My family of five is traveling around the world this year while I’m on an extended maternity leave. Are we crazy? Most certainly. But are we exceedingly lucky to be having this experience? Beyond measure.
While this is an incredible adventure, it is also a tremendous educational opportunity for the kids. I want them to have a better understanding of the world we live in. That’s why I set out to give back in some way in each country we visit.
Volunteering in another country can be daunting to figure out if you don’t know how to approach it — with or without kids. Here’s what I learned — you can use these tips to help make a difference the next time you plan a trip abroad.
A quick web search reveals numerous companies and organizations that want to make volunteer tourism easier. Take advantage of this research. For example: Bring supplies like pencils and bandages in your luggage, then drop them off when you land.
Choose a travel agent or hotel that has charitable affiliations. When we wanted to go to Africa, it was something I thought was best left to a professional. In Mozambique, I chose a hotel that had a connection to a local school. We helped organize sports and games for the children, then pitched in and painted the classrooms.
Before you go, try to make contact with the principal or head teacher of a local school to see what they could use. That varies based on the ages of the kids and other factors. Buy locally if you can, which supports the economy and avoids you having to pack extra things in your luggage.
Think about how you can use your passions and experience. My husband is a teacher and has many talents that allow him to create fun activities. I regularly give presentations, so I’ve felt comfortable teaching a classroom of kids. Many organizations offer training or tips on how best to help the local community.
I admit the first time we did this as a family in Sri Lanka, the kids took a while to warm up. Now that we’ve volunteered in so many places, they know what’s in store. It’s amazing watching kids connect. It turns out the language of children is universal — and so is running around on the playground together.
By Heather Mitchell Embley