Travelling responsibly

Children statue

Travel. It’s one of those things, like probably countless others, that I have a habit of taking for granted.

It is, after all, pretty easy to take things for granted. Often I forget quite how lucky I am that the most difficult decisions in my life are whether or not to go with the chicken or fish as I sit in a pressurised container, six miles up in the sky, and get confused as to how to operate the magic box in the seat back in front of me.

Of course, when I think about it a bit, and also as I travel, my eyes open as to the reality of the world around me, and how not everyone is quite so lucky to have the choices before them that I have.

This is why I’m pleased to say that this month I’m going to be working with a few other travel bloggers and doing a couple of charity related posts (there’s going to be less nudity this time though!), to see if I can use this blog perhaps to help out a bit. Hopefully that works for you.

In today’s post I’m going to be talking about responsible tourism, and given how much I’m into travel, being responsible seems like a wise way to go.

Sunset sailboat lake Constance

Particularly, today I’m going to be highlighting the issue of child protection in volunteer tourism, with some thoughts towards the end on how you can help. None of which require any financial contribution at all.

Let’s start with me. I’ve never taken part in any kind of volunteer tourism, like helping out at an elephant sanctuary or spending time with kids at an orphanage.

It has always felt like it is terribly difficult to tell if a charitable organisation is something that is an actual force for good. Questions float around in my mind. Is the money going to the right places? Are the people or animals who are supposed to be being helped, actually seeing any benefit?

Or is all the hard work, the money, the good intentions, all quietly filtered away as it gets closer to its goal, with no real impact on the ground? Even worse, is an artificial world of need being created, in order to milk guilt ridden consumers & travellers? I’m sure that there are genuinely great charitable organisations out there – but how does one sort the good from the bad?

In the case of children, the pond is particularly murky. Barbara Weibel, writing on her site Hole in the Donut, wrote a fascinating piece on an orphanage in Nepal, relaying a first hand experience of a case where charity doesn’t seem to be all it is on the outside. There was the documentary about  Cambodia's orphan business. As often seems to be the case in life – once money gets involved, morals start to get a bit loose.

My personal experience of tourism and children predominantly comes from that uncomfortable feeling of wandering around a country with children tugging at my clothing, and wondering if I should be giving them money, or food, or if by doing so I’m somehow feeding a giant monster of a problem that would be easier for me to ignore rather than address.

Sunrise

Luckily though, there are people out there, like the folks behind People and Places, who are actively working to increase transparency, to raise consumer awareness, and to ensure that the volunteer tourism sector actually does the good it aims for.

One of the campaigns that People and Places are running is the Better Child Protection initiative, which aims to raise awareness of the far-reaching impact that tourism can have on children’s lives, from child prostitution and sex trafficking through to street begging and the previously mentioned “orphanage business”.

They spoke at this years World Travel Market in London (link to presentation), and the linked video is a great way to get more of an idea of what they’re all about. We wanted to give them a hand in raising their profile, as well as sharing some ideas for how you can help!

Three ways to help

Words are all very well, but action is where it’s at. If you’re planning a volunteering trip abroad, or know someone who is, or just want to find out more on how your travel can affect lives locally, here’s what you can do:

  • Research: Before heading off, get an understanding of some of the issues out there, and ensure that your actions are not doing more harm than good. If you need ideas for questions to ask prior to setting off on a volunteering project, this list from people & places is a good starting point.
  • Be ChildSafe: The ChildSafe Network provides tips and ideas for travelling in a ChildSafe way, with hints including looking out for the ChildSafe accreditation, so you know that a product is not negatively impacting a child's life.
  • Raise the issues: If you find yourself on a trip where you think you are having some kind of negative impact, make your voice heard. Get in touch with your tour agent, or the local tourism office, or start making waves on social media. The voice of the consumer, particularly the angry voice, is a powerful tool in today’s world, and can be a real force for change.

The one thing you can do right now!

If you’d like to get involved, or show some support for this cause, then the easiest thing you can do right now is to very simply “like” the Better Child Protection campaign page on Facebook. You can do that right here, right now:

The more people who know about these issues the better. Join in to take part in raising awareness and getting more of an understanding of the issues.

Let them know you care! You can also follow along on their twitter account, @pandpvolunteer, and use the hashtag #betterchildprotection for more information and to get your thoughts heard!

Thanks very much for reading today’s post. I’d really love to hear your experiences of volunteering or charitable work abroad, and how you have found the experience. As always, take on the comments section below with your thoughts!




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