For the Love of Travel: Giving Back to Local Communities

Wild Guanabana - Feb 8, 2018

Source: Skitterphoto

It’s much easier to claim that we love something, or someone, than to act upon that claim. Beyond its commercial and romanticised façade, love is a mutual bond that requires commitment, sincerity, and a lot of hard work; a bond that is capable of building bridges where misunderstanding would otherwise fuel hatred and disparity; a bond that can heal the deepest wounds.

Can the same be said of our love for travel?

Many of us are proud of being avid travellers, boasting about the off-the-beaten-tracks we’ve walked, and the locals we’ve broken bread with. The farther we venture, the wider perspective we gain, and the more energy for life we charge. But what do we give back to travel?

The bond a traveller shares with the travel community might be a bit unconventional, but there are multiple ways to express your genuine, sincere love for travel. Here are only a few:

1. Travel Responsibly

Schoolchildren during a clean-up on one of Marsa Alam's beaches in Egypt. Credit: Enas El Masry

The first and most important way to express your genuine love for travel is to leave the destinations you visit as they are, or even better. Oftentimes travellers leave behind far more footprint than can be overcome or restored.

The negative impact of irresponsible travel doesn’t stop at littering and pollution. It can take various other forms, such as unknowingly supporting animal abuse, cultural appropriation, or insulting the local cultures due to not acquainting yourself with their customs and traditions prior to your visit.

2. Volunteer

Volunteering at ACE - Animal Care in Egypt. Source: ACE Facebook page

For several years, voluntourism has been a controversial topic, arguing that the impact volunteering tourists (or voluntourists) leave behind can be more harmful than beneficial. However, volunteering with local projects can be a great way to get up-close and personal with the communities you visit. With reasonable research you can find several local projects that guarantee positive impact on the local community and yourself.

Here are a few places in Egypt where you can volunteer, give back to the community, and interact with it in a whole new light:

  • Catherine Exists is a project that started off as a photo-series which aimed to shed light on the local community of Saint Catherine city in Egypt’s Sinai. Today it has grown into a community centre where travellers can volunteer as well as learn from the local community.
  • Connect-In Groups is the only informal school in Siwa oasis where locals can learn or enhance their English language, and even their computer skills. Run by Dutch Yuridia Montoya and her mother Ellen, volunteering at Connect-In is a case in point for how intercultural exchange can add value to everyone involved.
  • Safarni is a rather different way to give back to the travel community. Based in Cairo, Safarni organises intercultural programs for children in Ard el-Lewa to introduce them to different cultures around the world. Through workshops that mimic travel experiences, they aim to expose the children to the world’s cultural diversity, prompting understanding and a sense of global awareness.
  • Animal Care in Egypt (ACE) is a great place to volunteer if you love animals. While most shelters around Egypt take in stray cats and dogs, ACE looks after working animals in Luxor. There’s much to be learned for veterinary students as well as volunteers with no veterinary experience.
  • Habiba Community, based in Nuweiba, offers multiple volunteer opportunities. If you’re an agriculture student or expert, you can volunteer at Habiba Organic Farm. You can also inquire about other volunteer opportunities at the Habiba Learning Centre which offers after-school programs for children aged five to 13.

3. Buy Local

Ahmed in Fayyoum spends his vacations selling the wicker products his mother makes to support the family. Credit: Enas El Masry

Many local communities, especially women, turn to small projects to support their families. Travellers may feel inclined to compare their products’ prices to similar mass produced ones. By buying their products, not only are you valuing the time, effort, and artisanship that goes into their handmade crafts, you are also supporting their community and encouraging them to preserve their lifestyle.

If you wish to support local communities around Egypt, you can check out the Siwa-based Tiltawein (literally translates to ‘women’ in Tamazight, the local language of Siwa) which exhibits various handcrafts ranging from silver accessories to embroidery. Also if you’re ever around Saint Catherine, make sure you don’t miss Mountain Rose’s assortment of natural products and trail food (their energy bars are exceptionally delicious). For a more comprehensive shopping experience, you can visit any of Fair Trade Egypt’s stores which have been retailing locally made handcrafts since 1998.

4. Spread the Word and Educate

A group of Chinese tourists at the Pyramids. Credit: Enas El Masry

After the trip is over and all the fun is done, the only thing that connects us to the priceless time we had is retelling our stories and sharing all the moments we’ve captured. Through your photos and stories, many others get to see the destinations you visit through your eyes, and comprehend their cultures through your stories. This makes it particularly important to differentiate between personal impressions and solid facts about the culture.

Mixing both up in an interesting, eloquent narrative can often lead to creating and feeding misconceptions about places others have never been, and people they’ve never seen.

Do you express your love for travel in a different way? Make sure to share your story in the comments section below.