Go Travel and Talk Organisation Feature of the Month

Posted 31st Aug 2019
Justice Travel

Go Travel and Talk’s featured Organisation of the month is about connecting each other with the inspiration we need to EXPLORE, SHARE and IMPACT. The purpose of this monthly feature is to showcase organisations who are out in the world making a positive impact and to empower each other to get involved. By joining the Go Travel and Talk community and learning from one another through sharing our insights and experiences, we believe that TOGETHER we can positively shape the future of travel. Go Travel and Talk's 'Organisation of the Month' August 2019 goes to Justice Travel.

Justice Travel are an amazing organisation on a mission to bridge the gap between tourism and human rights. They offer travel programs and walking tours around the world, working in partnership with human rights activists, community leaders, and journalists

Why Go Travel and Talk Love Justice Travel

Justice Travel offer something unique in their mission to bridge the gap between tourism and human rights. They work in partnership with frontline human rights activists, journalists and community leaders to bring travellers unique experiences around the world. Their dedication and passion for the cause is notable in every person who works within Justice Travel and it is contagious. They hold the same values as us here at Go Travel and Talk, providing invaluable resources for those who want to move beyond traditional tourism and truly engage with the people and places they visit. Their tours are detailed, honest and completely unique, allowing tourists to see each place through local eyes.

Justice Travel say that our role as a traveller is to ‘learn and return’.

To return to our home communities and share the knowledge we have learnt so we can achieve a bigger impact together - which is exactly what we believe in at Go Travel and Talk. They also dedicate 30% of their profits to their human rights partners and tirelessly work towards their mission of creating a more ‘interconnected world’. We admire Justice Travel for everything they have achieved so far, and for what they are looking to achieve in the future, and we are grateful to now be apart of that. 

Justice Travel's Story

As founder of Justice Travel (Gabriel Tobias), there’s a question I get a lot: "Why are you doing this?"

A question with many answers. In a few words the answer is this:

My passion for this project is born of deep frustration and eternal optimism. Recognition that inspiring and tireless local activists were the driving force behind every victory I had ever seen — and yet their names, their contributions, were often only recognized if they were killed in the course of their work.

Disappointment with an international ‘community’ increasingly unwilling or unable to tackle human rights abuses, including governments and multinational corporations.

Yet more importantly: elation on meeting people who come back from travel changed — eyes open, Facebook chats open, newly celebrating the common humanity that stretches over politics, over skin color, gender, and sexuality, that stretches far beyond borders. The more I thought about this concept, the deeper down the rabbit hole I went, the more my passion and commitment grew.

These things are all true, and my passion and commitment have only continued to grow since I wrote those words. But these ideas did not emerge spontaneously, nor have they grown from seed in just six months. Reflecting on where Justice Travel truly began, I have to go back to a small shanty in the Kroo Bay neighborhood in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

I had never seen a place so poor, so overrun with disease and hunger and filth.

Pictures can convey the visual but not the smell — the stench — that launched itself full force through your nostrils and grabbed hold of your stomach. There was a waterway which divided the neighborhood in two, stained dark brown with runoff pollution and garbage of all kinds and literal pig shit. And this was eight months before the 2014 Ebola outbreak which would kill four thousand and decimate all public services and economic activities in the country. On that day in Kroo Bay, I was meant to conduct a small group discussion, on behalf of the international NGO Oxfam, with some local activists about the provision of water and sanitation services.

I was prepared for the worst.

One of the activists had found a home we could use, a dusty wooden structure near the high edge of the neighborhood. To have some privacy we closed all the doors, which meant the only light coming in was through the slender cracks between wooden planks. A group of mostly women filed in without saying a word, and we all sat in a circle, some on the floor and some on assorted plastic chairs and crates. Most of the women had brought their children with them, the older ones playing quietly in the dust near the back of the room. We started to talk and at first, they seemed timid, perhaps — understandably — unsure about how much to share with an unknown foreigner.

Awkward silences punctuated by quiet comments from the few men in attendance.

And then I asked a question about the city government. A groan from one of the women, and from another what I assume was a Krio curse. The floodgates opened. They had been petitioning the city for years to improve sanitation. They had self-organized the entire neighborhood, collecting signatures on a series of petitions from nearly every household. One woman quoted back municipal codes and national laws, demonstrated point by point where the government had let them down. And the kicker — now the government, with support from the European Union, was trying to get the whole neighborhood declared ‘unsafe’, and force the residents into shanty villages far from the city, far from the small shops and street markets where all the residents earned their livelihoods.

