December 11, 2002

By now of course the story of Backpack Nation is legendary.

Everyone knows someone whose life has been touched by, or who once served as, a Backpack Nation ambassador. In retrospect it seems so natural, so obvious, that individuals from the more developed cultures - at first just the one, then several, then hundreds, and finally the entire epic stampede - would take it upon themselves to fan out and spread goodwill and opportunity and a sense of possibility throughout the world. But it was not always so obvious.

Back during the Dark Times, citizens everywhere complained that their governments did not represent them particularly well. But all agreed that nothing could be done about it. It was nature's way. The poor would always be there - and would always be resentful. The rich would always be different - and always oblivious. It somehow came to seem natural, came to seem expected, that rowdies from the poor countries would resort to kidnappings and murders and the flying of airplanes into tall buildings and such. Flamboyant retaliations by the wealthy countries' militaries seemed just as inevitable.

But the Big Change came about almost overnight, and now, looking back across the decades, that too seems to have been inevitable. The daily media depictions of random acts of spectacular revenge began to be nudged aside by stories of independent travelers scouring the world to fund miracles-in-waiting. In Brazil, in a village where children had been dying from bad water, one Backpack Nation ambassador transformed life by donating a water filtration system. Another established a scholarship program that allowed an orphanage in Calcutta to send its graduates to college instead of to the streets. In the Ugandan highlands, a newly purchased flatbed truck allowed a coffee farmers' co-op to reliably deliver crops to the lowland markets. A video phone system allowed children in a drought-stricken Zambian village to talk with (and see) their fathers who had gone to work in a distant South African diamond mine. In Sri Lanka, a guesthouse that had been destroyed by fire was rebuilt in a month. In Jerusalem, a young Jew and a young Arab were given the money to open a café named Why Not?

By now of course everyone knows how the conversation generated by these stories (and thousands of others) swept the world, transformed governments, redefined international and human relations. But all of that might have been different if way back toward the beginning of this incredible century a few brave and farsighted individuals hadn't chipped in $20,000 (today it seems an almost laughable figure) to fund the very first Backpack Nation ambassadorship. But they did, bless them. Donations poured in, in amounts large and tiny. The first ambassador was funded within a few quick months and was sent off shortly thereafter. And the rest is history...

(Click here to help make history)


Donations Surpass $5000
Application Window Opens, First Applications Arrive
Two Publishing Miracles
Legal Status
Mission Statement
Storytelling Event in San Francisco - December 18th

Over the Thanksgiving weekend (late November, in the USA), the counter on the website clicked past $5,000. As of December 11, it reads $5,370. I can not say thank you loudly enough or with exactly the right words to communicate how I appreciate each and every donation. If you have contributed, thank you from my toes on up. And if you haven't, I warmly invite you to do so. (Click here to contribute)

I had promised to have guidelines for ambassador applications posted by Dec 1. They were posted a few days late, on Dec 4 (I apologize to anyone who was inconvenienced), and as of today the first two applications have arrived, one from a 29 year-old woman from Florida, one from a 43 year-old woman in New York. The application window closes on February 15, 2003. By April 1, 2003 the first ambassador will be selected by the Selection Committee.

Responding to the interest shown by British readers of "Take Me With You," my British publisher, Bantam, has decided to republish my first book, "All The Right Places," which has been out of print for nearly a decade. It gets even better: When my agent, Robert Stricker, heard the news, he told me to put his 15% into Backpack Nation. So, next year, when the money arrives, the counter will jump another $900. ("All the Right Places" is the story of a trip around the world I took in 1984, in the throes of an unwanted divorce, my premise: "Travel heals, I hope."

In the next week or so I am to have a meeting with the Tides Center, a San Francisco-based umbrella organization for more than 300 nonprofit organizations. They will consider taking in Backpack Nation, and if that happens they will provide guidance, bookkeeping, legal advice, insurance.

While exploring funding opportunities, I recognized the need for a 50-word mission statement, and here is my current draft:

"To promote the possibility of a world that works for everyone, Backpack Nation will dispatch 100 roving ambassadors per day to the world's less developed countries. Each ambassador will seek out one compelling situation - an individual, family, village, or organization - and deliver US$10,000. Global peace and prosperity will naturally follow." Feedback?

Anyone within range is invited to join me and several members of the Bay Area travel and travel writing communities for an hour or so of travel stories at the Monticello Inn, 127 Ellis St, in San Francisco, beginning at 5:30 p.m., on Wednesday, December 18th. A renowned Irish storyteller, Dave Abbot, is coming to town to emcee the evening, and several members of the Bay Area travel community will share short travel stories in front of the microphone. The event is being organized by my friend Michael McCarthy, a Marin county writer. Michael and I and many others have been engaged in long-running conversations about the possibility of creating a physical center for the rich Bay Area travel writing community - a North Beach bookstore/coffee shop/guesthouse perhaps? And this evening, which piggybacks on the monthly salon hosted by the Wild Writing Women, is an attempt to further this possibility. Please come. For more information, or to inquire about space at the microphone, please contact Michael McCarthy at journalism@sbcglobal.net.

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