Banana Backpacks: Supporting Education & Clean Water in Cambodia

Banana Backpacks: Supporting Education & Clean Water in Cambodia

By: Anika Funk

A Heart for Cambodia

Travel is full of defining moments. Growing up with a family who spent months overseas in Indonesia, these experiences marked me from a young age. There was one particular moment, however, that truly defined both my path and my passion for responsible travel. I was eighteen years old and visiting Cambodia for the first time. In the capital city of Phnom Penh I went to the former school, turned security prison, turned genocide museum of Tuol Sleng. Displayed in the former classrooms there are portraits of the 14,000 Cambodian citizens who were imprisoned, tortured, and executed during the Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s.

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Woman viewing Angkor Wat
Anika at Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Bayon Temple, Cambodia, South East Asia
Bayon Temple, Cambodia

I couldn’t bring myself to walk away and I spent hours there. I was heartbroken. Beyond that, I was startled by my own lack of education about Cambodia’s very recent genocide. This genocide took the lives of a quarter of the country’s entire population. It was a turning point for me as I realized the power of travel to educate us on global issues.

This moment also started my love affair with Cambodia and its people who are incredibly optimistic and resilient despite the lasting effects of the country’s genocide. It was this moment that led me back to Cambodia to work as a marketing intern with an NGO during my undergraduate degree. I then returned once again to write my Master’s thesis on economic and social human rights advancement through fair trade in the country. Throughout these experiences, I kept thinking about how the education we gain from travel could also support the education of those who face so many barriers to accessing formal schooling in Cambodia.

The Beginning of Banana Backpacks

Banana Backpack | Travel Backpack

Serendipitously, when my brother came to me with frustrations about current travel backpacks and the idea to build a better option last year, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to embed this passion into a responsible travel product.

Months of brainstorming, interviewing manufacturing and NGO partners, and prototyping later, our company, Banana Backpacks, was born. We built our new enterprise around what we call our “Three E’s”: Explore, Educate, Equip. We work to facilitate exploration of the incredible places and peoples around the world, to educate on social, political, and environmental issues going on in those destinations, and to equip travellers with inspired gear that allows them to make a difference in the world before they even leave home.

Supporting Education in Cambodia, One Quality Backpack at a Time

Cambodian words on Backpack Strap
Khmer Name of Child on Strap

Our flagship product is a full size, 60L travel backpack. We specifically designed this bag to solve frustrations travellers often have with top-loading backpacks that lack organizational capabilities or style. Social impact is at the heart of our backpacks’ design.  Additionally, we also implement ethical production practices.

To achieve this, every bag supports one child’s education in Cambodia. The child’s name is embroidered in the Khmer script on the heart (left) strap of each backpack. Through our local NGO partner, each child is provided with two meals/day at school for a year. This program is imperative to tackling barriers to accessing education in Cambodia. It encourages parents in one of the country’s most disadvantaged provinces to send their children to school. Furthermore it encourages these parents to keep their children in school. This is especially important as dropout rates usually skyrocket once children reach the secondary level. Sustainably, while we have yet to make this backpack out of recycled materials, we’ve built it with the most durable fabric we could find to last travellers a lifetime and generate less waste.

Supplying Clean Water to Cambodian Families, One Tee Shirt at a Time

Organic Cotton Tee Shirt with Cambodian Symbol for Water
Organic Cotton Water

Leading up to our launch on February 23, we’re also testing out a second product. This is a 100% organic cotton t-shirt featuring the Cambodian symbol for water. Below the symbol are GPS coordinates where a water filtration system has been installed for a family. Working with our second NGO partner, these filters are installed based on a local government needs assessment. Preventable waterborne illnesses lead to the deaths of one in seven Cambodian children before the age of five. In fact, one quarter of the country’s population does not have access to clean water. Without clean water, education is not possible.

Help support education & clean water in Cambodia with these amazing travel backpacks and tee shirts! Click To Tweet

Travelers Who Care

What we ultimately hope to do through Banana Backpacks is to build a community of travelers who care about the world. Our choices when we travel, from gear we buy, to restaurants we eat at, to activities we engage in, matter. They can make a difference for the environment, for animals, and for our fellow human beings. I believe that the education we gain through travel and our efforts to travel sustainably and responsibly can make the world a better place. Other travelers that use their own defining moments to tackle global issues will always continue to inspire me.

If you would like to learn more about Banana Backpacks, check them out at their website by clicking here or at their Instagram page by clicking here.

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