The government had a ‘development plan’ to upgrade the coastal zones, building housing far too expensive for the current Kroo Bay residents. These quiet women won no prizes, received no recognition. In their quest to improve their community — for even the most basic of services — they were completely alone. And yet they persevered, studying the laws, organizing their neighborhood, meeting with any politician or NGO would who hear them.

After we finished, one of the more vocal women pulled me aside and told me that they knew I couldn’t change all this — that all they asked is that I told the story of Kroo Bay in their words, tried to see it through their eyes.

I finished my report for Oxfam and on my last weekend in the country drove to a beach two hours south of the city. One of the most spectacularly beautiful beaches I have ever seen in my life. A colleague started talking about how wonderful a vacation destination this would be, an unspoiled paradise. I had visions of luxury lodges and infinity pools.

It seemed unfathomable that these two worlds were only a short drive apart.

And then I remembered one of the Kroo Bay women talking about how beautiful her birthplace was, further down the coast. This wasn’t a different world, just one that I felt like I needed different eyes to see.

Kroo Bay is desperately poor and its poverty inspires sympathy, and it is much more comfortable to live in a world where the Kroo Bay women are subjects of both poverty and sympathy. We are able to look at their plight — and we should look — and find it “in our hearts” to donate some money to them. And this makes us feel good. But there is a wicked question at the heart of that formulation:

Why do we need there to be an ‘us’ and a ‘them’?

And if we can agree that there should not be a division, how can we engage with poverty, with violence, with injustice in a world where everyone is an actor and not a subject? I cannot claim to have a very good answer, but I left Sierra Leone sure that this question needed to be asked. And I thought about that beautiful beach and my promise to the woman in Kroo Bay. When tourism comes to Sierra Leone, can it be a version of tourism which engages with the women of Kroo Bay as actors, not as subjects? What would it mean to see the country — the tepid slum and the sandy paradise — through their eyes?

And there the seed was planted which became Justice Travel.

What does making a 'positive impact' mean to you?

The positive impact is more than donating (time, money, resources).

It is to help the communities to build a future and a project where they are at the center through responsible economic activities. 

What actions are you taking to make a positive impact in the world?

We operate following some basic core principals:

1.  Partners at the Center

Justice Travel involves its partners at all levels, from planning and promoting tours to international advocacy. Our success is also their success, with 30% of profits going directly to our partners.

2. People before Politics

Human rights do not belong to any ideology, and every human being deserves the same rights. Justice Travel does not advance any political agenda.

3. Safety First

Justice Travel takes every precaution to maintain the safety of our travelers and our partners. Risk mitigation is a core activity at every level. 

4. Impact over Profit

Our social mission takes precedence over our profits. Our company is employee-owned, and only accepts investments from those who share our values.  

Generating US$7.6 trillion in annual GDP and 1 in 10 jobs worldwide, travel is an industry with transformative potential. We want to see its potential harnessed - not for more luxury cruises and resorts - but instead focusing that potential to help those fighting for justice around the world.  Our model is dynamic and innovative, combining elements of a niche travel company and a strategic advocacy organization. We want to help our partners make substantive changes in their countries, using both the financial resources from sharing profits on our tours and the international networks our travelers and broader community help them build. This goes beyond awareness raising to help win real victories and using our strategic resources to respond quickly to changing contexts.  In addition to our advocacy work, Justice Travel tours also employ local tour operators, local guides, and locally-owned hotels with decades of impeccable safety and sustainability records. We ensure that the local economy benefits first and that the local environment is protected.  

In addition to our globally recognized tour products, our company also provides advisory services to actors aiming at shaping positive change through responsible tourism. We tap into the talent, experience, and passion of our team for human rights and development to undertake a deep analysis of local dynamics, creating new knowledge and spreading innovative approaches to tourism.

Our team includes experts in responsible tourism, inclusive development, design for good, local governance, and global communications. Our services include the development of pro-justice local tourism initiatives, impact itinerary design, training design and delivery, and analytical research around human rights and tourism.  

How do you think the Go Travel and Talk platform can support your mission? 

The vision of Justice Travel is a world in which travel and human rights are bound together in symbiosis, each enhancing the other. We support our partners to make systemic changes in their countries, using the human and material support they receive from our travelers. We want the demand for pro-justice tourism to push the entire industry towards broader engagement with human rights. We want a more interconnected world to mean a more just world, with both empathy and action traveling across borders and we believe Go Travel and Talk can help us achieve this.