Growing up on a small island, Mauritius, I often waved to planes as they flew overhead and a hunger for new experiences and knowledge emerged within. Smiles were not common in the house I lived in but conflicts between my parents, broken plates and foul words were aplenty. With limited access to television and no internet, it was difficult for me to make sense of my family’s rapid destruction. Is splurging in the moment and not worrying about the next moment holds what life is about? These questions were the beginning of me putting things together.
Feuds and economic woes continued to plague us as a family.
I was in the middle of my year 10 exams (S.C) during the time of grandmother’s incident and needed a place to live and study. My aunt and uncle provided me with a home during this critical point – two strong characters motivating me towards the right direction. Despite not having money myself, I was able to finish my exams through their support. They further helped me excel by allowing me to join them in their new home in Australia and avoid joining the workforce in my native country as tertiary studies were not then on the cards. My life seemed to be heading in the right direction as I finished my university studies, scored a great job within the travel industry and purchased my first house at the age of 24 (2006).
It all fell to pieces in 2007, when I fainted and was diagnosed with a brain haemorrhage with only a 10% chance of survival, let alone regaining my memory. I made it through but about 40 to 42 days of my life were erased from my memory and despite brief memories of walking out of church where I fainted initially, I did not have any recollection of the past 42-days. Today, I still don’t, but I have built my story based on what my family members have told me. Miraculously, after a full recovery, I made it back to work but a few months down the track, I started getting headaches again. An angiogram determined that I had a brain aneurysm and I was admitted to the neurological ICU in Royal Prince Alfred for surgery.
My time there was bleak; no television, no music, and absolutely nothing to do. Armed with my Bible and a few women’s magazines, I lived my day watching machines flicker as patients around me fought for life. It was an overwhelmingly heartbreaking experience that had me questioning my current state. “What is happening and why am I here,” I thought every moment of each day. I used this opportunity to reflect upon the things that were happening in my life. My mantra became “I have a second chance to live so I am here for a greater purpose”. With these words flowing strongly through my head, I miraculously resumed my life after an 11-hour brain operation. After a quick four weeks of recovery, I went back to work and resumed my normal routine. What had changed however, was my appreciation for life; an increased alertness and willingness to take anything on. An extra boost of energy, optimistic fits of compulsion that allowed me to take risks and be adventurous.
As the years went by, I began dedicating my personal vacation time to help children abroad, particularly in developing countries. Holidays weren’t just about visiting the countries but also opportunities to give back to local schools, orphanages, hospitals, crèche, local villages, slums and beyond. From 2008 to 2013, I had the chance to volunteer in Fiji, India, Cape Town’s townships, Johannesburg, New Zealand, Cambodia, and of course the beautiful country of Australia. Through my travels, I built loving connections with people who were begging and fighting for life upon the street. Despite education being free on many occasions, children were encouraged to perform parental duties in lieu of attending classes. Children were commonly used for begging. Tattered clothing and teary eyes were able to raise more money in one month than the family could in an entire year. The sorrowful truth, I found, was education is a vital luxury.
In June 2014 after nine and a half years working for one of the top small group operators in the U.S., my position was made redundant. I went home that day knowing that I needed a change. Abandoning the previous idea of becoming a wedding planner, I committed myself to becoming a tour operator that could transform peoples’ lives. It was almost as if my calling in life was knocking at the door once again.
Here I am; my name is Simla Sooboodoo. Combining my passion for making a difference and years of experience in the travel industry, I set upon an exciting new journey. The launch of my small group tours in 2015 enabled me to send people on amazing journeys of discovery to lend a helping hand in a sustainable manner such as creating job opportunities and teaching the basic skills of life. Hands on Journeys is an opportunity to create meaning in this otherwise chaotic world and above all, to discover oneself. When I walk into villages we are currently empowering, I see a bit of myself in a lot of these children in need. I look into the beautiful smiles and eyes filled with unspoken words to see a familiar face. My life required the intervention of a supportive force, thankfully, I was eventually provided with just that.
I bring together my library of experiences in one package with Hands on Journeys. The aim is to build a tribe with travellers who are willing and able to make an authentic difference while travelling the world and essentially understanding the identity of each destination while giving back. We will open the doors of opportunity for people as it comes from a very special place of the heart.
The concept of integrating volunteering into development and tourism is extremely dynamic and that’s how it should be; offering one inspired trip that will make a difference in everyone’s life – yours and the people you will meet along the journey.
I’ve fulfilled my dream of traveling by receiving opportunities from others. Only through my Aunty (mum) and Uncle (dad) was I able to excel; now it is my turn to give back! As human beings, we need to have more faith in ourselves, believe in who we are and what we do, the rest will unfold itself.
Yours in travel,