Look at that kid. I’m mean LOOK at her! Not a care in the world! Just hanging out and being groovy with the random dude (i.e. me) holding her. She’ll soon grow up to truly understand that she is surrounded by abject poverty in an abandoned rest stop with no electricity on a sparse Jamaican highway.
About 3 months before, I signed up for a “Familiarization Trip” (a cheap way for us travel agent folks to see a bunch of places at once to better advise our superb clients) to Jamaica and indicated my desire to visit Tiny Hope Orphanage, among the other stops to decadent all-inclusive resorts in the Ocho Rios area of Jamaica. The marketing capitalist in me thought, “let’s tug at the heart strings a bit and be sure to get lots of pictures of smiling children so potential customers will think I’m a real stand-up guy and want to buy travel from me!” Then the guilt instilled in me from my Catholic upbringing gurgled in my stomach, so I went to Target and bought a ton of stuff to bring with me for a donation.
Yes I was shamefully cavalier about the whole thing.
Back to the little girl. Ok so yes, I did snap a selfie, yes I marketed it, but I also took from the experience something significantly more meaningful and rewarding.
There was an intensity in the contrast between my charmed life (if you get 3 squares a day, have a roof over your head with electricity and clean running water, you’re charmed by comparison to this little one) and how these children lived. But it wasn’t their surroundings that struck me; it was the smiles, the laughing, the playing, and the appreciation of our simple visit and our donated items that struck me.
Perspective is everything. Giving money to a cause is fantastic, but it’s a bit detached. To truly appreciate what we have and the simple differences we can make, we need to step out of our charmed life, if for only an hour, get on the ground and help our fellow humans.
There are some fantastic travel opportunities that allow you to see the world AND help out the locals. Like donations, simply viewing a nifty old building, snapping some pics, and moving on to the next site are a bit detached. But being on the ground and helping needy locals to improve their educational, environmental, and economic conditions will give you perspective, a deeper understanding of the local culture, and unending warm fuzzies.
So if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to sign up to serve food to homeless folks at my church.
P.S. If you want to learn more about the orphanage I visited and donate to the building fund for Tiny Hope Orphanage, which will provide shelter, necessities, food, and education to Jamaican children in need, please visit their website. Thank you!
(Originally published 10/19/15 here)