Harmful to Helpful
If you are on this page it means you have finished reading my research article, Who are We to Help People and now have some basic knowledge on how service work in another country can be harmful. Changing the World Through Service: a Step by Step Guide has one main goal, and that is to inform the reader on how humanitarian aid is helpful. Readers will learn a multitude of information through this page. Topics include: the importance of humanitarians, in depth steps to planning your own service trip abroad, how to respect someone’s “dignity”, what is the meaning of privilege, what it means to be human & how they are affected by resources. In addition the reader will come across guidelines on how to be a “conscientious humanitarian”, and interviews with local NH humanitarians. This applied project was constructed based off of my passion in Global Health and past experiences with service work abroad. Each bit of information in this page has been from my own personal encounters. My ultimate goal in life is to improve the lives of others through my career path in Global Health, what better way to promote this goal then to teach others through my past experiences! Before you dive into my advice check out my most recent trip abroad created by a close friend/service volunteer, click here to watch!
Plan Your Own Service Trip!
A step by step guide to planning a trip
Safety is key to any trip abroad whether the intent is to help others or spend a week on a tropical island. SAFETY IS KEY. If you are planning a trip with a group of people (which is highly advised) it is important to stick together. It is important to do extensive research about where you are going months in advance, and keep up with this weekly, to ensure the group’s overall safety. One’s initial intent is to help another but it would be nice to make it back home in one piece of course!
Everyone should watch out for themselves, but also for each other. To ensure safety everyone needs to abide by a dress code and shy away from any flirtatious behaviors. I advise one should keep make-up to a minimum, it is not needed on the trip it is not a fashion show by any means and you should aim to draw little attention, especially if your service group has many women volunteers. I press the issue of researching where you are going because depending on the area some places are safer than others and this depends on the degree of safety you must have. For example, while in El Salvador my group had to hire security to accompany us everywhere we went due to the village’s high rate of gang violence. I never once felt unsafe as I walked the streets because the community was grateful to have us but as I will repeatedly say, safety is key. You should keep as low of a profile as possible, this means no cell phones or expensive items
(i.e. wallets, cameras) should be out and noticeable. If you want to take a photo, do so in a subtle manor and put it away afterward. If you are going to be getting money out of your bag to purchase something, do it discretely and put the small bills into your pocket. You are representing yourself, your university, your organization and most importantly, your country so be respectful and mindful of your actions. Now, as I have mentioned before this information is based off of experience, so when I say do not drink the water, DO NOT DRINK THE WATER. I may or may not have had to sit out a day during one of my trips due to some accidental water sippin’. Bottled water is your life!!!
Bring a lot of hand sanitizer, even washing your hands and accidentally touching your hand can cause you to experience some unsettling effects…and please whatever you do, do not open your mouth in the shower.
Up next comes the most important part, how do you want to help?! Before anything you must decide as a group what your goals of the trip are and how you will accomplish them. Would you like to build a house for a family?
Does volunteering in a medical clinic interest you? Or do you see yourself in a school helping out? What ever your goal might be it, is important to figure it out far in advance, this way you can keep each project in mind with fundraising or soliciting for specific supplies prior to the trip. Advice I can give is to try and find an organization in the area you hope to travel to, this will help you plan better, whether it be about transportation, security, or room/board. Having natives who can help you with your questions is the best route to take. The organization I volunteer for called Epilogos takes pride in the projects they avidly fundraise for. Some ideas to help you coordinate your fundraising are: building a house, working in a medical clinic, visiting an orphanage, painting a mural in town, building a latrine, donating stoves that are safe to use or water purifiers. The easiest project to collect donations for is if you want to work in a classroom, new and lightly used school supplies are perfect to bring
and easy to collect! What about the health clinic? Next time you are at a doctor or dentist appointment strike up a conversation about your service goal, you’d be surprised by the amount of people willing to help you! A big piece of advice I can preach is this, the more people you reach out to and make connections with, the better. Be bold, be respectful, be outgoing, and take a chance!
