A friend just sent me this article that defines the importance of educating ourselves before dumping our hours of valuable time and money into communities that we feel entitled to say “need it” and that may end up not being used or in the hands of corruption. Please check it out and let me know what you think. This issue needs a voice.
As I continue on in my journey of following my passion for sustainable tourism and figuring out ways that I can give back and create positive impacts throughout the world via travel, I am beginning to surround myself with inspiring and impactful thought leaders in the realm of sustainable tourism. Today, I thought I would share one of these admirable people with you.
Her name is Dominique Callimanopulos. She is the founder and president of Elevate Destinations in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her inspiration for the creation of Elevate stems back to when she was younger. She traveled a lot and during this time and she witnessed in her words, the “gap in resources” between her life at home and the communities that she was able to visit. (Her revelation moments…)
Now Dominique and the Elevate crew are making extraordinary and unforgettable positive impacts throughout the world. They run 121 different types of trips in 29 countries, sprawling over almost every continent. Their mission of transformative travel aims to transform both travelers and destinations through travel and meaningful experiences. Many of these trips include service and volunteer trips. Elevate offers Donor Travel trips where the donor has the opportunity to travel to the communities they are supporting. This is creating a deeper connection, increased cultural exchange and long lasting impressions on the donor and the community.
Elevate also offers Urgent Service Trips to Haiti. Not only is Elevate connecting volunteers to disaster relief programs on this trip but they are ensuring that their efforts are socially and environmentally sustainable.
In my email interview with Dominique she said, “Our donor travel programs for international non-profits have helped to raise millions of dollars to address a wide range of issues, including water and sanitation, women’s empowerment, poverty alleviation and more. Our Urgent Service volunteer trips to Haiti have raised funds for youth on the ground.” Additionally, Elevate provides carbon offset options for all land portions of travel and also encourages offsetting your flights. They partner with the most sustainable accommodations in the areas they visit, ensure their partners are following sustainability guidelines and much more. Not only is Elevate managing to accomplish all of these initiatives, but on top of everything they are donating 5% of the net cost of all private trips back to non-profit and local community partners that support conservation and social efforts.
It is important to remember that while the world may be our oyster we must honor its beauty, preserve cultures and the environment, lift up communities by asking them what they need and travel to contribute the fabric of the world rather than taking away from it. Elevate is doing just this. Support people, initiatives and companies that are paving the way for this to exist in the future.
Lastly, her words of advice to me were, “focus on creating lasting partnerships both with tour operators and trusted non-profits that are engaged for the long term in community-led initiatives. Cultivate a network of colleagues working toward similar goals, participate in associations to leverage your impact and innovate”. If you are passionate about responsible travel and respecting the environment and communities that we get to be witness to I would love to connect and share with you.
I thank Dominique and the Elevate crew for your work and inspiration. I urge you to check ’em out.
So, I know that I promised I was going to do my best to not talk about the negative things that are taking place in the tourism industry but this is one that I just cannot ignore. I am taking a sustainable tourism course at my college, Metropolitan State University of Denver, and on Tuesday we had a guest speaker that opened my eyes to this very issue of Orphanage Tourism.
So, what is it? The best way that I know how to put it into my own words is the exploitation of children in organized orphanages to gain a profit from tourism dollars. Some of these children may very well have families and are essentially taken by the orphanage to give them a “better life”. This thought of giving your child up may seem completely unrealistic but in many cases these families are already immensely struggling with providing their children with basic necessesties let alone guaranteed food, shelter and even education. Another major problem with orphanage tourism is the impacts it is creating on the children. In some cases many are abused, mistreated and not allowed to go to school/eat. Additionally, these children are being exposed to a new group of tourists every day/week/month. Not only is this creating severe attachment issues but is also creating abandonment, trauma, and instability in the childrens’ lives. Even more intensely, in some cases, this is creating a link to human trafficking. Many of these children do not have a lot of options when they become adults and typically are not highly educated. They also tend to have developmental and psychological issues. The combination of these things may lead to reliance on prostitution as a means to survive.
By visiting this type of orphanage, with the best intentions of helping the children and providing donations to the center, is the very thing that is fueling the demand for this industry to keep doing what it is doing. I genuinely urge you before you decide to volunteer or donate to a childrens shelter, DO YOUR RESEARCH! I have attached a link from Friends International that gives you list of questions when evaluating an institution. Here are a few:
1. Is the orphanage legally registered with the government
2. Does the orphanage have a child protection policy
3. Are visitors allowed to just drop in and have direct access to the children
4. Does the orphanage have an active family reunification program …
Before making the decision to volunteer your time or give up your hard earned money to such a beautiful cause of helping orphaned children please keep this issue in mind. Yes, there are very helpful and legitimate organizations in the world that do deserve your time and money. One by one, we can change the demand for this industry by consciously choosing not to support them. Remember, “Children Are Not Tourist Attractions”
Once again, sorry for the downer post. However, I feel that this is a major issue that needs a voice and needs to be shared and exposed. After reading this, next time you think about volunteering or traveling to volunteer you will do your research? Is this something that you believe can be stopped?