There are critics who say don’t travel to countries where there is a sex trade, or other unconscionable activities occurring. I take the opposing view, that we should travel to these countries that need our help and support those people in a healthy way. Forget the all-inclusives. The money doesn’t go to the local people.
Instead, it’s time to get out of your comfort zone and help the local economy directly. This can be challenging for people as they witness the poverty and living conditions they are not used to seeing. This is where self-awareness and opening your heart comes in.
In my recent travels to S.E. Asia, I traveled with G Adventures, a company that works with local businesses that support local people and this takes the guess work and legwork out of finding reputable places to support.
In Hoi An, Vietnam, we had a lesson on noodle making and a delicious lunch at Oodles of Noodles. Another day we ate at Streets Restaurant. Young people receive 18 months of training and learn to work in the hospitality industry.
The slogan is “ Good Food helping Good kids.”
Both days were very inspiring and you could feel and see the gratitude of these young people and how hard they were working to make our experience truly memorable.
In Phnom Penh, Cambodia we took a Cyclo Tour. It was really enjoyable seeing highlights of the city from this vantage point. The Cyclo Centre is an NGO to support approximately 1400 drivers a day. Various programs such as English language training and health checks are included in this program.
In Phnom Penh we also visited the killing fields and S-21, a school that became a prison during the Khmer Rouge regime. Both visits were very challenging emotionally, and at the same time very important to witness. The government had considered closing the killing fields, and luckily the area is still open to view.
There are 2 survivors of S-21 who sell their books daily at the site. I purchased Bou Meng’s book, as a way to support him. Unfortunately the website on his card is not currently accessible. (www.ksaemksan.info). I also did a short interview though it was challenging through an interpreter.
In Siem Reap, Cambodia, we visited the New Hope Community Centre and village and had dinner in the related restaurant. This is a grassroots, NGO organization, that is helping sex worker, their children and others get off the street and become educated. http://www.newhopecambodia.com/
In Chiang Mai, Thailand, I visited an elephant sanctuary. There were 2 elephants under a year old. I had the joy of feeding them banana and sugar cane and getting in the mud hole to help wash and scrub them. It was sad to see an older elephant with part of a missing ear because a past trainer had used a hook and tore his ear.
Back in Bangkok, Thailand, before I headed home I spent a few days on my own.
The way to get around the city is by tuk tuk’s. I had decided to get a skirt made and asked my driver to take me to a specific store. I had to be firm and clear with him, to keep him on track to take me to the store I wanted. He showed me that he received a gas voucher for taking me to his sponsors. I ensured he received one when we arrived where I wanted to go. He then asked to take me to several other of his sponsors, before taking me to my next stop. By visiting, whether or not I purchased he received more gas vouchers. If I did purchase he received more. He told me he came to the city to work and his wife and child was several hundred miles away and he went back every couple of weeks. I could have become annoyed or angry with him wanting to take me to various places. Instead, I was able to come from a place of compassion and agreed to the visits. In the tailor shops, I had a look and left. In the souvenir/jewelry shops I found some nice jewelry including a ruby studded elephant necklace and bargained a good price. The next morning my driver was again outside the hotel, waiting to take me around. He took me to the places I wanted to go, came back at the requested time and I again visited some of his sponsors and I enjoyed the free tuk tuk ride. The last morning he came by and we said goodbye and shook hands as he went off to look for another fare and I walked around enjoying my last morning in the city.
So how do I stay healthy and heart centered? What I have learnt is that we are all mirrors for each other and as we see those living in difficult situations, our own fears can surface. This is when we need to find the compassion for ourselves and how we are feeling.
If we don’t have compassion for ourselves, how do we have compassion for others?
It is only when we open our hearts and acknowledging how we are feeling that we can have that compassion for others. And when I find myself drifting to thoughts of judgment or fear, I re-center in my heart and remind myself we are all humans and doing the best we can.
It is easy to go into sensory overload and it’s important to take some time for self-care when you are traveling. In SE Asia, massage is inexpensive and a great way to relax and unwind. Grab a coconut water in a real coconut and sit and people watch. Not only will you hydrate and balances your electrolytes, you get a different view from being on the go all the time.
In Chiang Mai, Thailand, I had the best pedicure. The reason was I got to see a slice of life of a family. Basically, the storefront was the family’s living room. The husband was watching sports on television. As I was soaking or drying the woman went about her daily tasks. I watched her changing the food and water on the family shrines, feeding the cat, etc. . She was so relaxed and nonchalant, it was a great reminder to myself to slow down and enjoy whatever I was doing.
My last comment, for now, will be about how I am prepared before I even leave.
I have been a teacher of an energetic healing system that incorporates a grounding and shielding system for many years. http://www.traininginpower.com/
This helps keep me present and feeling safe, with the knowledge that I can use my tools when I need to. The more I stay present, the more joy I find in having my experiences help to learn more about myself.
If you don’t already have a practice that helps you, you might want to consider one that feels right for you.
In closing, happy travels with an open and compassionate heart.