Myths and Mountains, located in Incline Village, Nevada, has been the ultimate in experiential educational adventure travel, designing unique group and private custom programs that highlight the cultures and crafts, religions and pilgrimage sites, traditional medicines, and environment and natural history of the countries they visit. The company specializes in Asia and Southeast Asia and has been in business since 1988. In July of 2019, Myths was sold to the British company, Wild Frontiers. Small group departures, signature, bespoke itineraries, destination expertise, impeccable service for discerning travelers and corporate responsibility are Myths and Mountains’ hallmarks. Every detail is handled professionally by skilled staff and coordinated with local partners in the field. Qualified and experienced in-country guides are used whenever possible.
When and why did you begin your impact tourism program?
Because Myths and Mountains was offering their guests intimate glimpses of how people lived, worked, and worshipped in their faraway worlds, the company wanted to give something back to the local people – helping to make their villages a viable place for them to live, learn, and prosper.
When a trek leader in Nepal mentioned he would like a library in his village, Myths and Mountains president, Dr. Antonia Neubauer, thought that was a brilliant way to leverage scarce resources, build a sustainable library community center in a village, and provide materials in the local language to villagers from pre-school to adult. This became the concept behind the READ Centers.
In 1991, the first Rural Education and Development (READ) Center was opened in Junbesi in the Solu-Khumbu area of Nepal. Although most other READ Centers constructed since 1991 are in existence, the Junbesi Library, badly damaged in the earthquake of 2016, still needs to be rebuilt.
Today, READ has also become its own 501c3, called READ Global, with a separate office in San Francisco, its own board, and staff. As of 2019, READ has built 107 READ Centers in Nepal, Bhutan and India, seeded 184 businesses and provided 2,425,773 rural villagers with access to READ Centers.
Each READ Center has a library with at least:
- A reading room with 3000-5000 books in the local language, newspapers and magazines
- A children’s room with toys, games and books for the young, as well as appropriate small tables and chairs
- A women’s room
- An audiovisual room
- A computer room
- A meeting room for local people
Please provide brief examples of some of your most impactful projects.
1. Jhuwani Library, Nepal: Inaugurated on Sept. 21, 2002, Jhuwani Library has served as an example for libraries not only in Nepal, but in other READ countries as well. Jhuwani is located in Bachayuli VDC in the Chitwan area of Nepal. The village has a population of about 5067, is a primarily agricultural and small business community of Tharus, Brahmin, Tamang and other groups and boasts a strong leadership committee. The major sustainability project of the library has been an ambulance service. In addition to the main Jhuwani library, there are 4 satellite centers that serve as branches of the community library resource center. Other than the books, children’s room, women’s center and computers, the library is the hub for microcredit, a women’s savings cooperative, ICT training, small business trainings, health/HIV workshops, agricultural workshops and many other classes. Jhuwani Library has won numerous awards, such as the Best Library for ICT usage, Best Library of the Year (awarded by the Ministry of Education), the international Beyond Access People’s Choice Award and the Best Library for Economic Development. Equally important, Jhuwani has been a leader in helping out during emergencies, such as the 2015 earthquake, and, most recently, the Covid-19 pandemic. The library management committee and villagers were instrumental in bringing supplies to quake ravaged READ communities and supporting their countrymen during the crisis.
2. Gyan Bikas Library, Nepal: Gyan Bikas Library in the historic town of Panauti, was the 50th READ library in Nepal. Not only is it the only library likely to exist in a world heritage site, but it was built entirely with the financial support of the people of Nepal – a testimony to the esteem in which the READ Nepal libraries are held in the country. Moreover, encouraging Nepalis to build the library was part of the READ Nepal strategy to both inspire a culture of giving among Nepalis and to increase solidarity among the people through contributing to their own development. No funding came from the government or from corporate donations. Instead, young children were encouraged to fill piggy banks with one rupee at a time and people across Nepal each gave as much as they could. Today, the library serves a community of about 30,000 people. Since Panauti is such an important tourist site, the library’s sustaining project is a souvenir shop, selling handmade crafts to visitors. The profits pay the operational costs of the library.