Ok so here is one of the many stressors when planning and executing a service trip, bear with me. It can be a tedious process purchasing plane tickets but you must be patient. Start FAR in advance and check out all of your options. Sometimes if you call an airline directly there are group deals! As for the actual airport experience my best advice which you most likely knew is get there on time! Yes it is obvious but there is always that one person who shows up late am I right? I suggest designing a t-shirt as a group and wearing it on your travel days, it is a simple and easy way to keep track of everyone. It’s either that or you can resort to pre-school style: a rope with colored rings, everyone grab a ring we are headed to customs! Also a tiny thing one should mention is your PASSPORT. Please oh please treat this as your child, losing a passport is not an easy fix…once again I preach from prior group experiences. An important tip to keep in mind is the immigration procedure for the country you decide to travel to. In the past when I went through immigration in El Salvador we had to pay a fee that varied from $10 to $20 dollars, so be aware of this! Immigration and security is where a language barrier can become difficult, if you are traveling to a country where your first language is not prominent be sure to have at least one group member who is fluent in the native language.
Transportation can get confusing at times because it is an aspect of the trip that needs to be planned fully ahead of time. As I mentioned before, coordinating with an organization before you leave the states its the easiest and… heres that special word again..safest! While in El Salvador our groups travel by private bus, van or car and always have the best time getting to know our drivers throughout our stay. It is important to be aware of each person you meet during your journey, whether it be the flight attendant who helped you fix your seat, a bystander on the side of street giving a contagious smile, or a child who hugged you for absolutely no reason at all. The smallest of moments add up.
ORGANIZATION IS KEY. Before your trip as things begin to come together in regards to planning and fundraising, you should start coordinating with leaders of the organization you decide to collaborate with. I recommend downloading an app called WhatsApp.
It is the most convenient means of communication besides Facebook, and it much faster than emailing! As you start to develop a schedule type it up and keep it in a three ring binder. Along with a detailed schedule, start adding important information to the binder such as flight detail, emergency contacts (in the U.S & abroad), each group member’s emergency contacts and personal information such as allergies and other medical notes.
Group Cell Phones and International Plans
It is important to purchase group cell phones, preferably burner phones which are pre paid. These are mainly for security within the village but also so people can call home at night if they so wish. You can also buy international plan for through your cell phone carrier, all rates vary. My first few trips I did not
purchase a cellular plan, there was something so calming about being cut off from the world and everyone I knew, it gave me the opportunity to focus on every single moment of the trip. Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook were in the rear view for a few weeks and it was refreshing.
Packing, Donations and Luggage
Now we all know packing isn’t the most fun activity (I tend to lay on the floor and stare at all my stuff, in hopes it will pack itself). Do not forget your passport, hand sanitizer, bug spray with as much deet in it as possible, permethrin and sun screen!! Depending on your set location you might need to do some extra research on what to bring and what not to bring.
You are allowed one checked bag with donations in it and anything over 3oz (I highly suggest you weigh it ahead of time to make sure it does not exceed 50 pounds). You can have one carry on, which you can roll up your clothes in large zip lock bags to compress them and make them all fit (be sure to check the size dimensions of your carry on and what is allowed based on the chosen airline). You can also have one personal item (it is a good idea to use the backpack you are bringing for the trip as your personal item).
Once again! Research, research, research! Each country is different so be sure to figure out the currency, depending on the place you may have to order money while in the U.S which can take up to a couple weeks! During my trips I did not have to worry because the currency in El Salvador is the U.S dollar.
If this is the case for your trip I advise to bring small bills only, nothing over a 20 dollar bill and be mindful of how much money you wish to bring. Everything is typically paid for in advanced except for your meals while traveling at the airport and to and from the airport. You should bring little in your wallet in case it gets lost or stolen and have a sealed envelope set aside with some cash in it as a safety net.
Please remember you do not want to track undue attention to the group. This includes, no tight fitting bottoms or shorts when in town. I advise you wear baggy pants that at least go to your knees. All shirts need to cover your shoulders and show no cleavage.
