I decided several years ago not to continue leading “challenge” school trips abroad, usually groups of around 20 young people, because I felt groups of this size created an adverse impact on people in the more remote areas where resources are tight. I also saw too much “let’s photograph the ‘exotic’ people” to feel comfortable being a part of that business. If I’m not doing something of real benefit, I begin to question why I’m there; it’s no longer enough for me just to see a beautiful view.
First, do no harm.
It’s an oath sworn by physicians and a pledge that every traveler should make as well. As guests in the places we visit the very least we can do is respect our hosts by not hurting their country or their people.
Unfortunately such pledges are easier made than kept. That’s especially true in areas of the world that lack strong regulations protecting vulnerable populations. It’s not uncommon to see plenty of exploitive activities marketed to tourists. And sometimes those activities are even cleverly disguised to prey on our very desire to do good.
Visiting and volunteering in a children’s orphanage in Cambodia, for example, sounds like a good way of directing your travel dollars to a worthwhile cause. That is until you learn about the fake orphanages that separate children from their parents for the sole purpose of separating…
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