BBC TV presenter Kate Humble came up with the idea for Stuff Your Rucksack while stuck in a small Saharan village, where she had been invited to make an appearance at a local school.
The kids asked her how many hours it would take to travel by camel to England. Wondering out loud how camels might cross the sea and whether they were allowed on ferries, a little arm went up: “What’s the sea?”
The teacher asked Kate if she had a world map. Humble was humbled. If you grow-up in a land-locked country with no access to maps, books or the Internet, how do you learn about the ocean?
If only she’d known the school needed a map, she could easily have stuffed one in her rucksack and opened up the world to a bunch of kids. Thus, Stuff Your Rucksack was born.
The idea is simple.
Small charities (or travelers who know about them) use Stuff Your Rucksack’s website to post wish lists of things they need. You check the site to see if an organization at your destination has wishlisted any items, pack a few bits and pieces for them, and then drop off the items in person.
The website encourages travelers to provide feedback on the organizations they visit and to keep their eyes peeled for more organizations that need support.
“The beauty of it is that it gives equal value both ways,” says Humble. “The community benefits from something they actually really need and you get a local experience that you just can’t buy or get out of a guidebook”.
Marybeth Gallagher from an after school program in Namibia says, “The children have benefited greatly from this website. I cannot begin to tell you how much loot people have hauled from all parts of the globe to donate to our kids. They have also come to visit and to spread the word about our work. It’s a brilliant idea!”
The site is currently getting a revamp and is due for a re-launch in May. The hope is that it will become a vast crowd-sourced message board among travelers that extends to include more information about volunteer work.
Aware that many big projects need volunteers to commit to six months or more, Stuff Your Rucksack wants to hear from smaller organizations that would appreciate even just a few hours of help as travelers are passing through town.
To get an idea of the kinds of items travelers are stuffing in their rucksacks, here are some recent posts:
A doctor in Chiang Rai in Thailand needs Ibuprofen
A charity that helps street kids in Guatemala needs more sleeping bags
A school for deaf students in Kenya wants toys
An animal hospital in Sri Lanka needs dog collars
A school in Cambodia needs English teachers (minimum 1 week)
A hospital in Malawi wants cell phones
A school in Cuba would love some musical instruments
A university in Macedonia is desperate for copies of The Economist
A school in China needs balloons
An organization in South Africa wants your bra
And if you’re traveling across the Sahara, there’s a school out there in need of a map….
Matador has lots of resources for backpackers; just check out our Backpack Travel Focus Page!