Category Archives: Africa

Baggage woes

Well I am on my way to Ecuador. Preparations did not go as smoothly as I normally plan for them to go. You have to know yourself. Me? imageWell I over analyze and stress. This is why I spend so much time preparing for my trips. So I ask myself: why on earth did I wait until 11 the night before I leave to start? Talk about stress. Good grief. I’ll start with the one thing I regret not getting for “packing” is a baggage lock. When flying to Africa in 2006, we were with a couple of photographers with high end equipment and needed my carry on space. So my mom had me put my own professional camera in my bag. By the time we reached Johannesburg after making a fuel stop in Darfur…my bag had been sifted through and my camera was absent from its case. You would think I would always lock my bag after that. Well lesson learned: I haven’t put anything of value in a checked bag since. However this trip I am toting a lot of new things for my cousin. I would feel awful if any were taken. Think good thoughts please (I bought a lock at O’Hare for the way back)image So what other essentials? We are headed to the jungle, so I have important items in my carry on with me: Malaria pills High socks Deet bug repellent Flashlight Long sleeve zip up hoodie Organic DR BRONNER soap to be ecofriendly And the regular “wouldn’t part with in a million years”: Passport Immunization record Money Credit cards Phone Decoy phone and wallet for bus ride (JIC) Yes I have favorite jeans and favorite TShirts but you have to narrow your stuff in your life down to the essentials. You can survive for a week or two with one outfit….you may smell….but you will survive.

How To: Third World Travel

Third World travel from the Western World can be a tricky and sensitive thing. You want the truth?

You WILL be asked for money from someone who is so sweet and

Me assisting my mother while she works with the African clients in Malawi
Me assisting my mother while she works with the African clients in Malawi

lovely that your heart just might literally break. If you give that person money, there is a possibility of about 98% that they will tell their neighbor and their neighbor will come to you asking for the same. And it will continue until you must say no, and now you have introduced jealousy and greed and hate into the community. You WILL be asked for your phone number and/or email address, and however lovely it may seem to keep in touch with such wonderful people….you will then be asked to help financially. You being there is special, so much so that how could the people in this third world community not take the opportunity to see if you would give them a leg up? You WILL fall in love with the children whose entire being signifies “innocence.”

Truth: A wonderful present to give back to the people of the 3rd world is a smile and conversation.

Polaroid gift in Malawi Third World
Having a choppy conversation with a woman in Malawi

Truth: Taking a Polaroid camera for pictures to give back, is unlike anything I could compare. Most people have never had their picture taken and if they have they have not kept it. The look on this woman’s face viewing herself laughing frozen in a moment in time  is irreplaceable in my memory.

Truth: There IS danger in the 3rd world. Government regulations, informal sectors, driving….anywhere, wild animals, poisonous insects, and of course parasites living in produce waiting to feast in my stomach.

Third World travel is not impossible. It is not something to avoid, but is something that deserves respect and awareness. These people should be met. They are inspirational. These communities are beautiful and insightful on how we all should live. However they do

Volunteering in Malawi
Teaching high fives

NOT deserve to be treated like “human zoo’s.” This is a term I actually read in a blog about a travel writer who signed up for a tour into the slums of Manila (the Philippines). A tour of the mountain of garbage and people living off of this mountain. An actual tour. She stated that it was eye opening and unlike any experience she has ever had.

Let me just say it one more time: A tour group specifically designed to take people of the Western World to view those in poverty.

I have been fortunate to go to this same place. Her pictures hit me

Smokey Mountain
Smokey Mountain

hard thinking about my experience with the children and parents living off of that garbage and smelling that smell everyday. However, I went with a non-profit organization that was compiling success stories of people working themselves through poverty and out. We were there to congratulate a group of those people for working hard and to acknowledge their efforts. I am appalled that such a tour group exists benefiting off of others misfortune, and even more so that people are signing up for it. They are not an exhibit to view, to open YOUR eyes.

Please if you go to these incredible areas and meet these inspiring people (and you should), please treat them as PEOPLE.  Enjoy your time there. Learn to say “thank you” in their tongue. But please stop staring. Please do not support these tour groups.

