigua. Our hotel El Meson de Maria is probably the nicest hotel I have ever stayed at, my travelling companions are slowly running out of superlatives, beers on the roof terrace in a cardigan was a great way to end the day!

Unfortunately, it will be time to come home tomorrow, but Guatemala has touched my heart and I will be sponsoring a child through Plan on my return. I have done the sums and it costs just 5 lattes per month, so I will need to choose which days I shall be giving up coffee very carefully!

Yesterday it was our last official visit and BGL were being given the keys to the town of Los Almates, there was TV, national anthems and everything- another great day.

To hear more about Alison’s trip to Guatemala, or for further advice about planning your own holiday to Guatemala please contact our specialists on 01285 880 980.

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The Children of Guatemala

Buenos Dias,

It’s just before 7 and I am sat in the lounge of a nice hotel on the Caribbean Coast, our base for 2 nights.

It seems like we have been here for ages, but really it has only been 2 days. We have seen and experienced so many things in these few days.

Yesterday, we spent all day visiting Plan’s BGL sponsored facilities. A child friendly space at a clinic, a new school building and a mother and baby group. These experiences are humbling and emotionally charged, hearing of children and mothers walking 2 miles to clinic or school, (walking a few yards in this heat and humidity was enough to make even an English lady perspire!) and children now being just the 1st generation to finish school.

At the school I was chaperoned by my new best friend. She held my hand as we walked up the steep dusty slope to her school. I wish I could speak Spanish as there was so much I wanted to ask her, all I could do was to nod and smile. She followed me everywhere; looking at the pictures I had taken of her and the different band of friends that she brought with her each time to meet the crazy lady with no hair.

The importance of educating girls is so clearly evident in a place like Guatemala. We take our education and health system for granted and spend so much time complaining about it, but it has given us so many chances to live out our dreams and aspiration – something Guatemalans and particularly girls don’t have the chance to do.

Our guide explains that Guatemala is not starving, but access to good education and health facilities are not great. Children are poorly fed, with no variety to their diet, in a country which exports fruit and vegetables to the western table is a travesty.

Oh, seen a Mayan city too!

Alison is travelling as part of group in conjunction with Plan UK and Plan Guatemala – charitable organisations helping build community projects with a focus on education. Watch this space for more details of Alison’s journey through Guatemala.

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Steppes is celebrating Movember in Style

As you may be aware, November has been re-named ‘Movember’ and for the whole of the month the Steppes Mo-Men have donated their upper lip to charity. Busily growing ridiculous looking moustaches in an attempt to raise cash for The Prostate Cancer Charity, which is generating controversy and laughter in equal measures.

It’s a very worthy cause. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men and the statistic that one man dies every hour from the disease in the UK is sobering. As we battle with ritual humiliation and keeping our unruly facial fluff under control, we would very much appreciate support from you by making a small donation to The Prostate Cancer Charity. To help, you can either:

Click here to donate online using your credit card or PayPal account or send cheques and CAF vouchers (made payable to ‘The Prostate Cancer Charity Re Movember’) directly to The Prostate Cancer Charity, First Floor, Cambridge House, Cambridge Grove, London W6 0LE. Be sure to include the person’s name on the back of the cheque.

The Prostate Cancer Charity will use the money raised by Movember for the development of programs related to awareness, public education, advocacy, support of those affected, and research into the prevention, detection, treatment and cure of prostate cancer. For more details please visit http://uk.movemberfoundation.com/research-and-programs.

To follow our moustachioed quest do visit our Mo page.

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Responsible Tourism a Way of Life

I was lucky enough to attend the Born Free Foundation recently at the Royal Geographical Society in London, where a panel of experts gathered to discuss the tourism industry’s impact on wildlife and wildlife tourism. Given the tourism industry is the single biggest employer of people in the world, it has the potential for a huge impact on the natural world.

Whilst Steppes has been pioneering responsible wildlife tourism since 1997, including tracking gorillas in Rwanda, tiger safaris in India or Galapagos cruising, one of the members of the panel was quoted as saying “In five years’ time I’d like to think that we won’t be discussing sustainable tourism at all: it will just be part of the way we do business.” Sustainable tourism lies at the heart of what Steppes Wildlife does and indeed, was the reason the company was formed and to date we have raised nearly U$1 million for wildlife conservation through our clients who are looking to travel in a responsible way.

We were one of the first companies to include a compulsory payment to offset the carbon emission from long haul flights on all our tours, we were the first company to include a donation on all of our tours to raise funds for our host countries, one of the first to include a code of conduct for all our travellers and have won Responsible Tourism awards for our projects afar afield as trekking snow leopards in Ladakh and the first tour operator to be approached by the Uganda Wildlife Authorities to help habituate a group of gorillas for tourism.

However, we also act when required and after it was discovered that the Orca’s in the Fijords of Norway were showing signs of stress due to the high number of tourist boats (again we were one of the first in the area!) we made the informed decision to withdraw our tours with immediate effect, despite the obvious financial loss to us.

The tourism industry is changing and good to see that people are now realising something that we have always known . Responsible tourism is not a separate part of running a tour company or a compromise on the quality of the experience, but should be an intrinsic part of any tour.