Tag Archives: Volunteering

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.

Little Footprints

15 Days until Hakuba….

Last week after work, I went down the street to my local bookshop. I used to spend hours and hours in the nearby Borders researching about traveling and whichever country I was about to go to, but those are all dead and gone. So, now the closest thing was this store. They had one book on Tokyo and one on Japan, and that was all for Japan in their travel section. Now this adorable, marvelous, super helpful local store is just wonderful for actually having a travel section at all, since they are primarily a Africa smaller independent shop. So, I wasn’t about to complain. Right next to my Japan book, I noticed another one by Lonely Planet. It was an international volunteering book. I had never seen or heard of a general volunteering book like this so I flipped through and thought: what the heck, I’ll buy it! (Impulse buying and me are on some rough terms) While I was checking out, the bookstore girl asked me if I had ever read a book called “Little Princes.” I had never heard of it. She said it was about a 20 something year old guy who went to volunteer in Nepal and ended up with an amazing story. I asked if she had a copy and she went to get it. As soon as she put that bright blue book in my hand, for some reason, I decided to buy it. I didn’t even open the cover or read the back. Now, I’m not sure if this was impulse buying or the divine inspiration pushing me in a direction, but all said and done…I bought it.

It is a week later and I have not put the thing down. I read it on my way to the L, on the L, on my walk to work and home from work laughing and tearing up and cheering him on. I’m sure people who see me must think I am crazy. This guy named Conor ends up planning this trip around the world after living in Prague for a couple years. But he doesn’t want to appear selfish because that’s all a year of traveling must seem like to others. Pure selfishness. How incredibly ignorant for one to give themselves the blessing of travel. Please. But all the same, he decided to do something to help launch off his big year to assist mankind…check it out:

“But there was something about volunteering in a Third World orphanage at the outset of my trip that would squash any potential criticism. Who would dare begrudge me my year of fun after doing something like that?” (Grennan 7)

But after he is there for three months he suddenly forms this connection with the kids and the country itself (even while it is in a state of war). It tells the story of how he comes back and about each individual child and the passion he builds in these couple of years for this promise he has made to them. I don’t know what it is about it. I feel almost…guilty. I want to help too. I want to make a difference and hold a child because no one has held them in years. I want to fight and be a voice for someone without one. But here I am talking about how much I love to travel and see the world and experience the different cultures. I have been in situations where I have seen kids of the Third World and played with them. I have been to schools with not enough books or desks for all the kids in mud huts. But what difference have I made? What do my words mean to anyone?

I have a strong belief, that we all have paths. Maybe not necessarily fates, but paths that we must follow and that will lead us to a place we are supposed to be in our lives. I know I am meant to follow a path that will result in big changes. I am not sure when or how or who. But I somehow know it. Something deep down connects with me and I San Diegocan’t help but to feel anxious to begin my own work, whatever that may be. It’s funny because I have known this about myself for a few years now, but this fellow Conor, well…he had no idea and fell head first into it and made such an gigantic impact it’s hard to even comprehend all of it.

When traveling, I meet hundreds of people. Most are travelers themselves and others are friendly locals. I know that I have an impact on them just as they have touched me, but is it for the better or worse?  Maybe this is something that I need to keep in mind more often. Perhaps becoming more aware of the print you leave not just on a country but on the people who cross your path is exactly what this traveling addiction is all about. Maybe. Or maybe I should get off my computer and actually go volunteer.

I’ve started research on Japan. I can’t wait to be on that plane and heading into one of the oldest cultures in history….more to come….

My Malawi

Have you ever heard that Christmas song “Do They Know it’s Christmas” by Band Aid from 1984? It is an amazing dedicated piece to those in poverty in Africa (specifically Ethiopia at that time). It is beautiful and passionately sung by famous artists like Bono, David Bowie, Boy George, Sting, Duran Duran and so many more. It stands up for such a commendable purpose and raised so much awareness and money for the cause. I love that song. Great song. However. There is a line my mom pointed out to me in one of the lyrics a couple years ago and I can ONLY hear that now whenever the song plays and it sticks with me the wrong way. The line goes “And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time. The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life. Where nothing ever flows, no rain or rivers flow.  Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?”

