The idea of being a socially responsible tourist is to give something back to the country you’re visiting, similar to making a deposit, as well as a withdrawal. Often the countries we visit as tourists have become entrenched with the problem of poverty ,a reality that many travelers never see. Tourism is beneficial for the country, but hard on the individual.
I rarely go on a trip these days without stuffing scores of books, crayons, puzzles and teddy bears into my luggage. I hand deliver directly to children at group homes, orphanages and schools. Nearly every island has a handful or more of children’s homes, generally small, locally operated organizations that receive little or no funding.
Before I travelled to Grenada, I checked out a website with a drop down menu, once you click on the country you are travelling to, a list of organizations come up that need your help. The website has a list of countries, and 187 organizations that need assistance. It is an interactive website, allowing tourists to add organizations, as well as complete a list of items they have helped with. After checking out a children’s home in Grenada on the list, I attempted to contact them beforehand with no luck. So, I made the decision take a larger suitcase in order to accommodate space for puzzles, story books, colouring books, and crayons, attempting to cover an assortment of ages.
Visiting children’s homes, dancing and singing with the children has been a highlight of many for me, and it is one of the many things that has me planning a return trip.
In St. Maarten, I met an amazing and modest woman who started a group home on her own following a devastating earthquake. Before that particular trip, I visited a local school where I live and spoke to a class of kindergarten children about what I was doing and where I was going. I showed them on a map where Grenada is, and they had a torrent of questions about the children I would be visiting.
They donated large teddy bears for me to take to the children at the group home. Children’s toothbrushes and miniature tubes of toothpaste donated by my dentist come with me as well as entire suitcase filled with hand-knitted teddy bears donated by a local group of knitters.
Instead of taking just anything, I recommend you contact a local school, orphanage, or group home ahead of time to find out their exact needs. Why take crayons and pencils if they have no paper or textbooks?
As I write this article, I am preparing for a trip to Ecuador, and have just picked up thirty hand knitted adorable teddy bears, compiling a mountain of small toothpaste tubes , colorful children’s toothbrushes, sleepers, and infant blankets. How do I carry it, you may ask? I usually buy an inexpensive suitcase at a charity shop, garage sale, or somewhere like value village, so I can leave the suitcase behind, and return home lighter , layered with wonderful memories.
Some of the most memorable moments travelling for me have been spent dancing, playing and chatting to children in group homes and orphanages. Seeing how little they have, and how happy they are gives me a different perspective on how I live my life.
According to Stats Canada, in one month alone, 690,000 Canadians travel overseas. Imagine if even 1% of Canadian travelers took something with them to benefit children in another country. We often think we have to make grand gestures, but tiny steps by many add up to a big difference.