Reflections from Our Book Club Year

by Dianne Sivulka


Now that the 2023 Travel on Purpose Book Club has ended, I'd like to take a moment to celebrate all that we have learned and accomplished together this year.


But First, A Little History

The Travel on Purpose Book Club began three years ago when many people across the globe were isolated at home. Traveling wasn't on anyone's radar. The book club had a simple beginning with the intent to provide a space for people to connect, get a sense of "traveling" through the pages of a book, and enjoy lively conversations on Zoom. Then in 2023, I was ready to launch a new idea for the book club. This idea would mirror my travel company, Travel on Purpose™ in the best possible way. At TOP, we're all about expanding our understanding of the world through culturally immersive experiences and connecting to sustainable and ethical ways to give back to local communities. We enjoy creating meaningful experiences and celebrating the excellent work done worldwide through social impact companies, non-profits, and do-good initiatives.


As the number of email subscribers, blog readers and social media followers has grown, I've realized that the vast majority of people who are taking an interest in Travel on Purpose™ will never actually go on one of our trips. And that's okay. But I began to wonder if a book club could create a similar experience for people without traveling. The concept of a book club with purpose began to take shape. I wanted to read books about different place in the world, whether fiction or nonfiction, in order to learn about life, the challenges people face, and who the changemakers are. I also thought it would be fun to include a themed gift box that would be shipped to members each quarter. Who doesn't love a gift in the mail? In order to support philanthropic work, I knew the book club would also need to have a membership fee. But transitioning the book club from free to not free concerned me. Would anyone sign up? I decided to go for it. In January of 2023, we launched the book club with purpose. To my surprise, the numbers drastically increased. We went from about a dozen members to 60! I was shocked.

I'd like to point out that book club participation looks different for everyone. One of the things I love about our growing community is that each person interacts in a way that works for them. While we had 60 people register for the book club this year, we usually only had about 40 people participate each quarter. Some people signed up for the whole year, while others only picked the books that interested them. Some people attended every Zoom meeting, while others only showed up a few times. Plenty of members never joined a single Zoom meeting all year and yet they told me how much they loved being part of it! They liked receiving themed gifts in the mail and knowing that their book club subscription fee was going to a well-vetted organization doing good.



Quarter One: West Africa

Our year began in West Africa with the reading of The Girl with the Louding Voice. Written by Abi Daré, this award-winning novel revolves around a young Nigerian girl named Adunni, who dreams of getting an education and having a voice of her own. Facing numerous challenges and societal expectations, Adunni is forced into an arranged marriage and must navigate a world that often suppresses the voices of women. Determined to overcome adversity, she embarks on a journey of self-discovery, resilience, and empowerment. The novel explores themes of gender inequality, social injustice, and the power of education in shaping one's destiny. Adunni's spirited narrative gives a voice to the silenced and highlights the importance of fighting for one's dreams and rights.


We teamed up with Tirzah International to help provide a small business training opportunity for a young woman in Francophone Africa. Book club boxes included hand-made products made by Tirzah's artisan partners.

Quarter Two: Syria

Next, we traveled to Syria as we read The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri. The story follows the journey of Nuri, a beekeeper, and his wife, Afra, as they flee war-torn Aleppo, Syria, in search of safety and a better life. As refugees, they face numerous challenges, both physical and emotional, as they travel through dangerous routes and grapple with the traumas of their past. The novel explores themes of loss, displacement, and the resilience of the human spirit. The lens of Nuri and Afra's experiences sheds light on the harsh realities refugees face and the strength needed to rebuild one's life in the face of profound adversity. The book is a powerful reminder of the possibility of finding hope and sweetness amid life's bitter challenges. We learned about the war that continues to rage in Syria today and about the plight of refugees worldwide. It is estimated that there are more than 30 million refugees on the planet today.


We partnered with Hope for San Diego, a non-profit organization that provides welcoming resources to people newly arrived in the San Diego area. Our book club donation went toward purchasing sewing machines and bicycles for refugees from Syria and Afghanistan. Sewing machines are being used in a tailoring class, providing community and employment preparation. The bicycles are providing greatly needed transportation for people who aren't able to drive yet. The book club box included the famous Aleppo soap, hand-painted pottery, honey sticks, and a bookmark inscribed with a refugee prayer.

Each quarter, we also offer a local meet-up opportunity for anyone in southern California. While reading The Beekeeper of Aleppo, we had the privilege of sharing a meal with a Syrian refugee who arrived in San Diego about a decade ago. She prepared a meal of her favorite Syrian dishes and we thoroughly enjoyed them!

