How I became participant for the TravelMakers Project

by Ryan Castillo

This article is about my personal project that I chose in order to contribute to the TravelMakers Project. I researched multiple non-profit organizations but I couldn’t quite find that one that didn’t require large amounts of donations or an advanced college degree. So, here I was, broke, between jobs, between semesters and had two months to do something meaningful before my semester started again. Between cat videos and facebook I took a chance to check my couchsurfing profile – and there it was: ”TravelMakers 2014“. on the one hand didn’t require donations from my side in advance in order to participate, on the other hand it had already raised multiple thousand dollars on a prior trip.

This existing infrastructure would leave us time to focus on fundraising and the planned documentary. Besides the social project we would be getting the whole package: adventure, team-building and space for personal development. What more? This years’ trip would cross more or less the entire eastern half of Europe – on the way to Istanbul, Turkey. Before I finished reading the post I was already half-way done with my backpack.

After a quick Skype call with the initiator of the project (which felt almost like a job interview) I was certain that this would be a good life decision. Only one single question in the application form continued to worry me: ”What will your role be in the group if you become a TravelMaker?“. This question made me almost stop in my tracks completely. What could I, Ryan Castillo, contribute to the group? I had watched the documentary from the first trip in 2012 and it seemed that everyone of the people on it had some special talent.

It took me possibly four cups of coffee and a lot of thoughtful blank staring to find my role. I am not good – but great at talking to strangers. I have been working with customers for twelve years, including years of customer service in 4-star Hotels, Restaurants, Bars, Help Desks and self-employment in Sales. My family used to say that I could sell crayons to a blind person. But how could I use this skill for the benefit of TravelMakers? And then I had this idea: If I would sell this idea to people I would organize a complete donation run from planning to implementation in the two weeks that I had left.

I had never done a donation run. Some of my friends and especially my sister helped me brainstorm for ideas to raise funds and collect goods for the Syrian refugees. I specialized in donations for children since it was emotional and effective. After the first few pitches (talks) to stores in my hometown I scored my first success. A sport goods and clothing company donated about 40 soccer jerseys for girls, a soccer ball and 6 pairs of soccer shoes. My mother jokingly said that I should run donation drives more often with the bags of things I brought home.

The next day I became more confident, and with each donation my pitch and confidence improved even more. At the end of the first week I had about 300 Euros worth of clothing, 50 Euros worth of toys and drawing books and 20 Euros in cash. A great start! But my big breakthrough came when I was donating blood: The supervisor of a local blood donation drive heard of my idea and after a quick talk decided to support me more than I could have anticipated. I was allowed to put up piggy banks throughout their locations and the donating people would be encouraged to spend the uneven part of their reimbursement on a good cause.

In the morning of August 6th, I left my hometown with two huge backpacks en route to Berlin. In my cause to reach Istanbul I met other travelers that created similar projects – we were now all traveling under one banner: “TravelMakers – through the borders.” This dozen of new friends arrived from Jordan, Israel, France, Russia, United States, Czech Republic, Brazil and many more. We became a tightly knit group: We cooked, slept, painted, danced and played music together. When we traveled, we hitchhiked in pairs or groups. And exclusively thanks to this group I traveled safe and well.

Right now that I’m sitting on one of our hosts beds, and I’m glad that I dared to leave my comfort zone. I’m glad I left behind luxury and safety in exchange for adventure and new boundaries. So think about it, and who knows, maybe we will meet on the road sometime.

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