Wednesday, January 13, 2016

How Dare You Travel White Boy? or how to use your privilege for Good

        I came across this thought provoking article on Facebook today. It’s a well-written piece about the selfish display of privilege inherent in traveling and travel blogging. It is a problem I was confronted with even before I started traveling. One of my classmates from kindergarten all the way to high-school shunned international tourism for its polluting flights and overly hedonistic and therefore egotistical behaviour. I was once again confronted by this issue in Cambodia, where a student at a protest commented on how lucky I was to have the luxury of traveling. The protest was to call for justice for farmers evicted from their land by the local governor for the sake of foreign companies. Though his intention was not to accuse me, the protestor had inadvertently made me feel silly and selfish. I was and still am guilty of not only luxuriating in my privilege, but of flaunting it everywhere I travel.
          Revolution on the Road’s article makes a good point of how it won’t help to stop writing about travel, and let’s face it, we’re still too selfish to stop traveling altogether and donate our money to altruistic causes. We are also powerless to alter the course of entire nations. As much as I would like to transform Cambodia into a democracy, I simply can’t. If someone knows of a hotline to call for that, I’d really appreciate it. However there must be more we can do than simply calling attention to the shittiness we encounter when traveling, and writing more humbly about said travels.
I scoured the meager depths of my noggin and along with some loose change I came up with five ways to use your privilege for Good.

#1 Volunteer:

           The first one is the easiest to think of and perhaps the easiest one to mess up. While there are plenty of good opportunities for volunteering your time and skills, you have to be careful not to end up like this. We have the privilege of being able to save money and survive without income for extended periods of time, so volunteering is a good way to use your privilege for Good. Just be sure you have the skill you’re volunteering. You’re doing this to help others not yourself, so make sure you have the ability to help. You don't want to end up like this. Feeling better about yourself should be a byproduct of volunteering, not your main goal.
          In Cambodia we met two dentistry students who had just completed six weeks of volunteering their services in small towns across the country. Their skills were sorely needed, and I have no doubt that their summer trip had a positive impact on communities they visited while also being enriching experiences for both of them.

#2 Teach a skill to one person:

           In Nepal we hired a guide who spoke very good English. He had learned English as a teen while working as a porter. One of the tourists he worked for had taken the time to teach him. Imparting this skill allowed this Nepalese teen to later become a guide, doubling his potential salary. More than that, this new language gave him access to a larger network of tourists who could potentially help him down the road. Teaching him English tremendously increased his opportunity for upward social mobility. Teaching is time consuming but depending on the skill, it’s something you could continue to work on by communicating over the internet. Of course this assumes you’ve spent enough time with someone to forge even a small bond.

#3 Be someone’s friend:

         When my brother did research in Thailand for his Master’s, he befriended a student there who guided him around the country. When that Thai got married, he sent a message to my brother to inform him of the happy news. My brother sent him a cash wedding gift. It was a sizable amount for a Canadian student, but it was a small fortune for the newly wed couple that helped them move out of their parents’ home and into their own. Helping someone become a homeowner is a good way to help them up the social ladder. You could also pay for their child’s education or you could give them your smartphone if you thought they could use it. Access to the internet can open a lot of doors, too.
Of course you can still help out as a friend without giving lump sums of gold left and right. You could help someone find a job abroad. It’s not easy to emigrate to a wealthy country, but a successful move can dramatically improve a family’s lot in life. Lean on your contacts, use your ease of access to the internet to find available jobs, help them find a scholarship…etc. Try and help someone get some of the privileges you enjoy.
         Just being a friend is important. You never know when or how your friends will need you, but you’ll be there. So make friends and let them know you’re there for them. Now if someone has a job for a hardworking Nepalese man who's the head of a household of four and is willing to sponsor his work visa, please contact me. 

This guy in Kaiphong's popcorn is the best in the world.
Just outside Daliangmen, or the north side of the street.

#4 Promote their business:

          Whether they are already established or just starting off, getting free marketing could give them a significant boost. If you have techskills, you give help them develop a website or an app. If you have a large social media following, you might send customers their way or start a Kickstarter campaign for them. If you have none of these things, you can give them positive reviews on as many websites as you can find or put them in touch with people who might better be able to grow their business. Make growing their business a priority.

#5 Don’t forget your own country:

Invite prosperity into their home.
         Helping others doesn’t need to be confined to your travels, and there are underprivileged people everywhere. Keep your eyes peeled for opportunities to use your privileges for others at all times. Getting out of poverty is much easier when you have others helping you pull yourself up, as this article points out. Just having someone who can open their doors to you when your home is in chaos can have a significant impact. It’s a lot easier to help someone out when they don’t live two oceans away. 

Honourable Mention: become a drug mule.
            I'm sure there are many other ways to make your travels work for the greater good. This article shares what I find an amusing concept: becoming a legal "drug mule". You're going to want to be extra careful if taking this approach, for obvious reasons.

            In the end, you need to get to know someone in order to have an opportunity to help them, so making friends is an essential part of using your privilege for Good. As travelers we can’t change the world. We might not even be able to compensate for burning jet fuel in the atmosphere, but we can influence the lives of individuals because we have the privileges necessary to do so. It doesn't hurt to try.

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