We live in an age when travel is a normal part of life. Catching a plane is almost as easy as catching a train. The world has become more accessible and so has the need for more unique and exciting experiences.
I’d like to think that we make conscious decisions every day. Decisions that impact others around us, the environment, wildlife, communities. Whether it is avoiding slave labour or plastic packaging in the products we purchase, or adopting a pet from a shelter instead of funding puppy farms, I believe we are all trying to live life with more awareness of the consequences of our decisions and choices.
This habit can extend to travel. Indeed, for many travelers, making a difference to the communities they visit, is a matter of priority, to others not so. Some want to fly somewhere, have a great time, leave their rubbish, and come home.
But for others, contributing to the lives of the locals, is of importance. Simple decisions can make a lasting impact to the communities we visit. You can have a wonderful holiday and make a difference to the country or community you visit. There are places that count heavily on tourism sustaining them, although sadly this also comes at a cost. Manipulation, corruption and greed, lead to taking advantage of the vulnerable, profiting from the victims of society. You can end up inadvertently contributing to slave labour, fake charities and poverty. Orphanage tourism is thriving in many poor countries.
I wanted to use my blog to highlight some of the ways in which you can help and to warn of some of the ways you can get drawn into unwittingly making things worse.
Below are some ideas to make a difference to the places you visit, but don’t stay here on my blog, go and search for yourself too. Grab pen and paper and let the ideas flow!
Volunteer with a reputable organisation to help in a wildlife reserve, children’s home, or environmental project. This article by Frommer’s has some fabulous ideas.
Teach or use a skill. Look for local organisations (always try to make sure they are genuine) who need some help. It could be teaching English to local kids or adults who need a bit of pronunciation help, or doing some plastering or repairs in poor homes. If you are a musician, entertainer or children’s performer, you can visit a hospital, hospice, nursing home or orphanage and bring some cheer. Make sure you have followed local protocol and legal procedures. Ensure that you are not causing more harm than good for example in the way you present something that back in your home country would be harmless. Take into account local religious and cultural traditions, taboo subjects and those suffering from trauma. Innocent remarks can reawaken memories of abuse, war and suffering.
Don’t fund cruelty or exploitation. Use your eyes and logic to consider carefully what you are about to indulge in. Performing animals in streets have usually been mistreated, beaten to submission or are being drugged to allow tourists to take photographs with them. Elephant rides are popular but how have they been trained? Donkey rides up perilous mountains may look fun but are those donkeys well taken care of? Are they being rested, forced to carry more weight than they should, do they have sores on their bodies? Are there unusual items on menus for novelty value that cause damage to oceans or wildlife? Are souvenirs damaging to local oceans or wildlife? Ivory objects are made from the ivory tooth of slaughtered elephants, natural sponges can be cultivated from oceans depriving fish of natural shelter. Swimming with turtles or dolphins may be the dream of a lifetime but at what cost? Ask yourself the questions and do your research.
Volunteer through reputable charities and organisations which will know how best to use your skills. Even if you don’t feel that you have any specific skills, being available to help can make a huge difference. Simple admin, cleaning, helping in a kitchen, organisation, etc, can contribute to organisations and projects in a worthwhile way. The charity Mercy Ships ran a hospital ship providing medical care to the impoverished in Africa. Skilled or unskilled volunteers who can commit to a minimum of 3 months can help in many ways including serving meals, cleaning, preparing food, processing patient information, sitting with the sick to provide comfort and encouragement. As long as you are willing, there is a way to help. This is an excellent thorough article again from Frommer’s with plenty of ideas and organisations you can contact for further information.
Take part in a race. Canada based husband and wife team Dave and Deb took part in The Tour d’Afrique cycling race to raise awareness of the work of Plan Canada, a charity that helps communities all over the world through the individual sponsorship of children. You can read about their trip here and explore their blog for more information.
If you love running and marathons are your thing, target some destinations where you can run a marathon and raise funds for a worthy cause.
Use your skills and money back at home to spread awareness and raise funds for the communities that impacted you while traveling. Involve your social media network, personal friends, your children’s school or home educating community, your colleagues and local community. Write about what you saw and what others can do. You may not be able to physically do something but one of the people who reads what you have written, may be inspired to take up the mantle.
SANFAN. A friend who was like a father figure to me and who passed away recently, used to say ” SANFAN – See a need, fill a need” He lived his life with that motto. Wherever there was a need, Dave would do whatever he could to fill it. He was a true and humbling inspiration to me.
Recently, my friend Ije who lives locally to me in the U.K, became involved in helping an orphanage in Nigeria. Her parents who live there, had visited the orphanage and were shocked at the poverty and lack of food, clothing and resources. Orphans, traumatised from witnessing the murders of their parents by Boko Haram, have been left at this couple’s home and before they knew it they had 50 children living with them. Not being able to turn any away, meant having no resources to care for them.
Without a second thought my friend Ije, started to pull together resources and used her social media network to ask friends in the UK to contribute children’s clothing and shoes they no longer needed. From that one action, within weeks, she has set up a registered charity, sent an enormous shipment of clothes, shoes and books and raised enough money to feed the children fresh, nutritious food for the next few months. And this is just the beginning. Her charity will now take care of the orphanage and ensure that those children never go hungry again, are taken care of, nurtured, loved and educated to stand proudly in their community and have a bright future. One working mother in a small town in North West England who saw a need and filled it. If you feel inspired to support her this is her website.
Donate. Budget into your holiday plan, a donation to a worthy cause in the country you are visiting. This may take shape in the form of a direct financial donation to a genuine organisation making a difference there. Alternatively, it may mean using the money to purchase a piece of much needed equipment like a sewing machine, chickens that produce eggs for a poor family, baby clothes for a women’s shelter, food for a local food bank, art supplies for a children’s home.
Sponsorship. You are probably well acquainted with the many organisations that help communities through the sponsorship of children. If you are impacted by a country you have visited and want to make a longer lasting difference, you can sponsor a child. The money you give will support the child and their family, educate the child and give them hope for the future. Usually, you will receive a letter from your sponsored child once or twice a year with their news and you can write back. For £20-£40 per month, you can change the life of one child in our world. How awesome is that?
Just do something. If your heart is willing to do something, then you will find what that something is for you. Make your travel count for something more, leave a lasting impact, a legacy however big or small, every drop counts to fill an ocean.