His Holiness the Dalai Lama was the honored guest at a luncheon event at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in San Francisco, California, on Sunday, February 23, 2014. His Holiness acknowledged and thanked the 51 highly compassionate individuals who were the honorees of Unsung Heroes of Compassion 2014.
“These individuals have been selected as representatives of the tens of thousands of people worldwide who quietly serve the disenfranchised and work to improve our communities through their personal efforts,” says Dick Grace, founder of Grace Family Vineyards and board chair of the non-profit Wisdom in Action, the organization hosting the unique celebration. “We don’t see them or hear about them in the daily news, but they exemplify a humanism and heroism to which we must each aspire.”
Among the honorees acknowledged was long time ATTA member Sanjay Saxena.
Sanjay Saxena, the founder and CEO (Chief Exploratory Officer) of Destination Himalaya, a California based Adventure Travel Company, has arranged countless trips to India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Mongolia, Bhutan and Burma. But while he has been busy turning his clients’ dreams into reality, Saxena has also focused on the importance of giving back to the regions these travelers visit by partnering with small, local organizations that are addressing acute needs such as hunger, health and education. Saxena gives not just money, but also business acumen and experience‹all without charging any overhead or administrative costs. Among other projects, Saxena supports a nutritious-lunch program at three elementary schools in Kerala, South India; a medical boat that visits the Sunderbans, remote islands in the Bay of Bengal; and the construction and operation of a school deep in Rajasthan’s Thar Desert.
“When I started in the tourism industry, little thought was given to the local people and their environment. I wanted to change that,” says Saxena. By doing so, he was at the forefront of the “responsible travel” movement. When Saxena started Destination Himalaya in 1989, his first priority was to give back to the communities his clients visited‹using local guides, local supplies, and the like. Recalls Saxena, “I saw Nepalese staff running trips in Tibet; very little of the money those travelers spent stayed in Tibet. That’s not how I do business.” Not only are his trips powered by local communities, the charity projects are too: The school lunch programs are run by parent-teacher associations, which buy from farmers and fishermen who live within a five-mile radius.
“Though this recognition comes to me for all the giving back to local communities projects that Destination Himalaya has started and sponsored in India and Tibet, it really would not have been possible but for the wonderful, giving travelers that I have been lucky enough to work with and the diligence and dedication of our staff and leaders in Asia”
A recording of the full event is available on Wisdom in Action website.