Has your impact tourism program helped, hurt, or had no impact on your business?
The READ project has been a hallmark of Myths and Mountains and its contribution to villages in many of the countries in which Myths works. How READ has worked has been a model for philanthropy and lasting development in a world where too much is about rapid expansion and lip service to words such as sustainability.
On one level, building an organization such as READ was not easy and was extremely time-consuming. For a small company, our corporate responsibility contribution was quite large and not always easy to support.
Yet, for Myths and Mountains, the effort and sacrifices were definitely worthwhile. Because of READ and its programs throughout Nepal, Bhutan and India, Myths and Mountains is greatly respected in each of these countries and has friends throughout who welcome our guests into their worlds. Our travelers are able to participate in experiences open to few others. Additionally, Myths and Mountains has been honored by many organizations both in the U.S. and abroad. These honors have helped our business grow and attracted many clients to us.
Most recently, Dr. Neubauer received the Dr. Dilli Raman Regmi International Peace Award, the highest international award in Nepal. Previous winners include Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, Ban Ki Moon and others.
Lastly, for each and every person who has worked for Myths and Mountains, to have been part of an organization that has had such a large impact on so many people is a major source of pride and accomplishment.
How do you select projects?
In the early days in Nepal, READ did not solicit projects. Rather, villages submitted proposals to the READ country office. READ country staff reviewed the proposals, and, with the support of the advisory board and READ Global office, selected the next READ Center sites.
In Nepal, READ began by looking for a village with a secondary school and a hub of elementary schools nearby, good local leadership, and interest and participation from the villagers. In order to be considered for a READ Center, villagers had to submit a proposal to READ, be willing to donate the land and contribute 15-20% of the center cost.
READ contracted directly with villagers to build the Centers. The village registered, became an NGO, and opened up a bank account. They chose a management committee (LMC), and 1/3 of this committee had to be women. READ worked with the LMC members and others in the community to build and stock the library, train the local librarian, and provide support and monitoring after the center is finished. READ also seeded the local business selected to be the sustaining project.
Before construction began, all village stakeholders had to sign a contract showing their commitment to the center. During the early years of READ, Nepal was in the midst of a 13-year civil war. If everyone in a village was not committed to the Center, the project would be in danger of failing. Because villagers pledged to support their center, during the entire 13-year war, no library was touched. Rebels might bomb a school, because the school belonged to the government, but the library belonged to the village and was safe and respected.
As READ expanded into Bhutan and India, each country office had a slightly different focus. In India, READ’s emphasis has been on empowering women and marginalized groups and creating educational and economic opportunities in rural areas. Since READ partners with organizations, such as Amazon, Accenture and Perkins, often they help with the selection of villages.
In Bhutan, until READ, there was only one public library in the entire country. Furthermore, since the population in rural parts of the country is often very small, emphasis has been on working in communities with a sufficient number of people to make the library a viable entity. Another effort has been to use mobile libraries to bring books to hard-to-reach places.
How are your employees and your company involved in the projects?
Myths and Mountains staff are very proud of the organization’s work with READ over the years and see the program as a hallmark of the company. Myths staff in America have worked at READ benefit programs and are able to explain the program to those they meet. In countries where READ operates, Myths and Mountains has taken its operators and guides to see READ projects, get involved, and encouraged clients to contribute. In some cases, Myths and Mountains has had US staff visit the libraries.
Organizationally, Myths and Mountains supports READ in numerous ways:
- Staff volunteer their time to help with local READ fundraisers, particularly the large fundraiser held in Incline Village, Nevada.
- Myths president, Toni Neubauer, donates her time to travel on the READ trips.
- Myths regularly donates a portion of its earnings for each group booking to READ.
