This is the hashtag that has been used on Twitter for the last days in order to promote and spread the word for organizations working for child protection around the world, specially for the Better Child Protection Community and People and Places Responsible Volunteering. Spreading a word like this is something that concerns all us human beings in my opinion…no matter where, when or how, we are simply part of it even without knowing. And as travelers? Even more! We are moving and sensing new experiences, new places, new realities, new cultures. We can reach all of them in an easier ways, so yes, we can help this movement. So yes, there’s a lot we can do from the traveler perspective as responsible tourism!
Do You Remember When…?
We all were kids once, probably with a pretty safe childhood in the suburbs, with a family looking after us and having regular lessons at our town’s school. And I repeat: “probably most of us”…but certainly not everybody.
I remember growing up at a farm, back in Costa Rica, where I had plenty of green area just for myself, trees where I had built castles and where I had been a princess once. I had a small river where I used to be a mermaid after school every afternoon and I had also, a doll house where I got to play and be a mommy for my dolls; where I had my (imaginary) friends coming over for tea time at least once a week, and sometimes my parents too! Yes, I can remember having a happy childhood there.
As a few years went by, I remember how a construction started over the empty lot on the other side of the street. Took a few months until it was done. Then suddenly a really strange thing happened (in my 8-9 years old memories): an intense bunch of kids started to arrive into that new place.
There were several buildings, a big and high one too, where a basket ball area could be seen from my yard. There was also a gray fence all over the place, surrounding it all and making it impossible for me to go take a curious free look. Only one thing left to do for me was climbing up the tree next to my doll house and watch from there. I started to hear noises, laughing, yelling…I could see boys and girls!!! Many of them!
-“I could go play with them!” – I thought. But I had still to observe a bit longer in order to be sure there were kids over there. “What a nice place!”
Days went by and I kept playing on my yard, with my doll house and through my river, trees and meadow in the backyard. I was still curious, kids were still there, not gone.
“Might they be on a vacation camp? I bet they are playing games all day long!” – I daydreamed a lot those days. I had a big urge to go there, sneak in and just make new friends and play…it was perfect, just in front of my place, happy me in my mind.
One day I finally made it!
A lady received me while a walked in with my dad through the gray gate. He had talked and arranged if it was possible for me to go spend an afternoon there, to which they accepted. I could suddenly feel many faces watching curiously from some corners at us, they moved as we walked. Then, my dad gave me a goodbye kiss until later. And there I was! Finally at the new magical place full of kids for me to go talk, play and make some new friends.
I was free now to just walk into the garden and playground. Many kids suddenly came to me, slowly, cautiously…curiously. They looked at me a lot until they had a word or two. There were many of them, boys and girls. I smiled and said hello, but I got only silence. Still curious faces, all straight at me. -“Who’s that? New girl coming in?”. Then a girl talked to me, she asked for my name. Then a couple more. So we started playing and moving around. They showed me the place with a shy smile coming out from their mouth as we got to know each other a bit more.
They told me this was their home, they lived there, they went to the local school (not all of them though, the girls didn’t know why) and sometimes to church on sundays, but only in small groups. After school they always were taken back there, in order to do homework, eat, play, sleep, until the next day the cycle began all over again. They also told me they lived there recently but they came from another place, some of them didn’t remember where they came from, others did…and not all good memories as I can recall.
One of them was quite happy with my presence and she took me to her room to show me her toy. We arrived into a big salon, where I saw several big tables, like picnic table but indoors, also a kitchen. And next I saw 2 large rows of beds with windows on both sides…”hmmm…funny sleep place” I thought. And there it was, her bed and her toy on it. That was her home…
I was a bit confused but I felt also happy for being there. I spent the whole afternoon and even though it felt weird sometimes, it was quite an experience as I can remember.
I went out that afternoon and walked back home, right in front. The days after I didn’t go to play, those were school days. I spent time at my yard from where I could see my new friends from across the street, they waved at me sometimes! But they never got to come to my place and play…
An Orphanage Day
After several years went by, I was old enough to understand how this was the new city’s orphanage built right in front of my house. I was allowed to go play sometimes but under supervision (which I never noticed). As years went by also, it was my little brother’s turn to play in our yard. This time kids where different, they have grown up. Some of those I met, had been released after 18 years-old because they can’t hold kids over majority age. This time, my brother got rocks and insults instead of waves and hellos. This was very sad and I now could understand or at least think a bit of what could be in the minds of these kids, living in an orphanage.
Back then, I always dreamed of playing and sharing with them, which I fortunately did. But what I never realized (naturally) as a kid, is that those kids where probably jealous and locked up somehow in a place where they didn’t belong. Some of them where taken away from their parents for drug reasons, abuse, and many more. Some of them didn’t even remember having parents or a home.
Social Support & Caring
This way, I knew then and now too, what an amazing work they started there and they still carry in this home, even when these kids don’t realize it at young ages. They give abandoned children a place to live, to grow up, to learn. They pick them up from different parts of the city and the country in order to take them out of a harsh social condition until they are 18, when they can go out and work, finding for them many times places where they can be useful and avoid them from going into drugs. Some other times they leave this home…into a better home if they get adopted by a caring family.
And this is JUST ONE example of ways for child protection that can be done.
I now understand what an amazing act this was and what and outstanding social tool they build up there. We need this in our world, in our society, even if we know these kids will have many issues inside: psychological, emotional, low self esteem, abandoned or abused memories. This will certainly be sad for them, they will have to carry this inside for life and learn to live with this because there is no way we can erase those memories from there.
But THERE is a way to help them go through all those issues and we can all take part in this.
After I had that opportunity and even more after I have traveled through different parts of the world, I am more convinced now than ever that we need and CAN make a difference. I believe in kids and I love the way they see the world no matter what reality they are living in. Kids have an incredible strength over life…more than many adults could even imagine.
As a Traveler
As a traveler and also as a person dedicated to medical care, I have certainly been through paths in my mind and on the road that have shown me a very tiny part of this huge charity act. And even though is a tiny part I’ve seen, it has definitely made me think on more. I haven’t ever volunteered in my life. I have done medical internships and practices involving children health care during my career. And I still dream of going into some volunteer medical program someday.
As a traveler, no matter of what kind, we all have a responsibility as human beings. We can just go, see, travel, taste, enjoy…but the world is not only for sightseeing it, is for LIVING it! There is so much we can do and contribute when we travel, we can definitely take part in some responsible tourism. Why not? Have you ever thought of this? You might want to do now.
And now that I am helping on a campaign for #betterchildprotection, this idea has become stronger inside me. I can do something for this and mostly, for them.
And you can help too!
Let’s support a cause for our kids, for the future citizens of this world. If we help now, we will build a stronger chain and these little kids will grow into thankful and productive adults, who will help others too as they know the real experience and the real feeling.
Have you had any similar or related experience? Would love to hear your story and your feelings towards it. We were all kids once…
Do you remember the feeling?