SalaamGarage: using social networks for social change



When the going gets tough...the tough get on a plane

It’s a rough time for job security for almost everyone I know.  From San Francisco to NYC, I have seen more furloughs and layoffs among my friends than I ever thought possible.  Yet, people across the country do not want to sit at home pinching the pennies and waiting for the economy to improve.  They still want to travel and they all still want to make a difference, possibly more than ever!  Discussing the economic downturn in the editor’s letter for the April 2009 Budget Travel Magazine, Nina Windorf wrote; “I just don't believe people are willing to stop traveling—it's such a part of what makes life worth living.” I agree, even as my job prospects dwindle I want to get out there and travel even more.  Why not?  We all might have all the time in the world soon….


SalaamGarage: See the World and Cause Change

SalaamGarage trips are unique.  It’s humanitarian work, storytelling and tourism all at the same time.  These stories need to be told.  Each traveler chooses a story idea from the list of projects Vatsalya (The NGO SalaamGarage collaborates with on their upcoming India/09 trip) staff has established.  It’s like getting an assignment from an online magazine.  Using writing, video, photography, or a combination of media for multimedia pieces, each SalaamGarage trip participant will share authentic stories with their own networks online and out in the world.




September 18, 2009, SalaamGarage will embark on the next Rajasthan, India trip with an enthusiastic and eclectic group of travelers ready to make a difference. We will visit NGO Vatsalya in Jaipur, India.  Our team will spend about a week in Jaipur working together on our stories, ideas, and experiences. SalaamGarage founder Amanda Koster and I will lead brainstorming sessions about how to create and work on a story no matter what skills each traveler brings to the table.  While in Jaipur, we will see some people using Twitter and Facebook for their story platforms, live, real-time from India - while others will create multimedia projects they will work in India and back home.  Writers will likely do both.  Some people will team up creating duos of writer and photographer to cover their story.


Use your social network:

On Facebook, the average 25-35 year old has considerably more than 200 Facebook friends.  Every traveler on a SalaamGarage trip gets to fill the role of citizen journalist, filling the gap left by traditional journalism.  By using their own social networks to inspire action and spread knowledge, everyone has the opportunity to become more of a global citizen than they have ever imagined.

That’s powerful. 



Danielle Williams -  Flickr site about Vatsalya


Vatsalya Udayan Campus Conrad Chavez

Conrad Chavez  Vatsalya Website


About SalaamGarage Tour leader Maggie Soladay (me):

I joined the SalaamGarage team in 2008 after founder Amanda Koster lead the first SalaamGarage trip to NGO Vatsalya in Jaipur, the Rajasthan region of India. SalaamGarage solves the problem I have always had while traveling the world with my camera.  Now I get to do something meaningful and cause change with my documentary photography in a sustainable way while still pursuing my passions: traveling, eating, shooting pictures, and teaching.

In my 20’s, I was active using my skills to make a difference for other programs that created a foundation for my work with SalaamGarage.  While attending Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore, I founded a project to gift family portraits to poor families affected by HIV/AIDS, collaborating with the pediatric AIDS care clinic at the University of Maryland Hospital in downtown Baltimore. Once a month students from MICA and I would set up a portrait studio in the hallway at the clinic and photograph families in their best outfits, sharing photographs with the families. I regretted that I didn’t establish a way for the project to continue after I left the school. 

In the late 90s in Portland and Seattle, I was a mentor for Youth in Focus.  I learned a lot about creating a sustainable project.  Youth in Focus empowers at-risk teens to tell their own stories through photography. However, I never told any stories myself.  The web wasn’t available to me to spread the word about the work that was happening at the Baltimore clinic or at Youth in Focus. 

These invaluable experiences prepared me to create and lead SalaamGarage trips.  My 13 years in the media business, 5 of which I have worked as a photography editor and producer, have taught me the limitless possibilities a story has to cause change.  SalaamGarage entered the Web2.0 world with a bang. The traditional media landscape is changing really fast.  SalaamGarage fills a void where authentic, positive stories about individuals can and are being told.


Maggie Soladay



My SalaamGarage India/09 project and goal:

SalaamGarage and each participating NGO work together (the NGO takes the lead) to create story ideas for participants.  These are stories and programs that need to be shared. I have chosen the Karuna project at Vatsalya.  The Karuna project is an activity and outreach van that parks in the Jaipur slums.  Karuna volunteers provide games and education while staff work to identify orphaned or homeless children.  My story will be created using audio, writing, and photography.  I will record ambient sounds of the van visiting the children and interviews with staff combined with writing about how the van goes about its work in the slums. 

My goal (and I believe it's really important to set goals, it's how they come true) is to raise enough money when I return from Rajasthan so the van can do its mission in the slums more than once a month.  Currently, Vatsalya has just enough resources for the Karuna van to go out every 4 or 5 weeks.  Other travelers are choosing to follow one child through their daily life at Udayan: the Vatsalya home for children, or tell the story of two women who have built a sustainable business with micro loans they received from Vatsalya’s DURGA program. 

When I create my story about Karuna in September, I will share my story and create a call to action. I will raise funds so the van gets out more frequently by sharing with my 400+ friends on Facebook, Flickr, and my Twitter followers.  If just a small percent of my community clicks through, I’ll have reached hundreds of people who know and trust me.  The majority of the people in my online social networks have known me and my work for years.   I am confident many will respond given the opportunity to help Vatsalya in its mission and in turn, help me reach my goal!

Joins us in India. Join our community, our movement to combine travel with authentic storytelling and change. 10% of SalaamGarage profits go directly to each participating NGO.


In March 2009 Vatsalya founder Jaimala wrote a story that is published here at  To learn more about Jaimala and Vatsalya’s work: click here


Video: Amanda Koster delivering keynote about SalaamGarage at Web 
2.0 in San Francisco, 4/09.






Comments (1)

  • shariexo

    8 years 7 months ago

    Thank you for sharing this information about some terrific projects. I haven't been traveling since my 3 year old son was born but I hope to begin traveling and hopefully living abroad with him. I am proud to live in a country with Obama as president but that doesn't mean I don't still want to see the world and meet new people. Thanks for the encouragement!


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