- Myths generates publicity for READ and READ travel through its marketing and PR.
- Myths includes mention of READ in its catalog and on its itineraries.
- In countries where Myths and READ operate, Myths operators have also helped the in-country READ staff to service potential donors and others, guide them around the country, and show them READ Centers.
What have been staff reactions?
For each and every person who has worked for Myths and Mountains, to have been part of an organization that has had such a large impact on so many people is a major source of pride and accomplishment.
How are funds raised from travelers?
Myths and Mountains fundraises in a variety of ways.
- First of all, on a READ trip, above and beyond the regular trip price, travelers are asked to contribute $300 to READ Global. Because this check is made out to READ, it is also tax deductible to the traveler.
- Second, each year, Myths and Mountains sends out a letter to its travelers and others in the data base, asking them to contribute to READ. All those who do contribute become part of the READ permanent database.
- Third, when clients return from a trip, Myths always sends a flier with information about READ and how to contribute to it.
- On a trip, when travelers visit a READ library/community center, sometimes they bring money to purchase books, or help with something else for the center that is needed – a stove or some cushions, for example.
- Lastly, when READ hosts a fundraising dinner or activity in a particular area, Myths and Mountains invites its local clients to attend, learn about the program, and donate, if they choose.
How do you solicit donations?
Donations are solicited from travelers by several means:
- Once a year, READ sends a letter to the donors on its database and its travelers, telling them about READ and asking them to send contributions to the READ Global Office in San Francisco.
- Travelers who participate in READ trips are asked to contribute a specified tax-deductible sum to READ Global as part of the journey.
- Each returning Myths traveler receives a READ brochure with their trip evaluation package and a note about the organization.
- During trips to Nepal, Bhutan and India, we try and take guests to see the READ projects. Often the guests ask what is needed and what they can do to help.
- When READ has fundraisers in different areas, Myths and Mountains has sent invitations to their travelers who live nearby.
- Once a year, in Incline Village, the home of READ, Myths sponsors a large fundraiser, bringing in world-renowned speakers or performers. At that time, Myths and READ actively solicit funds from attendees.
- Myths and Mountains’ actively encourages its clients to contribute to READ and gives information about the program to every traveler. Every year they send out an end of year request for donations. Moreover, many Myths donors have visited the libraries and then gone on to serve as board members.
- With the permission of its travelers, Myths shares database information with READ.
As a 501(c)(3), READ Global can also receive funding through grant funding and other organizational contributions. In 2006, READ Nepal won the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s $1,000,000 Access to Learning Award. Then, a year later, it received a 4-year, $3,000,000 replication grant from the foundation to expand into other countries.
Along the way, READ has collaborated with many organizations, including UNESCO, JAICA, NORAD, Accenture, Perkins, The Annapurna Conservation Company, The Asian Development Bank, the German Embassy, Bhutan’s Royal Education Council and others. Myths and Mountains is still an important participant, but now there are other individual and corporate participants with strong financial stakes in the organization
Are donations tax deductible?
Yes, donations to READ Global are tax deductible.
How are funds distributed?
Too many projects started by well-intentioned donors or foundations fail for lack of funds after initial grants are made. When first establishing a READ Center, Myths chose to seed a local business in the community, so that the profits from the business would fully sustain and support the libraries and, where possible, provide jobs and income to villagers. Among the local businesses established to support the READ Centers are an ambulance service, a furniture factory, storefront rentals, sewing, catering service and textile design and production.
For existing READ Centers, READ Global distributes funds according to its budget and strategic plan to the different library sites. In some cases, travelers restrict their donation to something special – a women’s center or computers, for example. In that case, Myths and Mountains will make sure that READ Global puts these monies into a restricted account that does what the donor wishes.
To date, how much has been raised?
About $15,000,000+ over the past almost 30 years.
Do project funds go into a separate account or to a foundation to ensure transparency and separation from business revenue? If not, what is your process to ensure financial accountability of donated funds?
