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Responsible Volunteering: Travel for Change
By Yaara Schattner from GivingWay
There’s no doubt about it: responsible travel is in.
Endless tips about sustainable measures travelers can take are published on travel websites every day. Information about sustainable accommodations and restaurants is also much easier to find. Since much of the attention is focused on the economic and environmental aspects of responsible travel, one major pillar is not receiving its well-deserved attention: social responsibility. Surprisingly, becoming a socially responsible traveler is easier than it sounds. The good thing about it is, it can also change your next travel experience entirely, and help you become a more responsible traveler as well.
What is Responsible Travel?
To put it simply, responsible travel refers to the awareness of the impact we have as travelers on the planet. It calls for an individual, proactive approach toward travel. Whether it means supporting companies that embody sustainable values, changing seemingly small habits, or making conscious travel decisions, responsibility starts with awareness and is followed by action.
Creating or promoting a sustainable and positive change for a community is what social responsibility is all about. When translated into actions that can be taken, social responsibility can include being involved in a volunteering activity while traveling.
Responsible Volunteering Abroad
If volunteering ever crossed your mind and you are currently planning your next trip, now is the time to commit to a volunteering opportunity. Combining travel with volunteering can be a great way to transform your experience - as an outsider - into a genuine encounter with local people and their culture.
Volunteering responsibly first and foremost means that a traveler’s specific skills are matched by the community’s needs. In this way real goals can be met and significant projects are further promoted in the community. Travelers everywhere can find themselves assisting in education, developing direct income aimed at fighting poverty, and bringing people together. As long as attention is first given to the actual needs of the community, and such needs are met with the right skills, real change can and has happened. In many ways by volunteering abroad, travelers become active advocates for an international understanding of the need for social responsibility.
The Case of Volunteering Abroad in Peru
In order to understand the practice of transforming a journey abroad into a sustainable one, let’s take Peru as an example:
Responsible volunteering requires awareness. Travelers heading over to Peru should understand that currently 19% of all children under the age of 18 are already a part of the country's workforce and child labor is a persisting problem for the Peruvian society. Many children come from underprivileged families who moved to Peru’s urban areas to escape violence or give themselves an opportunity to make a consistent income. The problem is that children are being deprived access to proper education. In both urban and rural areas in Peru, there are many community-based projects advocating and actively working to bring change and enable children to break free from the vicious cycle of poverty that illiteracy undeniably promotes.
Understanding the current situation in Peru will make travelers aware of issues greatly affecting the Peruvian society. Travelers visiting Peru and wanting to help may influence with even the smallest contribution; just by knowing where their skills are most needed. By visiting the rural areas in Peru, where children have little to no access to education, a traveler’s assistance can lead to great impact. In the cultural centers, such as Lima or Cusco, community-based projects are calling out for travelers to give their time and skills toward local social activities. These community-based projects are working for a sustainable change.
Those Who Volunteer Responsibly Must Travel Responsibly - Preparing for Peru in a Responsible Way
Deciding to combine a volunteering experience with your trip means some necessary planning and thinking ahead must take place. Essentially, it's all about matching the time frame you have, the work you are interested in doing, and cause you care about with the destination you're heading to.
Planning a trip to Peru means thinking ahead of the climate and weather, studying up on the local culture, learning some key Spanish phrases, and much more. Such initial steps can ensure you’ll be prepared to enter the local communities with the right understanding, knowledge and information needed to handle yourself more like a local, and less like a tourist, within your new surroundings.
Make a Change - For the Better
The fact that by 2020 over 1.5 billion people are expected to travel the world annually, means that travelers will undeniably have great impact on places they visit. The Responsible Travel trend is a chance to connect and experience other cultures and different realities. Choosing to volunteer responsibly while traveling will not only promote change, but will also enable travel destinations to hold on to their most valuable, unique cultural aspects. If tourism is already making an impact, why not make it a positive one?
All photos courtesy of GivingWay.