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The Importance of Keeping Your Promises

Balinese children at a friend’s English school. Another friend and I
sponsored two children so they could attend as well.

It’s easy to get swept away when you travel, especially when you travel to a country that is radically different from your own.

If you’ve visited developing countries, it’s probably a given that you’ve met wonderful people who are in desperate need. You want to help them, but maybe you don’t have the means at the moment, with your bare essentials crammed into a backpack and a meagre travel budget.

So you make promises.

Almost everyone does.

Once you’re back home, jet-lagged and playing catch up at work, those promises are easy to forget. Or maybe you’ve changed your mind. That money you’d said you would donate might seem difficult to part with when the Visa bills roll in.

And packing up those old clothes and books takes so much time.

You put it off. You push it to the back of your mind. And eventually, you forget about it.

But the person you’ve made the promise to doesn’t.

What may seem like a small amount to some of us can make a world of difference to someone else.

And the promise of help–however small–is intensely meaningful to someone who can’t afford to eat everyday. Or go to school. Or get medical care.

With those well-meant promises, you are offering hope. All they have to do is wait patiently for you to get home, and you will follow through, right? You will remember their friendship, their kindness.

Can you imagine how they feel when they receive nothing?

What if you’re the only Canadian, American, or European they met that year? Doubtful, given the amount of travel that takes place in the world today, but still possible. Or what if you were the first experience they had with a Westerner?

When I traveled to Zimbabwe in 2001, I met so many lovely people. And most were in desperate need. The country was in the middle of an uprising, so tourism had dramatically declined, and with it many of the villagers’ sources of income.

I gave them everything I could spare at the time, and promised to send more clothes and shoes when I got home. I actually followed through, but it cost me almost $100 to send that box, which seemed like a lot of money. I never heard back from anyone, and I had no idea if the people who needed those things had received them or not.

As a result, many of those who’d been promised photographs from me never received them. I feel badly about that. I should have taken the time.

It feels good to know that you can make a difference, however small, in the lives of the people you meet when you travel. But if you’re not 100 percent sure you can fulfill that promise, please don’t make it.

It does more harm than good.

Has traveling inspired you to make a difference? Have you ever regretted a promise you made during a trip?

Photo credit: Greg Klassen

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  1. Lisa

    Each year my husband and I travel to Jamaica for a week. We stay in a modest 2-star hotel that sponsors a local school. On the hotel website they have a link called “Pack with a Purpose” – on it are lists of supplies that the local school always needs. We print off the list and buy as much on it as will fit in our suitcases and then drop them at our hotel office who then delivers it to the school. The really nice thing is that our hotel will often post pictures of the school kids enjoying the donated items.

    • J.H. Moncrieff

      That’s really awesome, Lisa! You get to enjoy your vacation AND help local children. The best of both worlds, I’d say.

  2. Stephanie Faris

    Following the 2010 flood, when we had to rebuild our home, I was so touched by the people who sent us gift cards, I made an effort to send a $100 gift card to someone personally affected by every tragedy after that. I didn’t send it to Red Cross (I learned too much about charities). Usually it was in response to something someone posted on Facebook–I’d ask for the person’s home address and send it to them. Do you know not a SINGLE person thanked me? Not that I expected it, really, but I spent hours writing thank-you cards while sitting at my mom’s house during our after-flood period. When someone sends you a $100 gift card, you should at least take time to tell the friend who directed them to you to thank that person for you–SOMETHING. So now, I give to Samaritan’s Purse, who came here and helped clean up after the flood. I personally saw that they actually help. Red Cross just came by handing out bottled water and gift cards, but we had to call to even get them to show up. They said they didn’t want to come to my neighborhood because they’d heard there were “angry Mexicans” here. Yes, they told my mom that personally when she called to ask why they hadn’t shown up. (And yes, we have some Mexican residents, as well as some Egyptian, African-American, and caucasian residents, as did most people in the flooded areas.)

    • J.H. Moncrieff

      Hey Stephanie,

      That’s too bad, but it’s really kind of you to help so many people. Gratitude is a wonderful thing. I can’t imagine not thanking a person for a gesture like that.

      I’m glad you still find it in your heart to give. And thanks for the head’s up about the Red Cross! That kind of information is definitely good to know.

  3. M. J. Joachim

    It’s an important message to share. Thank you!

    • J.H. Moncrieff

      Thanks so much for commenting. I’m glad it resonated with you.

  4. Hilary Melton-Butcher

    Hi Holli – yes we do promise don’t we and then so often ‘forget’ or let time pass and then ‘ignore’ .. I’ve lived in South Africa and visited other neighbouring countries including Zimbabwe … disgraceful it’s been left to slide into such poverty – they were all happy and content in the 1970s as things slowly improved. It’s much worse now …

    I’m sure I’ve forgotten many promises over the years .. but I try and ensure I can keep them .. thanks for the reminder .. cheers Hilary

    • J.H. Moncrieff

      Hi Hilary,

      Welcome to my blog, and thanks for commenting! This is why I wrote the post–while it may be easy for us to forget, the person who’s waiting for us to keep our promise never does.

      Africa will always have a huge place in my heart. It hurts to see any part of that great continent suffering.

      It must have been amazing to live in South Africa.


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