Myths and Mountains sends all funds raised to READ Global. The READ tax forms are available on their website for all to see and READ is audited yearly.
Do travelers visit the project sites? Why or why not?
Myths designs group donor trips for READ Global, or for specific donors upon request. On READ trips to Nepal, India and Bhutan, travelers visit several READ libraries in different parts of the country, visit the READ office, meet with the local villagers who use the libraries, and spend time with local advisory board members.
On non-READ trips, Myths and Mountains tries to include visits to READ sites, when they fit with the program.
Do you offer opportunities for voluntourism and/or material donations? Why or why not?
Tourists can bring books or other materials with them on READ trips, but Myths does not specifically involve tourists in building the libraries. READ’s philosophy is that the construction and oversight need to be done by the local community. If tourists build the library, villagers do not have the same sense of personal ownership. READ is about a “hands up, not a hand out!”
How is the impact tourism promoted or marketed to guests?
The READ programs are advertised on the web, and there is a direct link to the READ website. Also, Myths and Mountains talks about READ on its Facebook and Twitter sites.
What type of educational opportunities and/or materials do you give to travelers?
Myths and Mountains provides travelers with a variety of materials and experiences. The READ programs are advertised on the web and there is a direct link to the READ website. Also, Myths and Mountains talks about READ on its Facebook and Twitter sites.
READ includes materials on READ in the return packets of every traveler it sends overseas each year.
How are you ensuring that your projects meet the most relevant needs of the community?
Villagers, by writing proposals and contributing to the construction of the READ Center, made abundantly clear that this is something they wanted for their village. Moreover, once the Centers were built and open, they belonged to the village and the village chose the different activities they wanted to bring to their community.
In order to make the READ Center the hub of village activity, the library was linked to other organizations providing literacy training, micro-credit, health and HIV/AIDS care, women’s empowerment, agricultural training, and other services. The various training programs provided to villagers greatly helped to empower the local people and create a sense of community cohesion.
The sustaining project not only contributed to the support of the Center, but often generated extra money for other community activities, including stipends for poor children, jobs for locals, a pre-school teacher – whatever the community wished.
Why do you feel your impact tourism program has been so successful?
READ Centers were totally bottom up operations, initiated by villagers, supported by villagers and, as NGOs, belonged to the village. Villagers took great pride in their operation and knew well that if the Center was a good library, their names were on it. If the Center was a bad library, their names were on it.
The READ Center benefitted most people in the community. Students had books to enjoy, teachers had reference materials, preschoolers had books and toys, all people have access to computers and audio-visual materials, and adults also had access to books and information – all in the local language.
What challenges has your company faced in developing a successful program?
As a program grows, planning for succession and the future with a program such as READ is critical. It cannot just depend on a founder. The Gates replication grant enabled Myths and Mountains and the READ founder, Dr. Antonia Neubauer, to find a permanent Executive Director who could help grow the board and the organization. Moreover, in order to allow others to develop ownership in the non-profit and empower new board members and the Executive Director, Dr. Neubauer stepped down as Board Chair, serving on the board as a regular member.
This change in leadership encouraged an infusion of new ideas and creativity, brought in a variety of new donors and increased READ’s visibility. Most recently, READ Global has developed a partnership with IREX called “Communities Thrive.” IREX is based in Washington, DC and works in 120 countries to build a more just, prosperous, and inclusive world by empowering youth, cultivating leaders, strengthening institutions and extending access to quality education and information.
Not only has the collaboration with IREX allowed READ to develop new center programs, such as “Tech Age Girls” and an anti-trafficking program, but also to expand into new countries, such as the Cote d’Ivoire.
In essence, today’s READ is a stronger, more vibrant organization, with a dynamic board that can take it to the next level of growth. Myths and Mountains is still an important participant, but now there are other individual and corporate participants with strong financial stakes in the organization