I originally answered these questions for LA Parent Magazine, and I enjoyed the interview so much I wanted to share it here.
LAP: Are vacationers responsible for “giving back” to the places they visit?
SC: We should all be responsible for giving back to those less fortunate as a part of our daily lives, but especially so when we are traveling. As a vacationer and foreigner, locals will show you incredible warmth and hospitality. Giving back while traveling is a great way to help others in need and say “thank you” for being welcomed to someone else’s home country.
LAP: What are some general and specific activities that kids and families can do? Here, I’d like to break it down into age groups: younger children, tweens and teens, if possible.
SC: One easy way to give back as a family is to shop and eat locally while on vacation. Don’t be scared to take your kids out of the comfort zone of your resort. Supporting businesses that are run by locals generates income for that family which helps them escape poverty.
For younger children, try to find an activity where they can interact with kids in the local community, such as at a park or public beach. Very young children won’t necessarily understand poverty and the social issues involved with it, but they can learn a lot through playtime, and find they have a lot in common with kids from different backgrounds.
For tweens and teens, having your host or a hotel driver take your family on a detour through a local community is very impactful. While doing this, ask your kids to describe what they are seeing, and what they think life is like for children their ages who live there. As long as this is done respectfully with a local guide, this is a great way to open up a dialogue between you and your tween/teen and get their minds turning on how to be more socially conscious.
LAP: Does Children Incorporated get requests from vacationers on how to get involved, or give in some way?
SC: Many of our sponsors visit their sponsored children as a way to not only meet them in person, but also support their families beyond their regular monthly contribution. When a sponsor is spending their money while traveling, they are giving back to the same impoverished community in which their sponsored child lives, while also brighten that child’s life with their physical presence. It’s a win-win.
LAP: Of course, it’s vacation time, so you don’t want to overwhelm them, so how can parents find a balance in having fun and exposing their kids to often sobering realities?
SC: It all has to do with communication. Talk with your children ahead of time and during the trip about what you might see and experience. The balance will come naturally when they feel comfortable talking because the realities of situation won’t feel so weighted; instead of looking at poverty as “that’s so sad but there is nothing we can do”, you and your children can look at it as “that is a reality in someone’s life and we can help to do something,” which is empowering.
LAP: How can vacationers interact with locals in ways that are respectful and open?
SC: Try to learn at least a few words in the local language. This goes a long way in showing that you care, and it is most typically met with excitement and gratitude for your efforts. Also, if there is no language barrier, ask your driver, bartender or server questions about their lives and their families and don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know much about the local culture – they will often be very happy to fill you in!
LAP: Any other advice or anecdotes you’d like to add?
SC: When you engage with others while traveling, a whole new world will open up for you. Don’t be surprised to find yourself being prepared a home cooked meal, or provided with tips on the best secret beaches or best restaurants just by taking the time to engage with those around you. Take every opportunity you can to learn more about where you are in the world and your vacation, and your life, will be enriched.