Dealing With Poverty While Traveling
My last trip in 2011 was to South America which required many hours on the bus (around 200 in total). It was amazing, but some days were like a non stop motion picture of who couldn't even meet the basics.
It's not easy but the more I travel the more i am able to set out basic "ground-rules" for dealing with pverty while travelling and as a photographer.
1. DON'T GIVE ANYTHING BUT A SMILE. Even if you are taking a picture, do not give anything. I know, it's so hard when you have little hands held out in front of your face but handing out stuff encourages begging. Some days I break down, but instead of money I usually fill my camera bag up with non-perishable food. Handing it out is still not the most ethical thing, but in my head it's better then money.
2. Talk to people where you are staying. Staying in dorms is always like one giant sleepover so there is always some to talk to how you are feeling at the end of the day. Life gets a little harder when you return home. Where I am from people have no desire to listen to the sad things. Unless it's about sunshine and kittens most people stop listening after the words "It was so sad..." I talk when I can though and hope I can get a few people to see the bigger picture.
3. Write, go back and re-read, cry and re-write. Writing is important and no matter how you feel it's good to document the bad days as well as the good.
4. Be positive for despite the fact that there is poverty, it does not meant that everybody is suffering. In fact I have seen so much more joy on the road then I do in my city that it makes me wonder how much do we really need outside the basics? Even in the poorest areas, people still smiled and invited me in even if they had nothing. There is different kinds of poverty and none of the people I have met have lacked in spirit.
5. Bring Bubbles! This is one of the best ice-breakers when it comes to meeting people whether it be adults or kids. People always smile and you can blow them out of a bus window, on a boat, on the back of a moto and so on.
6. Even if you can't give, give back to the community whether it be 1 hour or 10 months. Wherever I go there are always organizations desperate for volunteers. What I usually do is contact someone ahead of time and offer to write a story on them and do some pictures to gain exposure for their organizations.
I also donate to Kiva. I wish I thought of this idea because it is amazing. My goal is to visit everyone I have donated money to and to listen on how these projects change lives.
This list is still in the works and I hope to make it bigger as I travel more because there is nothing hard and fast while on the road. You just have to roll with it and learn how to deal.
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Photo credits: Angela Ostafichuk.