She graciously told us her story, describing what it was like to suddenly find her hometown under a barrage of gunfire and violence. She relayed the harrowing experience of fleeing, the hardships of living in a refugee camp in Turkey, how she and her family eventually made their way to California, and the setbacks they have faced here. Hearing her story opened our eyes to the fact that our book was a window into the lives of real people living actual realities.



Quarter Three: Worldwide with a particular focus on India

In the third quarter, we read Manifesto for a Moral Revolution: Practices to Build a Better World by Jacqueline Novogratz. This nonfiction piece reads more like a textbook, highlighting countless examples of the potential for good when the world's poor are invited to the table of investment and entrepreneurship.

Novogratz's book is a compelling exploration of the intersection between business, ethics, and social change. Novogratz, the founder of the Acumen Fund, shares her experiences in the realm of impact investing and social entrepreneurship to argue for a new approach to capitalism—one that prioritizes social justice and human dignity. The book outlines principles and practices that individuals and organizations can adopt to create positive, sustainable change. Novogratz emphasizes the importance of moral leadership, empathy, and a long-term perspective in addressing global challenges. The Manifesto serves as a guide for those seeking to align their business and personal values with a commitment to making a meaningful difference in the lives of others.

One of our favorite success stories from the book included a startup in India with a creative solution to flower waste. This initiative solved an environmental concern where enormous amounts of decaying flowers can be found on the Ganges River because of funeral blessings. The entrepreneur had the idea to turn this waste into incense sticks. In addition, this business would also provide employment for women of the lowest caste who had been unjustly denied any employment. It served as a potent reminder that people experiencing poverty don't lack ideas or ingenuity but the resources to move forward. This entrepreneur had a brilliant idea to build a business that would care for the environment and create jobs for the poorest in their community. All he needed was a capital investment to make it happen. Today he employs hundreds and is now working with global fashion brands to create clothing products from flower waste.


Our quarterly donation went to Acumen and we even got to welcome Jacqueline Novogratz to one of our Zoom calls where we had the chance to dig deeper and ask questions. She is an incredibly bright and optimistic individual who is equally compassionate and humble. It was a joy hearing from her directly.

Quarter Four: Uganda

We ended the year in Uganda with Garden of the Lost and Abandoned by Jessica Yu. This captivating nonfiction book tells the remarkable true story of Gladys Kalibbala, a Ugandan journalist with a deep commitment to social justice.

The book follows Gladys as she embarks on a mission to document the stories of abandoned and vulnerable children in her community. Using her journalistic skills and empathy, Gladys works tirelessly to bring attention to the plight of these children, often finding creative and unconventional ways to make a difference. The narrative weaves Gladys's personal journey, the stories of the children she encounters, and the challenges she faces in advocating for their well-being. Through investigative journalism and compassionate storytelling, Jessica Yu explores themes of resilience, compassion, and the power of individuals to make a positive impact in the face of adversity.

We partnered with Kuwasha Schools for our give-back component. This network of schools across Southwestern Uganda provides quality education, health care, vocational training, clean water, and community development projects to those who need it most. On our final Zoom call of the year, we were joined by the directors of Kuwasha Schools and learned how our donation will cover the expenses for a young woman to attend the Timothy Girls High School for two years.

Peace Murekatete is just fifteen years old but she is eager for an education, leadership opportunities and a bright future. Book club members have already started writing writing to her. We can't wait to watch Peace progress in school and step into a life of opportunity and purpose. 

What a Year!

The 2023 Travel on Purpose Book Club was a learning journey that took us around the world. From Nigeria to Syria and from India to Uganda, we witnessed the beauty of people and their cultures. We got to know their traditions, cuisine, natural resources, livelihoods, and history. We also learned about the daily difficulties that many people face in these parts of the world. Our journey introduced us to organizations doing incredible work to fight injustice, provide safe places of love and belonging, and equip the people they serve with the resources they need to move forward.

Thanks to the quarterly gift boxes, our homes are now adorned with hand-woven baskets from Uganda, Middle Eastern pottery, block-printed napkins from India, and a collection of recipe cards, to name just a few.


And best of all, through the book club membership fees, were were able to donate $6000 to charity this year, funding projects that are helping to change people's lives. We took something we love, like reading, and turned it into something that benefits others. I am thankful beyond measure that 60 people joined this year and said count me in! If you're reading this and YOU have been part of the book club, thank you! Without your participation, it wouldn't have been possible.



2024 is coming!

I can't wait to see what we can accomplish in 2024 as we head to Los Angeles, Nairobi, the tea fields of Sri Lanka, and Bangalore. Will you join us? Book club details and registration for the 2024 Travel on Purpose Book Club will be released the first week of January. You can find everything you need at this link.