From missing a picture of a howler monkey in Costa Rica, to staring helplessly
at the the bathroom stalls in China, each lesson was definitely learned the hard way.
However, the most important rule would probably be number four.
I first received my elephant messenger feed bag in ninth grade as a pre-travel gift.
Back then, Buy the Change was a fledgling, and so was I.
I embarked on my trip to Turkey and Greece with my classmates starry-eyed and excited, my messenger bag by my side.
I couldn’t wait to see new cultures and people. I was determined to learn more about the world, all while learning about myself.
Looking at the art work and watching the people coming to pray, I could not help but feel more connected to morality than I ever had before.
In the streets of Athens, I discovered my own independence and the vitality of life.
Roaming the streets with only my friends for company, I felt like an adventurer.
When we met a man playing the guitar and singing a song we knew, we sang along with breathless laughter, realizing that even across worlds, people can be connected.
I knew then that this was a side of the city that few tourists ever got to see.
Each new place I went, I experienced new things, ate new foods, met new people, and
stuffed my messenger bag with souvenirs.
By the end of the trip, it was overflowing with keepsakes, from herbs picked off of a cliff in Santorini, to a replica of a miniature sheep,
to tickets collected from the many attractions of Turkey and Greece.
Although to the onlooker they may have seemed like a random collection of objects, each item held a story—
a reminder of the moments in which I first began to discover myself and my place within the world.
After that trip, I couldn’t wait to travel once more. I wanted to continue what I had started abroad—my journey of self-discovering
A year later, when it came time to board the plane again, I waved goodbye to my parents, eager for more experiences,
with my once-again empty messenger bag by my side.
Once again, my trip was a whirlwind of new sights and stories. However, this time, things were a bit different.
Whereas before I thought that I had seen the “real Athens,” I was wrong. I had only seen the good side of travel, never the reality.
I realized that although I had felt empowered by my tourism and my souvenirs, others had felt disempowered.
This lesson really sunk in for me as I had stood in a small sweatshop-like factory for Adidas and Puma.
My Chinese host family had brought me there to see the mother at work, but what they didn’t realize is that this was a side of shopping that I had never seen before.
Looking at all of the women embroidering pumas on shirts and jackets in harsh fluorescent lighting, I felt out of place and shocked.
Even though the factory was not particularly dilapidated and the workers did not look to be overly-mistreated, I was startled by actually seeing where my clothes and accessories came from. I knew that even if these weren’t the worst working conditions, they were not ideal, and somewhere, probably very close to this
factory, women were working for little pay in more deplorable conditions.
In that moment, as I clutched my messenger bag in my hands, I thought of my own empowerment in the face of these women’s lack of power.
I knew that I had to do something, but I wasn’t sure what.
It wasn’t until I returned home that I discovered what to do next.
All along, the answer had been in my hands—my messenger bag. I realized that in order to really empower women all over the world, we needed to start by giving them jobs with fair pay and good working conditions.
The message of Buy the Change had finally reached me. I understood why it existed—to give women a chance at a better, more independent life, through a stable income.
With this in mind, I began to volunteer at Buy the Change.
At first, I only helped with inventory and product organization, but nonetheless, I felt that I was making a real difference.
Through my travel experiences I have learned many important lessons—from the virtue of tissues, to the value of good travel companions, to the beauty of memories.
However, of all the lessons I have learned, the one that has impacted me the most has been the importance of empowerment.
It is through fair trade that I can be empowered to change the world, and women and girls can be empowered to change their lives.
This lesson has carried me for many years, leading to my interest in female empowerment and my internship at Buy the Change.
Reaching the point of full empowerment for all women across the world will be difficult, but it can begin with a simple purchase.
So pick up your messenger bags and strive to make a difference.