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UPDATED: This article was originally published in September 2017

December would usually see us sipping mulled wine in winter markets across Europe or dipping our toes in the Pacific Ocean.

This year is a little different, and while our list of places to visit in December might include the letterbox and the grocery store, we’re still curious, we still want to explore, and we still want to learn. In this year’s round up, instead of suggesting the best places to visit in December, we’re going to take a look at what the locals will be up to, as well as sharing details of some of The Intrepid Foundation’s projects in various corners of the globe. While we might not be able to travel far this festive season, some of us may be in the fortunate position to be able to support local communities in need.

Founded in 2002, The Intrepid Foundation was established to give travellers a way to support trustworthy organisations and give back to the communities they’ve visited. Since its creation, The Intrepid Foundation has raised over AU $10 million for over 130 non-government organisations around the world for projects that tackle major issues like climate change, conservation, wildlife protection, education and child protection.

1. Tanzania

Group of Tanzanian porters.

Image c/o The Intrepid Foundation.

December in Tanzania is a lively and colourful time of year. It’s tradition to gift children with new clothes around Christmas time, often hand-sewn from bright patterned fabric more eye catching than any Christmas tree. Tanzanians love their beer, or “bia” in Swahili, and many villages brew their own. The beer is cracked open on Christmas Eve and clicked together over tasty chapati and spicy meat with rice.

On Mount Kilimanjaro, porters work tirelessly throughout the year to ensure the safety and comfort of trekkers. It’s a competitive job, and many tour companies offer low pay and poor working conditions. The Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project’s important mission is to improve the working conditions on Mount Kilimanjaro by helping travel companies implement procedures that ensure the fair and ethical treatment of porters.

Learn more about the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project

2. Peru

In the Andean communities of the Cusco region, reading coca leaves can give a glimpse of the year ahead. This spiritual practice has taken place since before Incan times, and has helped people make important decisions regarding their families and futures. Throwing the leaves in the air and observing the way they land on the ground is said to display signs and omens of events that are yet to happen (we wish they’d warned us about 2020).

In the city of Cusco, the Manos Unidas Café provides those with intellectual disabilities vocational training and practical work experience to help with future employment. The friendly staff serve up some of the best food and coffee in Cusco, while the café offers community workshops for locals on job rights, personal empowerment and other valuable life skills.

Learn more about the Manos Unidas Café.

READ MORE: FIVE OF THE BEST CHRISTMAS FOODS FROM AROUND THE WORLD

3. Antarctica

Whale breaching

Image by Thomas Kelley.

While it’s neighbouring continents are experiencing scorching summers, Antarctic temperatures peak at a cool zero, and fascinating and magical things begin to take place. As the days grow longer and temperatures gently rise, the sound of ice falling from giant glaciers reverberates through the vast landscapes, and humpback whales return from tropical waters. Seal pups are born, tiny penguins begin to hatch, and it’s courting season for seabirds.

In the twentieth century, over two million whales were hunted for commercial use, with some species nearing extinction. The WWF project “Protecting Antarctic Giants” focuses on protecting Antarctic habitats and the species that live in them. By collecting crucial data to inform policy plans, by 2030 the WWF hope to designate a third of the Southern Ocean as a marine protected area to safeguard the environment for future generations of whales.

Learn more about the WWF Protecting Antarctic Giants project.

4. Brazil

A sultry samba beat is the soundtrack to Brazil’s endless summer days. The sun is hot, the sea is warm and the closest thing they’re getting to snow is dreamy white sand beaches. Plastic pine trees are covered in tinsel and lights, and Christmas dinner is a reflection of Brazil’s fusion of cultures. Across the country locals will be tucking into Portuguese cod, German stollen, and Italian panettone.

In Rio de Janeiro you’ll find Gastromotiva, a zero-waste cooking school and restaurant which allows students experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage the opportunity to learn how to prepare amazing food in a sustainable way. After six months of training, students are placed in local restaurants, providing them with employment and the chance to spread an important zero-waste message.

Learn more about Gastromotiva.

READ MORE: UNUSUAL CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS FROM AROUND THE WORLD

5. Vietnam

Despite being a predominantly Buddhist country, Christmas is widely celebrated across Vietnam, with families coming together to throw confetti, share food and exchange gifts. Throngs of motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City zip under impressive light displays that would rival London’s Oxford Street. In Hanoi, locals’ shop for scarves and winter clothes in the Old Quarter before warming up with hearty bowls of Pho and rich egg coffee.

KOTO – Know One, Teach One is a social enterprise that trains and empowers at-risk and disadvantaged youth in Vietnam. The two-year training program not only teaches trainees skills in hospitality and the culinary arts, but also offers on-site psychological counselling, meditation exercises and workshops for personal development. Since KOTO’s inception in 1999, nearly a thousand graduates have completed the program with an internationality recognised qualification, all successfully finding employment post-training.

Learn more about KOTO – Know One, Teach One.

6. Morocco

Two Moroccan girls laughing

Image c/o The Intrepid Foundation

It’s winter in Morocco, and the nights in the desert are growing long and cold, while inhabitants of its humming cities welcome a break from the dry heat that engulfs the country for much of the year. A bright side to the shorter days is the incredible sunrises which can be appreciated without an early wakeup call, and the snow-capped Atlas Mountains make a beautiful backdrop for December in Morocco.

As many as 80% of girls in rural areas of Morocco are estimated to be illiterate. The cost of transport and accommodation for secondary school is unaffordable for many families, meaning few girls are able to continue their education after primary school. Education for All build and run boarding houses which allow girls to attend secondary school, while providing three meals a day, access to computers and support with their studies.

Learn more about Education for All.

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7. Sri Lanka

December’s full moon marks the beginning of the Adam’s Peak pilgrimage season, which sees visitors from across the country ascending Sri Lanka’s holiest mountain to view a sacred footprint. Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims have differing opinions on the origin of the footprint yet climb together in harmony to pay their respects. Locals will enjoy mild weather in the south of the country, and spend free time surfing, playing volleyball and backyard cricket.

Human and elephant conflict is an ongoing problem in Sri Lanka. Humans destroy elephant’s habitats to cultivate agricultural land, and the elephants in turn raid the crops and destroy farmer’s homes. The Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society developed Project Orange Elephant, which encourages farmers to grow oranges, a crop that elephants aren’t attracted to, thus keeping the elephants safe while supporting the livelihood of local communities.

Learn more about the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society.

READ MORE: OUR GUIDE TO CENTRAL EUROPE’S CHRISTMAS MARKETS

8. Turkey

Turkey is buzzing in the lead up to New Year’s Eve, one of the biggest holidays in the country. If you’re looking for luck, prosperity and health in the coming year, there are a few Turkish traditions you can try out as the clock ticks over. Smash a pomegranate on the street, throw salt on your doorstep, or wear red underwear for your best chance at a fruitful year ahead.

At Small Projects Istanbul, refugee women who have been displaced from their homes by conflict are given access to educational material and taught language, leadership and computer skills. They also learn how to craft sellable products like unique and beautiful clothing and jewellery. Children are offered childcare, language and psychosocial support to help them adapt to their new schools.

Learn more about Small Projects Istanbul.

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Looking for a worthy cause to support this festive season? Lend a hand to Communities in Crisis around the world.

Hero image via Shutterstock.

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