Expedia gives back in northern India

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Connecting a community beyond their coordinates

“Traveling gives you perspective, and I think we should all be giving more to the world,” notes Mary Hausladen, an Expedia employee from Seattle, Washington, as she reflects on her August 2015 trip to India.

Of the more than 18,000 individuals who work with Expedia worldwide, Mary is one of 16 employees the travel and technology company sent to northern India to learn about the culture, serve the community, and collaborate with locals on projects such as access to clean water and the construction of a new secondary school.

With a core view from Expedia that technology connects you to the people and places that matter, the journey to Verdara, India, was not a one-and-done initiative, nor a shiny badge of corporate honor. It was about communities reaching beyond their coordinates, and the result of a giving philosophy that knows all individuals can make an impact—especially when they pool their talents.

Putting this idea into practice, Expedia partnered with Free The Children, an organization that empowers rural and marginalized communities to lift themselves from the cycle of poverty. 

“At the end of the day, we all have the same hopes and dreams,” explains Katherine Cheng, a member of the India team and Head of Global Corporate Citizenship and Community Relations at Expedia Inc. She goes on to say, “We all want education, we all want health, we all want clean water, and if we don’t care about each other and work together to help each other, we all lose out in one way or another.” 

The trip and ongoing work with the South Asian nation is only part of the quiet and consistent commitment Expedia has made to charities worldwide such as Free The Children, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and a haul of community-based nonprofits chosen by staff.

Watch the video to learn more about the crew’s journey to India and the Expedia giving philosophy, and find out why India team member Jessica Vollero observed, “There’s hope, urgency, and inspiration all in one area.” Warning: It’ll make you want to drop everything, pack your bags, and start volunteering full-time. 

For more stories behind the lens, check out my short Q & A with Jessica and Katherine below.

Trish Friesen (TF): Volunteering is an important part of your life at home and away. How do you care for your local community of Orlando, Florida?  

Jessica Vollero (JV): To me and many others around the world, Orlando is a dream destination offering once-in-a-lifetime experiences. I have the honor of bringing the destination’s fairy tales to life through organizations such as Make-A-Wish® and Give Kids The World Village. When we learn about a sick child’s dream, whether it’s dancing all night with a prince, riding a unicorn, or having tea with a princess, we make it come true to inspire the hope that keeps them fighting and keeps their family strong with lasting memories they will never forget. 

TF: In the video, you express that “there’s hope, urgency, and inspiration all in one area.” Tell us more.

JV: When we visited the school in Verdara, India, my heart was filled with hope watching students who were grateful and giddy to learn despite their trek to get there, limited scholastic materials, and classes held outdoors atop dusty rugs. They deserve more than what they have, and all they want is the simple pleasures we take for granted every day. The urgency is that every year that passes, more children grow up without the basics that could change their whole lives. Their keen desire to reach out to us and the world around them was inspiring.

TF: Is there one takeaway from your trip that will stick with you for the rest of your life? 

JV: One day, when I was sitting in the above-mentioned school, I noticed a man building a mansion a few feet away. During the construction process, someone hit a pipe which began gushing fresh water. Neither he nor any of his workers stopped it. Then I looked in the other direction and saw a tiny well children were using for water. Why wasn’t the rich guy in the mansion helping? In this moment I realized my “wealth” (as small as it is) can be shared by helping others, and to urge those around me to use what they have to do the same.  

TF: If others want to serve the world and travel, where do you suggest they get started? ?

JV: Start at home. Start small. Then reach out to the world. ME to WE is an excellent starting point.

TF: Has philanthropy always been part of your life?

Katherine Cheng (KC): I grew up with a single mother who worked several jobs, but always gave to people who were less fortunate, whether it was when there was an influx of Cambodian refugees who settled in the community or a homeless person on the street who needed a ride or a warm meal. Giving a hand to those who need it has always been a part of my life.

Viewfinder Tip: For more ways you can help others, check out our easy ways to give back while traveling.

TF: What drew your team to India in partnership with Free The Children?

KC: Free The Children is an organization focused on access to education, especially for girls, through the pillars of clean water and sanitation, education, health, and alternative incomes. We have a large and growing number of employees in India and as a tribute to our employees there, we chose to support a village in India.

TF: In the video you mention that no matter where we live in the world, “we all have the same hopes and dreams for our children.” Tell us about this statement based on your conversations with locals in northern India and elsewhere in your travels. 

KC: In every community I have ever visited around the world, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with the locals. Every conversation starts and ends with the hopes and dreams of parents to give their children every possible opportunity for a better life. This is not unusual even right here at home, including with my own parents. When you see the great lengths parents, especially mothers, will go to in order to provide their children with educational opportunities, it highlights that we are all the same at the core.

TF: How do you suggest people travel and give back at the same time?

KC: I think the most important thing for people who travel and want to give back is to open their eyes to see people and who they are. It’s not about a one-stop activity, but about partnering with reputable organizations that are doing the work day in and day out. Most importantly, it’s about making an impact without impacting the community in a negative way.

Have you ever partnered with a local or international organization to help others? Tell us about it in the comments.

Expedia compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site, such compensation may include travel and other costs.

Trip Styler

Trish Friesen chose an unlikely profession given her fear of flying and propensity toward car, air, boat, train, and chairlift sickness. Thanks to Gravol, Sea-Bands, and cruise ship stabilizers, the reluctant—yet enthusiastic—jetsetter packs her bag once every two weeks to swim with sharks in the Great Barrier Reef or to sample the latest libation in Portland. Trish unpacks her suitcase in Vancouver, Canada, Eh! where she’s the editor-in-chief of TripStyler.com, a travel lifestyle website for aspiring jetsetters. Find her moonlighting on Expedia, Fodor's, Jetsetter, and as a travel expert on TV while circumventing the globe with her entourage: a MacBook Air, an Olympus camera, and the biggest carry-on she can fit on the plane.

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