Today is International Day of Charity. A day marked in remembrance of the passing of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, a truly charitable woman. There are so many ways to give back
We may believe that being charitable is expensive, and sure donating everything you have to help the less fortunate is great. But being charitable doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. You can donate more than money and you can give back by making lots of small changes in your own behaviour.
Here are some achievable ways in which you can give back while travelling, or at home. We can’t all be Mother Teresa, but we can all try to leave the world a better place than we found it.
This is the big one. Volunteers are truly selfless people. Those who choose to give up their free time and money to help the planet or those less fortunate than themselves. The best volunteers are skilled volunteers, tradespeople and teachers, doctors and architects. If you have a skill that you think could be useful then use your privilege and knowledge to give back.
Or if like me you’re not sure how your particular skill-set could be of use, go and find out. Help with animal conservation efforts, teach what you know to school children or learn how to build a toilet. So much can be achieved when willing bodies come together.
There are thousands of volunteering opportunities across the globe. All you need to do is pick where you want to go and you’ll definitely be able to volunteer there. People rarely say no to free help or labour.
If you were going to buy souvenirs to take home anyway, why not buy them from the locals. They will be more authentically [insert name of country here] and you’ll be putting money directly into the pockets of the locals. So rather than bulk buying bottle openers from a large chain retailer, go to the local markets.
You can even go one better, try and buy as close to the original source as possible. If there is a woman weaving a basket in front of you, buy it directly from her. You are ensuring she is paid the full worth of her product, rather than whatever she would receive selling it through a retailer.
The same principle applies here. You’ve got to eat, so why not eat locally. Avoid the big chain fast food joints and head to a local street cart.
Personally, one of my main motivations to travel is food and if I can give back by eating, then I’ll be eating a lot!
Do your research, find out what you should be eating and where and find a local restaurant or street cart that sells it. Make sure you’re going where the locals go too, that way you know it’ll be good. For tips on how to pick the best street food check out our article on How to Find the Best Street Food Spots.
Short stay rental apps like Airbnb have changed the face of travel accommodation. You can now stay in a local’s home, at times while the locals are living there, and it can all be easily organised before you arrive. To take this one step further you can do a home-stay. Living, eating and bonding with a local family. You’ll get a better idea of what life is really like in that part of the world, all the while giving back to a local family.
In some countries, like Cuba, most of your accommodation will be in home-stays or “Casa Particulares”. Here you can see first hand how having extra “tourist money” income can help a family get ahead. If you’re up for doing your research you can also find locally owned and run hotels and hostels in almost every city or town. There are also hotels and hostels with positive initiatives that give back to the local communities.
This may seem like the easiest and most obvious way to be charitable, but you’ve got to make sure you do it right. Before sending your hard earned cash across the globe, make sure you do your research. How much of what you’re donating to that Charity actually makes it to the people in need? How much goes towards administration costs? Is it a local Charity? Are you able to send money directly to the affected people – bypassing the charity all together?
Do your research, especially when it comes to disaster relief. If ever you have the opportunity to donate directly to the people involved, do that. Even better if you’re able to
Microloans are a great way to give back to those in need, without going through a large organisation to do so. Micro-loans are small, generally short-term, loans with very small interest-rates given to self-employed individuals, new startups or small businesses. It has proven to be an effective way to encourage entrepreneurship in impoverished communities leading to economic growth.
There are a bunch of non-profit micro-loan organisations like Kiva, where you can start micro-lending today.
Plant A Tree
Whether you do this one on your own or sign up to help an environmental organisation, you’ll be doing it right. We will always need more trees because we are cutting them down at an astounding rate. An estimated 3.5-7 billion trees are cut down every year!
Every tree you plant can replace a tree that has already fallen, bringing more oxygen to the plant. And we need oxygen, so once again we will always need trees!
Returning to a spot many years later and seeing how that little seed or sapling you planted grew into a magnificent tree is an incredible thing. I’m not comparing it to raising a child but you know, it wouldn’t have grown up like it did without you.
Pick Up Rubbish
I know that while travelling the amount of rubbish you come across can be astounding. Too much for little old you to ever do anything about. But the planet gives us so much, everything in fact, so it really is up to us to give back to ensure it’s, and our, survival. You can take 3 for the sea, or you can take bags full for whatever natural environment takes your fancy.
It’s also important to be safe and smart when collecting rubbish. If you don’t have the proper equipment, gloves or other protective gear, to pick up glass and syringes then call it in. You can also go get the appropriate gear and return to pick it up. Just don’t put yourself in harms way when picking up rubbish, or you may never want to do it again.
Be an Eco-conscious Traveller
There are many ways you can reduce your footprint while travelling. There are simple things like refusing plastic straws and buying shampoo bars rather than bottles. You can also go on eco-tours, doing your research and making sure your tour providers are an eco-friendly company. There are the big ones like not riding elephants or supporting any other industries that take advantage of animals for human entertainment.