Spring and summer are arriving, which means that casual travelers and voluntour-ism aficionados alike will be traveling to developing countries in hopes of "helping" them. While the intentions are good and the hearts might be golden, I have often wondered if that is truly enough to make an international impact. Since our non-profit, Konbit Haiti, will also be receiving help this summer, I believe that cross-cultural exchange and the desire to help are capable of existing together. Here are some pointers for anyone hoping to make a real impact in a developing country this summer.
1. Check your American attitude at the door
Man, do we think we have all the answers. One thing that I am constantly reminding myself (and others who visit) is that our understanding of the world is so completely different than the ways others view the world. Things cannot often be "quickly fixed" and honestly, not everyone sees things that need to be fixed when they look out at their own lives. Let's check our American attitude at the door and instead, be a more aware and informed global citizen.
2. Ask questions instead of giving answers
Imagine you have lived your whole life in such a way and then someone comes in with a plan to change your whole community. They come and go in a flash and you are left wondering why your life was so wrong to begin with. That is how we can seem when we attempt to solve problems instead of simply getting to know people in other countries. Ask a question! Who knows, you might just learn something!
3. Experience a different way of life
There is something beautiful to every culture around the world. Your worldview continues to shrink the more you open it up to other cultures and their view on life. I know mine has. I am so thankful for the impact my work in other cultures has had on me. I understand the simple life, the natural life, and a life not defined by what you "have," but instead by who you are. Open your eyes!
4. Remember that these people are here long after you're gone
Don't get offended if people don't want to implement your ideas or use your plans. Don't get upset if it doesn't make sense to go to the orphanage down the road. You are thinking about your trip, perhaps, but these citizens are thinking about their lives. What are the kids in the children's home going to do next week when you don't show up? What are the people leading long-term movements going to do without candy to bring people in? Take nationals' advice and do what will help them, not just what will make you feel happy in the moment.
5. Different doesn't mean "less than"
Train your mind to stop with these comments: "What a crazy driver!" or "Who does that?" Just because you think people don't understand your English, they do more than you think they do. They get your tone, your body language, and believe it or not, they likely understand English, too. Different driving, different food, and a different life doesn't mean it's any less than your culture. Embrace it! Isn't that why you traveled, anyway?
6. Jump in!
You spent the money and time to experience something new. So, jump in! Allow yourself the freedom to explore a new culture, their food, their love, and their lifestyle. You just might find you don't want to come back!