It’s not so unusual to be inspired by the people you meet when you travel. It’s not even that unusual to experience truly life-changing moments during those trips. But few of us have ever been so inspired that we came home and launched a nonprofit to help support the destination we just visited.
But Brittany Merill Underwood did. When she was 19 and a sophomore at Southern Methodist University, Underwood spent a semester abroad in Uganda, teaching at a local boarding school. While there, she met a woman named Sarah who fostered 24 children in her home. Moved by Sarah’s selflessness and the struggles of other impoverished women and children she encountered, Underwood launched the Akola Project when she returned home, during her senior year of college.
Her first initiative was the construction of an orphanage for 200 children. Today, the Akola Project runs several community development programs, including an employment opportunity for more than 200 Ugandan women who have escaped the sex trafficking industry and are now living with HIV. The women receive vocational training at one of Akola’s two centers in Uganda and then create jewelry and accessories—including necklaces, bracelets and handbags—which are sold online and at boutiques across the U.S.
All of the profits go back into the Akola’s training centers, savings and loan associations, education programs, support groups, and leadership development efforts. The program has been so successful that Underwood and her business partner Blake Smith, a Dallas native, are launching a similar set-up in the U.S. This one will be based in Texas, where women affected by the sex trafficking industry will be employed to do finishing work on the textiles made by their counterparts in Uganda.
The finished products, which make great gifts, are beautiful—and the story is too.
Here at wendyperrin.com we believe travel is one of the most transformative things you’ll ever do. Have your travels inspired you to make a difference?
—by Billie Cohen for wendyperrin.com