Third World Travel
Alone in the village in Ghana

They are too good to be treated so poor.

The Ethical Volunteer Campaign

I live in Chicago, Illinois in the United States of America. I was raised and born in the suburbs of Chicago. They are predominantly white, middle class, low crime communities in Midwest America. I have never wanted for anything. Of course as a child I would want 189777_515395705940_4874_nfancy things, but never anything essential. Don’t get me wrong, it was not all rainbows and puppy dogs the entire time. My mother worked her tail off to put me into a good private school and to help me feel that I never wanted for anything. She worked very hard. Nonetheless, I was in sports camps, played on basketball and volleyball teams, had theatre classes, and was (along with my family) a practicing Catholic. A very good life. So what is it that I could possibly offer to anyone else? Just because I was raised in such a positive world, does this mean that I am any better than anyone raised elsewhere?

I have always wanted to volunteer. I thought for a long time about the Peace Corps. But because I was exposed to tuberculosis in 1999, I would have been a liability to the organization. Then I began to think about Americorps. But then, I felt that I needed to do something more than go and build a house for a month and leave. I wanted to make a sustainable impact. Then I became selfish. My career took precedence.  I hate to admit it. But it did. I wanted to be in theatre and I wanted to make a solid background for myself and the volunteering world was shoved aside. Every day, I have still wanted to make my difference in the world. It was just a question of what I could possibly do. I’ve been asking myself as of lately what it is that developing worlds have a disadvantage of that I never did.

  1. Governments. Try looking up the “Informal Sector” in Malawi. The countries government’s solution to end poverty is just to get rid of the people who are impoverished (aka starving them). My government (while not perfect by any means) has always supported my right to freedom, to a job, to a vote, and to loan money for a higher education.
  2. The school my mother decided to enter me into gave me lessons and knowledge at a very early age of technology so that I may grow with the industry as it advances.
  3. While it may not seem like today there are very many jobs, I have the ability to apply for whatever I want no matter my race, my gender, or my age.
  4. America has the top number of universities and colleges in the world. I have to opportunity to attend any and any trade school at that.

So what exactly what use am I? I may not be a trained teacher, but I love kids and I know my alphabet. I have a background in management that most people do not and I could teach and guide others how to manage a business or people. I happen to know how to use a computer (even if it is just the basics) and could show others how to use one to their best advantage. I know that this world needs to be environmentally friendly through what I read in the media and articles and books, so I can help teach the next generation to be


aware of keeping our world clean and growing. There are a million of things I could do by taking direction from those volunteers who need the help in teaching their own skills. Volunteering is a truly great thing. No matter where you are from. It is not that I am better and trying to make someone like me, but that I am trying to better their world by lending a hand to possibly give them a step up in the direction they want to go in. Everyone needs a little boost in life every once in a while. Whether that boost is a holiday bonus within the corporate world in the middle of New York, or teaching a child how to type on a keyboard in a small village in South America.

I have decided to become a part of a program, created by a lovely Irish woman named Sarah. It is to help people learn how to volunteer without being sucked in by major holiday corporations who take advantage of people who just want to help. The term “voluntourism” is making its way around lately and is growing. This is when a volunteer gives a large sum of money towards a corporation to go to a town in need and then also has the advantage to travel while there. While this all sounds well and good, almost none of the money is going towards the town and none towards the program in need. The volunteers are left 56_515398929480_1454_nwithout a prayer in the world of direction and thrown into a situation that seems just impossible. With Sarah Carroll’s program, volunteers are able to contact the volunteering organizations directly without a middle man of the corporate world. They can relate to the organization and find out exactly what they need and give back to community by staying in local hotels, eating at local restaurants, and buying at local stores. This way they are giving back even more into the economy of the town. Sounds like a really valuable project doesn’t it? They are creating the connections and knowledge of how to do it independent and ethically through a series of videos. So to help them I am reaching out to news stations and friends to ask for donations of filming equipment. Definitely check out their campaign for The Ethical Volunteer and help to spread the word. It’s the least I can do.