WHAT YOU CAN DO > make your holidays more "socially conscious"


























It is amazing how many things you can do for and with the local population while you are traveling. Wherever you go, you will be faced with a multitude of opportunities to show genuine interest in how local people live and think and to understand more about what your position is with respect to the local situation and how to act in a responsible manner. See www.lonelyplanet.com/responsibletravel/ for their point of view. Here is ours:

Traveling sometimes gives us a feeling of being intrusive and not knowledgeable about the place, its people, national politics etc. This sensation is quite probably right. But there are many things you can do or bring to make your presence a positive moment not only for yourself but also in local people's lives. It is easy to enhance your understanding of a situation and to act accordingly.

Think of something which can get you in touch and exchange with people, just to reverse this endless buying stuff from them and giving them money after some haggling about the price. Often we are intimidated by our richdom compared to their belongings and expectations. The only way to come to terms with this is to be creative and to turn towards people with resourcefulness. 

Here are just some hints, but be assured that you just need to open your eyes to know what you could offer:

Be positive and step back: you are not traveling to find the exact same situation as at home or at other destinations you have been to previously. You are a guest and not a judge. People may have different ways to go about daily situations and this is based on their knowledge, traditions and value systems. Be patient, be awake, use your brain, try to understand, try to see the reasons for behaviour and try to see positive features of what is going on around you. You will have a much better experience and you will 'earn' more smiles and positive reactions in return. Use your knowledge and intelligence to value whether a situation or behaviour is bad or dangerous and do not rely solely on your intuition.

You are curious - so are locals: bring pictures of your home country, your family, the mountains, the sea, the snow, the cities, the cars, the pets. Show them parts of your life but be sensitive and use your judgment to not embarass them for anything. 

Show interest: ask what you are curious about but respect local customs, religion and role models. Prepare yourself and read a guidebook before you ask in order not to offend people.

Lower the barrier and communicate: bring a picture dictionary or a guide book with local information in the local language. Some words are enough to at least say hello, thank somebody, say your name, ask for theirs, the number of children, and so many more things. Use your hands and your drawing skills !

Bring books - In many countries books and reading in general is pure luxury and affordable to very few people. There is censorship in many places. Bringing a couple of novels or fact books, take some copies of the National Geographic from home, ideally in English depending on where you go, is a very welcome gift to many people who may share books with a wide range of people or sell them to make extra money. 

Buy books locally and give them to schools etc  - Even if you are in areas where schools exist, they will often not have resources to buy text books for pupils or novels to read from. While you stroll around on markets and in shops, you will pass by at used books stands etc. Get a couple of them for very little money and drop them with somebody who is the best person to use them properly and give them away. We found many very enthusiastic 'distributors' and very well informed people in religious institutions. 90% of reactions we have had so far are people craving for books and knowledge from outside, especially the teachers themselves who very often rank at the very low end of the income ladder but are supposed to transmit enthusiasm for learning to children without even having the minimum of intellectual input themselves.

Accept invitations - in most cultures other than the typical Western cultures, it is absolutely crucial to invite strangers into the home, to the village, for a meal. Even if they have much less than you have, even if they cannot spare anything - its obligatory to open your house. Westerners are not used to this, they are embarassed, they feel forced, they are uncomfortable... but turning down invitations will make potential hosts feel most turned down and worse, humiliated. If you can take the time, do accept the invitation, obviously using your own judgement of the situation. It can be the possibility of a lifetime (and you can refuse to eat certain things if you refer to stomach problems etc), think about leaving a little souvenir to offer to them or bring something as a gesture and a way to return the favour. Read your guidebook to find out about regional traditions.

You are a admirer of local crafts ?  They may be interested in looking at something or having it which is typical for your region or the season of the year, your preferred pattern in a fabric and the like.

You like their music ? Bring a tape with your preferred music and get them to find a tape recorder or give them your headphones or sing it to them. Make them smile or listen or laugh.

You like little gifts and surprises from guests ? People all over the world like them too. Don't get it wrong, its neither about covering them with Euro or Dollar bills, nor is it about going to the drugstore before heading of and buying shampoo bottles and rendering your backpack even heavier. Its about taking those ten pens which are piling up on a shelf at home, about creams or perfumes that you are not using any more, about samples which you are carrying along for unpredictable situations, about gagdets from the airlines on longhaul flights, little soaps and all these things which you can spare. 

Begging and giving money - having heard and seen many fellow travellers raging about begging as a disturbing part of the picture in most developing coutries, we feel this is absolutely inadequate. It certainly is not the beggars favourite choice and it is an obvious reaction in countries without social security system and with travellers who do have a standard of living several times better than them. It is a topic to be dealt with a good portion of patience. and judgement. There are many recommendations also in guide books regarding  giving money to beggars. Our experience is - there is no rule to it. Depending on where you are, what the local conditions are and what your personal situation is, you may decide differently from day to day. In some areas, the begging is an organized trade, in others the only way of survival. 
A good indicator for 'is it a need or a business ?' can be to offer to buy something to eat or to offer something which you just bought. You'll see quickly whether it was just about the money and not about the hunger. This is all easy to say but it certainly is more difficult to handle in reality. 

Kids and begging: kids are often used to increase the begging outcome; by refusing to give to them, you are boycotting this policy and they might be able to go to school instead, but again, this is never easy to judge. Very often, they rather would like to play with you and paint something or they ask for a pen or something which became fashionable with tourists this season... You can just try to make it turn into a game and make them laugh and run with you instead of giving money.

Women: having been confronted with begging very very often and having studied the problems linked to society in many countries, it seems advisable to rather give to women instead of men. After all, it seems that women usually run the household, care for the kids and do most of the work. Even in many development projects, the focus on empowerment is on women as they guarantee for more sustainability of development than men.


Work in progress...





























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 awareness non-profit nonprofit non profit business professionals development activities

awareness non-profit nonprofit non profit business professionals development activitiesawareness non-profit nonprofit non profit business professionals development activities

awareness non-profit nonprofit non profit business professionals development activities