Blog Action Day: Reversing Poverty through Volunteer Travel

Imagine if you could spend a few days building a home for a homeless family in Romania, teaching English to orphans in Russia or serving food to starving people in Africa.

Can you imagine how that would feel?

It would probably feel as good as if you were cruising the Seine, holding up the leaning tower of Pisa or clanking jugs with your new best friends at Oktoberfest. And it is likely to make more of a difference to the locals.

Volunteer Travel is one of the fastest growing travel trends in the industry and offers travelers the opportunity to give back to the communities they visit by helping reverse poverty, feed the hungry and educate the poor. 

This year’s Blog Action Day theme is “poverty,” a topic many frequent travelers would prefer to ignore and an issue that affects ONE HALF of the world’s population.

Did you know …
– An estimate one billion people can not read or sign their name?
– Nearly one out of every two children in the world live in poverty?
– Close to half of all of the people in developing countries are suffering right now due to health problems caused by water and sanitation deficits?

It kinda makes me sick to read this.

Last November, my new husband and I traveled to Belize and Guatemala for a week-long honeymoon. I had read about the poverty-stricken communities, the lack of cleanliness and the unbelievable shortage of healthy drinking water, but I had no idea.

Poverty in third world countries is truly something you have to see to believe. And it changes you.

We talked about the appalling conditions and we felt guilty for being on vacation while so many people were suffering. We wanted to do something. But what?

In all of my months of research, I had failed to contact humanitarian organizations or charity groups so volunteering wasn’t a viable option. We offered tips, overpaid for services and picked up the tab for shared taxis when we could. But it wasn’t enough.

When we returned to Italy I found a list of organizations where we could have volunteered in Belize or Guatemala.

A quick Google search reported that Guatemala welcomes 12 million travelers each year. Now imagine if every one of those visitors donated $1.00 to help reverse poverty in that country. How many people could be fed with $12 million a year? How much more sanitary could their living conditions be? How much safer their water?

But how would the money be collected? How would it be distributed? Who could oversee this enormous task?

In preparation for Blog Action Day, I emailed a Senior Vice President at Orbitz.com and put the question to him. Orbitz has a Protect Planet Earth campaign and offers generous assistance to employees who want to volunteer abroad, but why not take it one step farther?

Why not offer customers the option of donating $1.00 to help reverse poverty in the country/region where they are traveling? They offer hotels, cars and entertainment add-ons. Let’s add on something that matters.

What do you think travelers can do to make a difference in the fight against poverty? What is one we each of us can help?

And if the Senior VP responds to my email … I’ll let you know.

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Comments

  1. Amazing post Cherrye, we all have so many skills we don’t necessarily use for our jobs that could be put to use for others.
     
    Thanks, Joanne. I would love to see someone organize something like I suggested with Orbitz, where basically everyone can afford to help. Seriously, I can not imagine the impact!

  2. Sometimes these problems are so overwhelming we feel like what we do won’t make a difference.

    But as you pointed out in your post we can help.

    There is also a lot of poverty in the States as well and with the economic crises there will be more people in need. I’m thinking food banks are going to be hit hard this winter.

    Those who are not traveling this year can still help.
     
    You are right about it feeling overwhelming. I also noticed in my research that “volunteer trips” are pretty expensive, making it more difficult for budget travelers who still want to give back to go the “traditional” volunteer route. You are right. We can all help.

  3. You are absolutely right…poverty in the 3rd world has to be seen to be believed. I posted some pictures I clicked in the span of an hour on a trip into New Delhi…these were the urban poor. The rural really seem to have no fighting chance. It is certainly overwhelming, but small things can make a difference.
     
    The images on your site are so upsetting. I can’t imagine people living like this. Life is so unfair.

  4. This is a tough one. It’s hard not feeling guilty just living in a country like the US. I feel a twinge of guilt spending money on a plane ticket even when I’m going to Europe. One does what one can (hopefully)…I’ll hear your confession if you’ll hear mine.
     
    My confession is that I never do enough. And I feel guilty, or should I say *so so* lucky to have been born in the US, even though we have our share of poverty there, as well.

  5. Great post! I honestly believe yours is one of
    the best blogs on the web. Thanks for the nice work. 🙂
     
    Wow, Ethan. Grazie mille for the the great compliment. I *love* your site, as well.

  6. Dear Cherrye,

    Thank you so much for the email to the Senior Vice-president of Orbitz, for your time posting on Blog Action Day, and for your creativity in turning a blog about Italy on to the theme of poverty.

    Incidentally, I’m from Texas, too, and used to live in Torino. 🙂
     
    Thank you, Cynthia! Where ya from in Texas? Do you miss Italy?

  7. How you think when the economic crisis will end? I wish to make statistics of independent opinions!

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