|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