Celebrating 10 Years of Learning AFAR with AFAR Media

AFAR Media co-founders are transforming the lives of underserved youth by showing them the world.

How It All Began

Greg Sullivan and Joe Diaz of AFAR Media started Learning AFAR 10 years ago with No Barriers because they believe that travel is the best form of education, opening people’s minds and hearts to so many possibilities in life. Joe shared, “We want to empower students to travel with curiosity, an open mind, and the ability to push past boundaries is transformative—for the students, their peers, and the communities in which they live.

They want Learning AFAR participants to come away from the program with self-confidence and realize that they are not confined to preconceived notions of what they can and should do with their lives. It’s working.

Since the program’s inception, over 1,300 underserved youth have received Learning AFAR scholarships to experience this curriculum-based experiential travel program. Of those, 96% shared that they want to reach for their full potential, compared to only 64% prior to participation.

Greg & Joe as Young Travelers

Joe was taught as a young kid that travel was more a state of being, a way of approaching the world around him than it was a vacation. He shared, “I try to walk out my front door every morning with the same values we teach to our Learning AFAR participants.” 

afar media founders greg sullivan joe diaz

Greg’s own travels have had just as much of an impact in his life. The youngest of six kids from Oklahoma, he traveled each summer with his family from the backseat of a station wagon. However, it was his international travels later in life that had the greatest impact. Visiting other countries was more than just a vacation, it was an opportunity to see how other people lived. His deep travel experiences inspired him to change the way people saw the world.  

Learn More About the AFAR Media Founders in Our Latest Podcast »

Today, Greg and Joe reflect back on how many lives AFAR Media and Learning AFAR have transformed over the past decade. “I’m proud that we have played a leading role in changing how people travel: from just escaping or sightseeing, to getting out of their comfort zones and growing as people,” said Greg. “Because this leads to deeper, richer and more fulfilling lives for the people who travel this way.  And the fact that more people are doing this makes the world better.” 

Learning AFAR Strives for Long-Lasting Impact

learning afar student travel abroad program

Principle of Coliseum College Prep Academy (CCPA), Amy Boyle has seen the long lasting impact of the program first-hand. A partner of Learning AFAR, the Oakland, CA, school has had 70 of their students experience Learning AFAR since 2011. We learned from Amy that two of those students are now teachers at CCPA and paying their experience forward by transforming young lives themselves.  

Those are just two of the thousands of students impacted by the curriculum-based travel program. Jamal is another.  

Learn Jamal’s Story

Learning AFAR participant Jamal, 13, traveled to Costa Rica last year with nine of his Son of a Saint brothers. Son of a Saint, based in New Orleans, LA, enhances the lives of fatherless boys due to incarceration or death through mentorship, emotional support, development of life skills, exposure to constructive experiences and formation of positive, lasting peer-to-peer relationships.  

No Barriers & Son of a Saint Costa Rica Expedition. Photo by Andrew Bui

Jamal, who was a freshman at the time and on his school’s basketball team, never could have imagined that he would have the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica for such an educational and impactful trip. Like many of his Son of a Saint brothers, this was his first time traveling to another country.

While in Costa Rica, his group participated in several recreational activities such as zip-lining, hiking and rafting. They also took part in three service projects, which Jamal described as “eye-opening experiences.” He also shared how the Learning AFAR program took him out of his comfort zone by trying new things. 

“One of my biggest fears in this world is heights and I must say that because of the trip to Costa Rica, I was able to face that fear head on and become a little more comfortable with heights,” shared Jamal. “On the seventh day of the trip, we got the opportunity to go zip-lining through the Rain Forest. During zip-lining, I was extremely terrified and even thought about quitting at one point, but my Son of a Saint brothers, mentors and our group leaders did not let it happen.”

Jamal admits he is a picky eater, so he was also fearful of trying new foods while in Costa Rica. He was pleasantly surprised by how much he enjoyed a new cuisine. He shared, “The food was amazing, and it is something that I would for sure eat again. One of the best meals I had was when we got to visit a local family and have dinner in their home; it was one of the first times that I actually went back for seconds.”  

When Jamal started the program, traveling was a distant possibility but after his experience, he started planning his second trip to Costa Rica. He enrolled in Spanish in preparation to visit the Central America country again and to be able to engage in more conversations with the locals.

Jamal shared that the Learning AFAR program was a success. “We were pushed out of our comfort zones but had a blast while doing it. I was able to see new things and meet new people who helped give me a different view of the world, and I will be forever grateful. This was a great experience that not a lot of people my age get to experience. I am thankful for Son of a Saint, No Barriers and Learning AFAR for providing me and my brothers with this life-changing experience.”  

Jamal, Today

No Barriers & Son of a Saint Costa Rica Expedition. Photo by Andrew Bui

We recently caught up with Jamal to hear how Learning AFAR has impacted his life over the past year. He shared that he felt blessed to have that experience and that it has opened his mind to new opportunities in his everyday life. He added that every young person should have the opportunity to participate in the Learning AFAR program. “I look at the world differently,” shared Jamal. “It is amazing for someone my age to travel out of the country. More people need to go see the world, learn a new culture, and interact with the local people. It was life-changing.” 

Jamal is dreaming of traveling with his mom to London, Paris, or a beautiful beach one day but he is also focused on his schoolwork. He wants to go to college and get a degree after he graduates high school. Whatever the future holds for Jamal, he is open to more possibilities today because of the impact Learning AFAR had in his life. 

Find out how YOU can support Learning AFAR

learning afar student travel abroad program

Learning AFAR programs are offered cost-free to participants thanks to generous donors. If you feel called to support future youth like Jamal, please donate today.

October 31, 2019
No Barriers

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