The Unity Center in San Diego, Calif., truly embraces the power of putting New Thought principles into action. Founding minister Rev Wendy Craig-Purcell has designed an entirely unique opportunity to combine spiritual enrichment with the love of travel. Approximately every other year a group of about 20 people affiliated with The Center journeys to the Andean villages outside Cusco, Peru, to experience travel, adventure and sacred service. This extraordinary program is called “Travel With a Purpose.”
Rev Wendy Craig Purcell (WCP) describes the four components of her Travel With a Purpose concept this way: “What makes this program unique is that it provides a remarkable combination of local ‘economic opportunity,’ sacred service, spiritual practice and cultural adventure. In my research, I am not aware of any other spiritual service/travel opportunity that embodies all four of those.”
Unity Leaders Journal (ULJ): What do you mean by “economic opportunity”?
Wendy Craig-Purcell (WCP): We believe in that wise principle that it’s better to teach a person to fish than to give him a fish. In other words, we believe that the best way to support others is to provide them with a hand-up rather than a handout. The hand-up idea reinforces people’s own capabilities, raises their self-esteem, and provides a self-sustaining way for them to continue to benefit independently once we visitors have gone home.
ULJ: How does The Unity Center provide a hand-up to these local villagers in Peru?
WCP: In connection with each Travel With a Purpose trip, The Unity Center partners with a carefully selected, established, in-country non-government organization (NGO). In the case of our Peru trips, it is Peru’s Challenge, who were already doing wonderful work in the local villages outside Cusco helping the indigenous people with building projects, cooking ovens, water projects, education and health support for many years. In cooperation with the NGO, we provide microcredit loans to local folks as a means to earn their way out of poverty. The NGO also introduces our travelers to local artisans who create “fair trade” products which are sold through The Unity Center’s Fair Trade boutique “Partners” and our Sangha Café. A percentage of the profits from these sales are segregated to form the primary source of The Unity Center’s microcredit loans. So it all fits into our overarching philosophy to provide indigenous people with economic opportunity in the form of a hand-up, rather than a handout.
ULJ: how does Travel With a Purpose provide an opportunity for sacred service?
WCP: Our Travel With a Purpose travelers engage in volunteer work alongside the local people to support their path toward economic improvement. Specifically, our Travel With a Purpose groups in Peru have worked in conjunction with Peru’s Challenge alongside local indigenous folks to build four adobe brick greenhouses that produce both food and a cash crop of roses to supply the thriving Peruvian rose market. And from the original microcredit loans we provided, the local recipients have “paid forward” some of their profits to neighboring villages to facilitate the construction of an additional 19 greenhouses, benefiting 50 some families. Working together on these sacred service projects, our travelers and the local people have the opportunity to labor together, to laugh, to learn a little of each other’s cultures, and to develop gratitude and respect for one another—an important ingredient in creating a better world for all.
ULJ: You said these trips also involve spiritual practice?
WCP: Well, Travel With a Purpose is far from a leisure vacation experience! The rigors of the often-remote location, working in an unfamiliar environment and climate—and in Peru at high altitudes—with people who speak different languages and have a different culture, these all add up to a fertile opportunity for the practical application of our core spiritual principles: appreciation, tolerance, acceptance, patience, persistence, focus on the positive, prayer, grace, empathy, compassion and trust, to name only a few. Each day I lead a brief spiritual practice which helps the group remain grounded in the deeper purpose of the Travel With a Purpose experience. Out of respect for the local people’s culture and traditions, we only discuss our New Thought principles amongst ourselves. But we are willing and eager to learn about our hosts cultural and spiritual values—which, by the way, surprisingly often turn out to mirror our New Thought teachings.
ULJ: And how about the fourth aspect of Travel With a Purpose, the “adventure” part?
WCP: A significant aspect of each Travel With a Purpose trip is the opportunity to experience the fascinating, often sacred, and always beautiful sites in the vicinity of the work project. In Peru, we visit Machu Picchu and six additional Inca ruin sites as well as the Sacred Valley. Travelers also visit popular tourist locales in the cities and towns, traditional markets, farms, and are invited into local homes to learn about indigenous ways of life. We even get to hug the kids! Our itinerary includes special opportunities to interact deeply and directly with local indigenous people, such as the following precious example:
In Cusco and the surrounding Andean indigenous villages, Guinea pig provides a staple protein in the local diet and is found for purchase in all the markets. During our 2014 Travel With a Purpose trip, when The Unity Center group visited teenage Peruvian villager Alessandra and her guinea-pig pen, we learned that many of them had recently escaped. Our group was delighted to be able to spontaneously help Alessandra replace her stock within two days—an especially sweet opportunity because 18-year-old Alessandra was single-handedly raising her siblings, going to school, keeping up their rose greenhouse and tending to the pigs, while her mom underwent cancer treatments in far off Lima. Such are the unexpected and special chances to offer a hand-up to help someone help themselves, encountered within The Unity Center’s Travel With a Purpose experience.
Considering Getting Involved?
ULJ: This Travel With a Purpose concept truly does uniquely combine so many aspects of an ideal spiritual travel experience. If someone wanted to explore joining an upcoming trip, what would they want to know?
WCP: Our next trip to Peru will be in July 2018. Apart from airfare to Cusco, we include everything in the fee: meals, accommodations, guided visits to the temples and fortresses of seven ancient Inca ruins sites including Machu Picchu, plus tours of Cuzco, an alpaca and llama farm, traditional markets and Andean villages, English-speaking guides, entry fees to cultural sites, educational lectures, welcome from local school children, the sacred service project with local villagers, interaction and shopping with local artisans, travel with spirit-based and like-minded people, emergency transport and English-speaking doctor and clinic if needed.
ULJ: Is Travel With a Purpose open to people not among The Unity Center congregation?
WCP: Anyone affiliated with a New Thought spiritual center is welcome to apply. They can learn more at our website, www.theunitycenter.net, under the title “What We Offer – Global Outreach.” Then their next step would be to call The Unity Center office: 858.689.6500. We would be delighted to host the broader New Thought community outside San Diego in sharing in Travel With a Purpose. We truly feel we are helping shape a world that works for everyone—and would love to do that together!