Closed toes shoes are a must!! Going to hospitals while abroad is never fun…never. At your homestay you can of course wear shorts and tank tops, just not in town.
If you have food allergies or restrictions the place you choose to stay will do the best they can to accommodate, but know that it may not always happen. I suggest
you bring some of your own food to make up for this! Bring protein bars and snacks with you for
throughout the days to have in your backpack (Shy away from chocolate…it tends to melt rather quick). It is good to bring gum and candy to share with the kids throughout your journey, I highly advise you also bring games and books as another way to interact with the community! A important part of the trip is being highly aware that each person you encounter is a human being and deserve respect and dignity. Ask them if they want to see photos of your family and friends back home, I always bring funny photos of me in the snow. Something you can also do is let the locals take photos with your camera, or if you take a photo (with permission) be sure to let them take a look, they’d love to see!
THIS IS THE BREAD AND BUTTER OF THE TRIP (ok I’m not sure if that is the correct terminology but it just sounded so right). The success of your trip is based off of the effort you put into fundraising! The more you fundraise the more projects you are able to complete while abroad! My group sold t-shirts and beautifully painted tiles which had been purchased from an artist in El Salvador! Great places to set up camp are local community events such as art or farmers markets! Once again this is your chance to put yourself out there and make connections with your community to help another community abroad! This is the foundation of your trip, build it strong!
What Are People Excited About!?
You will be doing so many wonderful things! Don’t be afraid to journal and have deep conversations with other group members, I can assure you that this will
be an overwhelming experience especially if it is your first time doing a service trip. You will make special connections with locals but gain friendships in which you will have back home too. Seize the moment and be 100% invested, the time period is short but the experience will impact you forever.
Just a few things too keep in mind along the way…
“La Casa Digna”
In past service trips a common phrase that each group member held close to them was “la casa digna” which translates to a house that holds dignity. Student travelers and adult volunteers were always advised to keep this in mind when building a home for a family, but this can follow into any act of service while in another culture. You must remember, the way you act is a direct reflection on yourself, organization and country. Be conscious of this. In the words of a fellow group leader:
“In providing aid, one has to be very mindful of respecting independence and dignity. Also, one needs to really ask and then listen to folks who need some kind of aid”
It wasn’t till my first trip to El Salvador that I realized how privileged I was. I am telling you this, because those who went on the trip before I, told me this, now I’m relaying the message to you. You will not be able to explain the experiences you come across during your trip to those who have never left a culture other than their own. You can shoot your best attempt, but they won’t feel what you felt, or see what you saw. I will never forget the emotion that overcame me on my first service trip when I learned that the average Salvadoran can work hard all day long and make about seven dollars. I sat in disbelief. I was about to meet families who had a daily income that was less than the majority of hourly-minimum wages in the U.S. You will realize the privilege you possess, differs
greatly compared to those you will encounter on your journey. Be observant, be humble, and fully immerse yourself in the culture so you can come to your own realization when returning home. These are moments that can change you for the better, it’d be a shame if you missed them.
With that being said…
Tips to Being a Conscientious Humanitarian
What to do, say, & how to act while in a culture different than your own
How To Communicate The World: A SOCIAL MEDIA GUIDE FOR VOLUNTEERS AND TRAVELERS is a perfect resource to become familiar with before your journey abroad! I have mentioned before, but it is important! Represent yourself accordingly and respect others is the golden rule. Below are four principles to be aware of always, if you’d like to learn more about each follow the link above!
Gain Informed Consent
Question Your Intentions
Bring Down Stereotypes
If the information you’ve read thus far hasn’t given you enough insight please click the link below for an inside look at interviews and personal experiences from individuals who are constantly volunteering abroad!
Quick thank you to the readers! But most importantly all of the individuals who contributed to my support system. Without the inspiration of those who I have encountered through out the years, up until this point, I would not have constructed this project. Thank you for all you have given me, I’m truly grateful. Never forget how beautiful it is to be alive and healthy.
We were born with the ability to change someone’s life, don’t waste it.