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Traveling to far-off lands and exotic countries is incredible, but seeing an impoverished child selling souvenirs or begging for money can really tug on you heartstrings. Here, TPG International Contributor Lori Zaino offers some charity organizations and ways to help make a difference in kids’ lives around the world. (All photos are by author unless otherwise specified).
Research Charity Options Ahead Of Time
At TPG, we believe supporting organizations that keep families together (or help children through vocational programs and education) is a positive alternative to orphanage tourism or giving change to begging children. Start by checking out this list of ChildSafe Traveler Tips that can be applied to any emerging country. The ChildSafe campaign is dedicated to protecting and supporting children and their families, and they’ve offered a great list with more charities if you are looking for more ways to help during your travels. (Please note: Any charity mentioned here that is US-based has four stars on Charity Navigator).
Don’t Encourage Begging Street Children
A small child approaches you in India begging for money. While it’s painful to turn him or her away, buying goods from children or giving them money, no matter how sad or sympathetic you feel, isn’t truly helping and just encourages them to beg and work the streets in lieu of attending school. Parents sometimes see the increased monetary results of begging and therefore keep their kids out of school, so don’t buy goods from youth on the street — you could be keeping them from getting an education.
Avoid Visiting The Local Orphanage
While it seems like playing with orphaned children for a day would be helpful and positive, it’s actually detrimental to their well-being. According to UNICEF, 75% of children in orphanages in Cambodia, for example, are not actually orphans and usually have at least one living parent or have been trafficked there. Friends International says visiting orphanages can have a negative impact — a volunteer may leave the orphanage thinking they’ve just made a positive contribution, but in reality they may have just accidentally created attachment issues for the child. Orphanages can also be breeding grounds for physical or sexual abuse.
Eat At Restaurants That Give Back To The Community
Calling all foodies: Eating at TreeHouse Alliance restaurants will delight your palate while helping out a wonderful cause. With locations in several countries around Southeast Asia, the restaurant group is dedicated to training underprivileged teens to be chefs and waiters and donating money to families in need. Besides helping youth, these restaurants offer creative takes on authentic local dishes using fresh ingredients. Purchases made in the restaurant’s gift shop also contribute to the cause.
Build Homes in Brazil
Happy Child International rescues and rehabilitates street children and at-risk teens and reintegrates them back into their families and communities. Volunteer in Brazil by helping to renovate family homes.
Help Teens Practice Their English
In Laos, Big Brother Mouse has two locations where you can donate books and even sponsor book parties. It’s also easy to volunteer there. Visit in the morning or afternoon for English conversation class, where you can chat with local teens and help them practice their English. I was lucky enough to volunteer at the Luang Prabang location and loved speaking with eager adolescents about their families, jobs and hopes for the future. Not only did it help them practice English, it was a wonderful way for me to learn about the Laotian way of life. TPG Contributor Eric Rosen has also volunteered here and had the opportunity to chat with a group of young monks on his trip.
Be A Mentor in Ecuador
The Center For Working Families is an organization dedicated to helping children and their families get an education, learn skills and become literate. Their locations in Ecuador offer all sorts of volunteer opportunities like mentoring or speaking with teenagers and children.
Pack Items You Want To Donate
One easy way to help when traveling is to bring school or medical supplies along with you to your destination and donate them through Pack For A Purpose. Simply buying items like pencils before you travel — they only take up a small portion of your suitcase! — can make a big difference in an emerging country trying to educate its youth. Search the Pack For A Purpose website by destination or initiative and see what is needed. There are drop-off points all over the world so for example, you can drop off general school or art supplies at the Ritz-Carlton, Cancun in Mexico to support the Colonia Chiapaneca school or used clothing at Rough Guides in Morocco to support the children of nomads.
Stop By Your Favorite Charities While You’re In The Neighborhood
Room to Read helps by building schools and educating children in places like Asia and Africa. Arrange to visit one of the completed projects so you can see firsthand what the charity has accomplished and receive information about what you can do to help once you’re back home — organizing book swaps, creating fundraisers or becoming an ambassador are all ways you can contribute pre- or post-trip.
Keep Helping Once You Get Home
TPG is a huge supporter of PeaceJam, a wonderful organization that uses the resources and wisdom of 13 Nobel Laureates — from Archbishop Desmond Tutu to the Dalai Lama — and inspires today’s youth to become leaders and create positive change on a global level. Get involved by joining the One Billion Acts of Peace movement, where you can create and share acts of peace on social media. Check out Episode 2 of TPGtv to learn more about TPG’s involvement with PeaceJam.
Passports with Purpose is a community created by travel bloggers who wanted to give back to the countries they traveled to. The organization has helped to build schools, libraries and even create adult literacy programs in Africa and Central America. Currently, Passports with Purpose is raising money to send digital readers to five libraries in Kenya. Help spread the world by writing blog posts about the organization or sharing their story on social media.
We often worry about children in third-world countries, but there are many children and families in need right here in the US. If you’d prefer to focus your efforts on something a little closer to home, the Center For Children and Families in Oklahoma is a great place to start. The organization provides counseling, teen parenting services and a baby pantry for parents who have limited resources as well as programs to help empower youth. You can donate funds and if you live nearby, volunteer or host a diaper drive. Prevent Child Abuse America is another charity with locations all over the US. You can participate in your region by donating, offering advocacy or organizing and hosting Child Abuse Prevention Month activities.
Earning Points and Miles As You Help Others
When booking visits to countries where you’re participating in these volunteer efforts, keep in mind that credit cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Citi Prestige don’t charge foreign transaction fees — see this post for other fee-free card options. Book trips with the Citi ThankYou Premier while you’re still stateside to earn 3x points per dollar on this travel-category spend.
To make the most of your charitable donations for children, families and other worthy causes, consider putting your transactions on the U.S. Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa Signature Card, which always offers triple points on charitable donations, assuming the organization is properly categorized.
Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
- No foreign transaction fees
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
- No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards