Lending a Hand

23 10 2008

Maasai children                                              (Lake Natron, Tanzania)

I used to love visiting the shops with my grandmother on pension day. I was extraordinarily adept at tugging on her coat, lovingly gazing up at her, batting my big eyes and with gut-wrenching sincerity and heart-tugging earnestness pronouncing my life-long dream to own a particular toy car, book or model aircraft. Quicker than you can say “emotional blackmail”, the target of my efforts would be in a small bag in my hand and life would be great…until I reached home, my parents scolded me for my calculating manipulation and my new acquisition would be confiscated. Until the next pension cheque.

 

Sadly, for millions of children throughout the world, their lives are consumed not with a longing for toys or games, but for food and the basic essentials of life. Even more sadly, many of these children live in developing countries visited each year by millions of tourists who stay in unimaginable luxury just minutes from terrible poverty and in many cases the only time the two meet is when the children approach the tourists with hands outstretched begging for money or gifts.

 

Not so many years ago, tourists were often encouraged to take pens, balloons or sweets to developing countries to give to the children encountered along the way. It was not unusual to pack a plastic bag full of gifts and treats to give to the children who invariably crowd around tourist buses or shops looking for a hand-out. Most tourists did this out of the goodness of their hearts, but unfortunately these good intentions created a sometimes hostile environment and a culture of begging that is in no one’s best interest.

 

I know I am incredibly lucky and I am constantly grateful for everything I have and everything I have seen and done. I am painfully aware of the suffering of others less fortunate and do what I can to assist their terrible plight. However, whereas once I would indeed enthusiastically give to these children and feel good about it, I now see the problem that this causes and the dehumanising affect it has on the children themselves.

 

That doesn’t mean to say that you can’t interract and contribute along the way, however.

 

Many tour operators partner with local communities so that donations of clothes, pens or other items can be given to a school or a village elder for distribution. This not only ensures that visitors are still able to help, but it also eliminates the less palatable encounters between travellers and locals.  If travelling independently, check with NGOs and other charitable organisations like UNICEF before you travel and ask their opinions.

 

It can be hard saying no to a small child wearing rags when you know that your pockets are stuffed with more money than their family earns in a year. But if handled correctly you can not only assist them infinitely more by better distributing your gifts but you can also help restore their childhood innocence by instead sharing a high-five, a silly dance or even just a genuine smile and laugh.

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

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Travel Words of Wisdom – No. 7

24 07 2008

Natron

Lake Natron, Tanzania

 

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”

Maya Angelou

 

Photo by: Allen Bollands Post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008





Tourist vs Traveller

20 06 2008

Maasai1

Lake Natron, Tanzania

The difference between a tourist and traveller is not determined by cost, age, style or destination. It is based entirely on outlook and attitude. You can just as easily find a traveller in a 5-star hotel as you can a tourist in more humble accommodation. You may just as easily encounter a traveller on the beaches of the Dominican Republic or Mexico, as you will a tourist in remote China or Peru.

 

A traveller lives every moment of their trip. They are appreciative of every inch of new ground that they are exploring and of everything around them. They notice the faint smells of cooking, wood smoke or blossoms that gently permeate the air. They notice the struggles or joys of life for the inhabitants: the complexities of shopping for food or taking the local transit; the status of a teacher; the local icons or heroes; the approachability and honesty of the police. They glance at the local newspaper and observe the cost of living. They strive to keep a low profile and leave behind a positive impression of visitors wherever they go, and always attempt to be polite, culturally sensitive and attempt at least a few words of the local language. They sample the food, they listen to the music and they respect local customs. They haggle for souvenirs respectfully. They read before they go, they are aware of events while they are there, and continue to take an interest once at home.

 

A tourist simply substitutes the comforts of home for the comforts of a hotel. They don’t stray from the property or travel only within the secure confines a well-managed group. They stick only to the food they know. They take no interest in their surroundings and attempt no interaction with the local people. When it is all over, they can barely differentiate between this year’s vacation and last year’s.

 

Being a traveller does not mean sacrificing comfort, taking risks or forging ahead alone. You might just as easily be sleeping in a luxury hotel and travelling as part of a small group. There is nothing elitist about being a traveller. The status does not discriminate against infirmity or education or wealth, it is simply a genuine appreciation of one’s surroundings regardless of where those surroundings might be.

 

It is about drawing the maximum possible reward from your travels and enriching your life with exploration of new cultures, religions, languages and lifestyles.

 

It is what travel is all about.

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008