We hopped out of the white, clanky, old van which we were being escorted around Malawi in, and into the blazing sunlight. It is another steamy day in the outlands of Malawi, but the sky is bluer than blue and the wind is cooling the skin off quite nicely. We had arrived in another village which is made up of scrap metal and brick huts, just as the other villages we had been to in the days prior. I make my way to the back of the van, where I already knew the routine to grab the camera bag and tripod for the videographer and photographer.  I hurriedly catch up to the front doorway of the client’s house where the rest of the team is, because I don’t want to drag behind and slow anyone down. Their work is much more crucial and it is important that I am there to assist whatever they need.

As they begin to take the pictures of the clients home and family, I notice the pack of children that belonged to this village are much more brave and bold than any other kids we have met. And there seems to be so much more of them. They keep giving the “peace sign” or other finger type signs and jumping into the camera shots. I decide to take it upon myself to start shaking some of the kids’ hands who were standing to my side and just staring up at me. I knew that it was partially because I was a stranger and partially because my porcelain, ghostly white skin and bright yellow hair must have looked awfully odd glowing in the sunlight to them. I then see this little boy with huge, bright eyes. I stuck out my hand flat in an offering of a traditional “high five.” He shook it. I shook my head no. I put my hand up again he just stared at me with a huge smile painted across his face.

Teaching highfives to the Malawi kids
Teaching highfives to the Malawi kids

My mom (who was heading up the entire trip) suddenly came over to where I was standing and said that she noticed how the kids were slowly migrating towards me, and that she was going to go with the client and the crew to the client’s peanut field so that she could hopefully get some shots without kids jumping in them. And just like that, they were gone. I turn back to where I was playing with that little boy and there are triple the amount of kids there now. They are all looking at me. Most of them are smiling, but all eyes are focused on me. There is even a clic of teenage girls who I hadn’t even seen who had joined the crowd. Luckily, I have been a children’s theatre teacher for several years and had a couple of games I could play without have to use any words since they really could not understand a whole lot of English. It looks like my mom and the team where pretty far gone and I was alone in an African village so I knelt down on the ground and started to perform and play. A few minutes later the team came back and it was time to go. The same boy who I started teaching a “high five” to, followed me to the van, followed me to the door, then as the van pulled away he followed the van through the fields for at the least two whole miles waving goodbye. He never once hesitated. Just kept jogging through the field after the van waving. I watched him until tears were streaming down my face. And then he stopped. He had gone as far as he could and he stopped and stared after the van.

The people (and children) of Africa in these impoverish towns and villages ARE poor. They do have troubles and worries. They have malnutrition. They have dirty water and barely any shoes. But they have one thing I rarely ever see in any American. They have a full heart of pride and happiness. They pride themselves on the work they do do and the love they give one another. While I was in Africa I was incredibly jealous, because every single human being we interacted with was happy and delighted. They were thrilled to meet us and just to share a piece of their day with us strangers. I never see that happiness in the States, or even Europe. They are by far the most grateful people I have ever met and they are the people that have the least. They gave me a strong dose of learning to live my life to the fullest, which is surprisingly hard to do.

How my mom and the team found me when they came back
How my mom and the team found me when they came back

The thing is, you do not need white snow, or presents wrapped in sparkling paper, or fruit cake, or a beef tenderloin dinner to know that it is Christmas. All we all need for Christmas is the people we love with us, and our lives. Life is such a fragile thing and often taken for granted (especially around the holidays). So. Of course the people/Christians of Africa know that it is Christmas time. In fact, they celebrate the spirit of Christmas all year round, much more so than any of the rest of us. We can all learn from these far away folks, I know I have.

I wanted to dedicate this post and take a moment to wish a Happy Christmas in quite a dark hour to:

Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeleine, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Avielle, Benjamin, Allison, Rachel, Dawn, Anne Marie, Lauren, Mary, Victoria

As well as their family and friends in Newtown, Connecticut. My heart goes out to you during this holiday time and time of sorrow.