Giving Back

Ways to give back to the communities you are visiting.

I’m a strong believer that those who have the luxury to travel the world have a responsibility to give back to the communities they visit.  As I sit here in my comfortable 3 bedroom house, with non-stop electricity; fresh, clean water; and relative safety, I think about some of the places I have visited in the developing world where they can’t even imagine a lifestyle such as this.  These people live in a poverty we can’t comprehend and yet I have found that it is often these people, those who have the least to give, who give the most. Be it a cup of tea, a smile, a friendly word or a simple meal. I am continually humbled by their generosity. There are numerous ways we can travel responsibly and ways to contribute to the well being of the people we have gone half-way around the world to meet and also to help the local communities we visit closer to home. Below are just a few ideas – I would love to hear what you think and any suggestions you have for giving back.

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1. Donating to local Charities:

There is an old story – (cliche alert) – about a boy walking down the beach with his father. The beach is covered with thousands of starfish washed up on the shore. The boy is picking up starfish and throwing them back in to the ocean.  Seeing the futility of his actions the father says  “What are you doing? – you can’t save all these starfish”.  The little boy picks another one up and replies “No, but I can save this one.”

You can’t save the world so pick an issue that you care about and look for charities that support those issues.  I am a great believer in education for children as a way out of poverty and so have chosen to support some grassroots charities in India that promote education, particularly for girls.

Kranti –www.kranti-india.org – Based in Mumbai, this group are a grassroots, small organisation who empower girls from Mumbai’s red-light districts to become agents of social change. They give them safe housing and ensure they receive an education. Donations to this group can be made through an organisation called Global Giving  www.globalgiving.org  This organisation represents many different smaller charities so you can choose the cause you wish to support.

Salaam Baalak – www.salaambaalaktrust.com – Based in New Delhi, this group help street children find a  better life through education and, where possible and safe, re-uniting them with their families. They have 2 schools and offer walking tours of Delhi led by a guide who was themselves once living on the streets.

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2. Choose to stay in small, locally owned establishments:

While I can certainly understand the lure of a luxury, five-star hotel, these are often owned by large multi-national corporations. Although they do provide local jobs, most of the money is not staying in that community.  I always look for smaller, locally owned, boutique hotels to stay in and this certainly doesn’t mean you need to give up on the luxury if that is your thing.  In Delhi we stayed in a beautiful little boutique hotel called The Rose in Haus Khas Village – www.therosenewdelhi.com  It was very personal and nothing was too much trouble.  Coming back to the hotel each day felt like coming home to a friend’s house.  You just don’t get that at the Hilton.

We have also used home-stays in India.  In Varanasi we stayed with a gentleman named Harish and his family. Warm, friendly and helpful. They even provided us with a beautifully cooked meal to take on the train with us when we were leaving for Jaipur.  In Samthar, north of Darjeeling, we did a home-stay in a farming village with Charles Lepcha  and family. He took us on a walk around his village introducing us to his neighbours who offered us tea and conversation. We even met the local witch doctor! These were both unforgettable experiences that we treasure today and I highly recommend giving this type of accommodation option a try.

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3. Shop and eat locally:

Forget the labels and the big department stores. Again, while they provide local jobs they don’t contribute much to the local community at all.  Spend your money at local artisan markets,  farmers markets, street food stalls, and other local small businesses. You will find it much more satisfying.  I still remember the leather sandals I bought from a shoemaker in the backstreets of Athens, shopping in the medina in Marrakech, bargaining for beautifully handmade textiles in Jaipur, and finding a shop full of handmade coconut soap in Suva. Would I get the same experience in Marks & Spencer? I don’t think so.

Those are just a few ideas for giving back to the communities you visit, both in your own country and abroad.  If you have other suggestions please leave them in the comments below.  I would love to hear what you have done in your efforts to give back.

Safe travels xxx

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