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Keep Your Coins. I Want Change.
When you think of sustainability, the first the thing that usually comes to mind is environmental responsibility. While conserving natural resources, is a crucial component of sustainable travel, it is just one piece of a very dynamic concept. Perhaps the most important and most often overlooked aspect of sustainable travel is the impact on local communities. As world travelers, we must keep in mind our behavior, and the influence it has on the local culture. In order to preserve the authentic qualities of these destinations, we must do our part in taking the appropriate measures to reduce our social and environmental impact.
Destinations in the third world boast a wide range of experiences appealing to the culture or adventure thirsty traveler. Some of the most world renown landmarks including Mt. Everest, the Egyptian pyramids, Machu Picchu, and the Taj Mahal all reside in developing nations. Underneath the grandeur and splendor of these built and natural environments, lies the insistent hand of child beggars. Many Westerners, unaccustomed to this degree of poverty, feel compelled to help these suffering humans, by giving them a few dollars or a meal. This act of compassion, despite it’s good intention, creates more harm than good.
The Dark Side of Giving
Looking into the eyes of an impoverished child is never easy. But, before we hand over a few dollars we must realize the long term effects of our contributions. In our hearts we feel we are helping the child. But in reality, child begging is the stem of many much larger socio-cultural issues. Often, the child is not begging entirely for his own personal gain, and is being exploited by gangs, adults, and sometimes their own parents. Begging in fact, is a very lucrative business in some developing countries, creating an incentive to abandon traditional work in lieu of tourist payoffs. The outcome of this dependency can potentially lead to even darker repercussions such as drug abuse, trafficking, prostitution, and crime. Even though our acts of generosity are intended to help the child, we are unknowingly contributing to the cruel cycle of poverty.
Positive Impacts are Possible
Being kind is not a bad thing! There are many solutions available that allow you to contribute to the well being of these children. You can give a donation to a non-governmental organization, like iJourneyGreen or the Asia Foundation, that help support local projects in the destination communities. If you prefer more direct participation, check out Pack for a Purpose or become a volunteer. Children are curious creatures, and by simply spending time and interacting with them or sharing photos of your family, you can create a stronger more personal bond leaving a positive social impact.
A few questions to keep in mind when traveling:
Will my contribution improve this person's life, or degrade it? Will it encourage independence and prosperity or will it promote greed and dependency? And lastly: how will fellow travelers to this place — tomorrow, next month or ten years from now — be affected by my actions?
By altering our approach, we can help alleviate poverty, increase local pride and ownership, and truly make a sustainable difference.