Recently a group of colleagues visited a luxury Jamaican resort for a corporate event. Prior to their meeting, the resort asked the group leader to consider asking travelers to bring school supplies to help a local school with which the resort had a sponsorship relationship. Great idea, right? This group was happy to contribute, and collected quite a nice stash of supplies for the local kids. When we travel, we can indeed help others. Depending on the destination and the need, there are many ways to do this. Today, I will cover several ways to help:
SUPPORT A CHARITY OR LOCAL ORGANIZATION THROUGH YOUR RESORT, CRUISE LINE OR TOUR OPERATOR. I’ve referenced a group meeting for a conference supporting a local school via a connection with their resort – but there are potentially many ways to contribute. When I visited Cuba, our group leader contacted a religious group in Havana which operates a free clinic – they requested diapers, children’s underwear and over the counter medications. Every traveler in our group contributed to this cause. Later this year we will be sailing on a Holland America Cruise; every itinerary offers a 5k during a sea day, called “On Deck for a Cause” (pictured above) – cruisers donate $20 to participate and receive a tee- shirt; the organization raises funds for Cancer Organizations in the US, Europe and Australia and has raised over $6 million to date. Carnival Cruises has partnered with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital with a program called “Care to Play” – funds are raised a variety of ways, but the most popular is donating $10 to participate in a special dance party called “Groove for St. Jude.” Royal Caribbean has partnered with the World Wildlife Foundation; guests can purchase special items in the gift shop with all proceeds being donated to WWF, or can sign up for either a Walk or Swim for Sea Turtles event for a set donation. Finally there is an organization called Pack For A Purpose which identifies in-destination groups needing donated items, and then encouraging travelers to fill unused space in suitcases with items to donate.
SUPPORT LOCAL ECONOMIES - BUY HANDMADE CRAFTS OR OTHER ITEMS FROM LOCALS. You contribute to the well-being of locals when you purchase handmade items directly from them. In Mexico, I had the choice to purchase small woven bracelets made by local women or from a chain of souvenir shops catering to tourists. On Bora Bora as part of a shore excursion we saw a demonstration of the tie-dye process for the colorful swim coverups – and had the opportunity to purchase directly from the artisans. By purchasing these items, I demonstrated appreciation for the local customs and crafts, contributed directly to income for locals, and had some lovely pieces for friends and family back home.. Make the effort to seek out and support the local artists, wood carvers, weavers etc. with purchases which may be small for you but very meaningful to the craftspeople.
PARTICIPATE IN VOLUNTEER TRAVEL. You may have heard the term “Voluntourism” which loosely translates to volunteering while you travel. By giving something back to the community you are visiting, You learn about another culture , city or country in a deeper, more intimate fashion. You donate your time, skills and knowledge, which benefit others and just may help your heart grow a few sizes. There are several tour operators offering volunteer opportunities during your travels; contact your travel advisor if you are interested in matching your destination with a volunteer opportunity.
There are many reasons to volunteer while you’re traveling and there are literally thousands of charities and organizations that look for help from passing travelers. For example, the Maui Humane Society has the "Helping Paws" program where visitors can come spend time with the animals. Some, who are staying on Maui for a longer time, can actually "temporarily adopt" a dog or cat for the duration of their visit. It’s not unusual for pets to find their forever home via this program. From time to time churches, mosques or synagogues offer mission trips and encourage members to participate as a part of group, usually in some specific area such as building a school, or rehabbing homes after natural disasters – often in conjunction with a local religious organization in the destination. (Our local congregation is in Puerto Rico at the moment helping with hurricane relief.)
We are all busy and may not have a lot of time to give, but perhaps if we each look for some small opportunity, together we can make a difference. The next time you take a vacation, consider asking what you can do to help. We are happy to assist you in learning about these opportunities as you plan your vacations. Have YOU participated in a program that you would like to share? Let us know and we will put it "out there" for all to see!