HOW TO DEAL WITH EXPERIENCING POVERTY
Travelling to developing countries can be daunting – especially the first time. Knowing that you’re going to witness things that are bound to make you feel uncomfortable is understandably very intimidating.
Seeing the struggles and hardships that millions of people face around the world really puts things into perspective; it makes you realise that this world can be very dark… And that we travellers are more privileged than possibly imaginable.
Before any overseas trip, it’s important to go with an open mind, so that the confronting sights that you could possibly see don’t scare you off for good. Knowing how to deal with poverty, how to overcome the challenging thoughts and the overwhelming feeling of helplessness is the very first step.
As I’ve mentioned many times, travelling the world makes you part of a minority. 40% of the global population receives less than $2 a day; travel for these people will never be a reality. The fact that you have the ability to fly to a different part of the world for your own pleasure, is more than billions of people could ever possibly imagine.
With more than 80% of the people on this planet living below the poverty line, at some point in your travels, there’s no doubt that you’re going to witness the tragedy. You’re going to see things that will make you feel helpless, things that will make you feel uncomfortable and force you to question your every intention. The things you’ll see will be sure to snap you into the biggest reality check of your life.
Experiencing poverty is one of those things that will leave you feeling concerned; there will be times when you don’t want to look because of the fear of being insulting, or because of the daunting, graphic and simply unbearable sights that are laid in front of your eyes. The times when people beg you for money during the nearest point of death, the times when living conditions are far below the standards of anything you’ve seen in developed countries, and the times when sheer desperation shines through the eyes of people in the streets.
It’s heartbreaking – to say the absolute least. But as travellers, it’s up to us to not let that heartbreak be ignored.
As I’m sure you’re well aware, leaving your home instantly gets you out of your comfort bubble. But when you’re in the midst of experiencing poverty, that bubble is simply burst. Every inch of that luxury is washed down the drain, only to be returned when you enter your front door back home.
The devastating, sometimes unbearable sights that can be seen in developing countries, teach you one very important thing…
When you get back home to your comfort and stability, you will no longer take that toilet for granted; nor your bed, your TV or the roof over your head. Some days you’ll forget about it, but deep in your mind, you’ll always know the importance of not taking anything in your privileged life with a grain of salt.
So instead of batting away the utter desolation in these countries… I ask you to embrace it.
Look at these people in the eyes. Connect with them. Let them know that you feel their pain and that it isn’t being ignored. Give them money when you know it’s needed, give them comfort when you feel it’s necessary, and give them your trust when they confide in you – even if it’s out of detestation.
I’m sorry to tell you, but ignorance is so far from bliss. Avoiding and walking away from these situations is simply creating a false reality. Living in a bubble does nothing for any of us… Everyone on this earth needs to know the deepest of truths about the majority of the population.
We no longer need this hierarchy that is so obviously visible. All human beings deserve a chance at a beautiful life, and by walking our bodies (especially as a white caucasian) through a poor part of society, we are showing these people something that they will more than likely never have.
It’s awful. But as much as it may feel unbelievably wrong at the time, it’s up to us to show the world that being able to see such devastating poverty, and walk away from it when it’s desired, is a seriously lucky thing.
Travelling to poor countries makes you realise the undoubtful truth that poverty is real; and a problem that most travellers will never have to face. Take in those sights and use them to impact your personal outlook on life – use the devastation to make people realise how damn lucky they really are. Take the confronting reality and help those people in the most positive way you can.
Don’t use them to just make yourself look good on social media… Truly help them, and mean it. Too often we see people volunteering overseas in orphanages, to take selfies with children in order to look good on the web. They want to do the volunteer jobs that will be a good boost to their self-esteem.
When in reality, there aren’t enough people doing the things that truly need doing – the office jobs, the jobs behind the scenes that are very far from glamorous. As a foreigner, taking away the locals jobs is overly damaging – we need to make the people of these nations feel as though they can get out of the rut on their own; without the need for a bunch of white tourists. In many ways the global north really can help, although we don’t want the people we meet to be dependent on our generosity.
We are not heroes. We cannot enter poor countries thinking that we can change them on our own because of our privilege. We need to think of positive solutions that will encourage the people of the global south to not lose hope on fighting for a better life, without causing damage along the way. Difficult I know, but it’s so important.
So, when you see a man with no limbs dragging himself along the ground with his mouth… Give him some of your money. When you see children playing on the street, smile at them, interact with them, allow them to gain your trust.
Before you arrive, learn about when giving to beggars can be right and wrong. Money isn’t always the best solution in some situations, and being educated on the difference is so important.
When you’re in these confronting situations, the most valuable thing you can do is to open your heart. When you see people overflowing from the crowded slums, don’t look away! Look at these people and realise that they didn’t choose this life, just as you didn’t choose your privilege either.
You’re lucky to be able to walk away from poverty when it best suits you, but for the people that are faced with it on the daily… That’s not an option. Don’t turn a blind eye, instead, think of new ways that can help these people with positive solutions.
When you get home to the greedy “western world”, first world problems will slowly become painful to hear. The constant complaints and negativity from such a privileged part of the world will become something that you begin to loathe. Remind those around you that ‘lucky’ doesn’t even begin to describe their situation.
Take your heartbreak and use it to better your own life. Do it for the people that you saw on your travels; those that had absolutely nothing, who had no other choice but to deal with their hardships in ways we will never comprehend. The people that had a smile on their face whilst drinking from a dirty puddle, along with those whose struggles were visible through the pain in their eyes. Live your best life… And do it for them.
Don’t use and abuse the people you meet for the benefit of your holiday and leave without a care. Entering their country, their villages, their lives, and leaving without a slither of emotion is extremely damaging. Seeing and experiencing poverty will change you, for good… But knowing how to deal with poverty is simply what matters the most.
What you do with the unbearable sights, is how we travellers will make an impact.
It starts with this: Be the change you wish to see in the world.
What if the cure to cancer was stuck in the mind of someone who couldn’t afford an education?
What do you believe is the most important in terms of how to deal with poverty? What was it like for you, the first time of experiencing poverty in the flesh?
[ READ NEXT: Putting #FirstWorldProblems into Perspective ]
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