Tag Archive | children

Ecuador – Gwen Niekamp (2012)

Gwen Niekamp

Gwen Niekampgraduated from Vassar College.  Gwen volunteered this summer at the summer camp in Ecuador founded by another SWF recipient,   Emma Coates-Finke.  Gwen received a $1000 scholarship from Sara’s Wish Foundation.

Here are Gwen’s travel safety tips:

Before you go, learn as much as you can about your destination—both the country as a whole and the specific city, neighborhood and/or community where you will be staying.

The travel I did with the help of Sara’s Wish brought me to San Clemente, Ecuador for the second time. I was fortunate because I could draw on my firsthand experiences from my previous trip in terms of bus schedules, accommodations and other things like local dialects. If you are preparing to travel somewhere new, look at blogs, travel guides and maps. Ask your friends or professors for recommendations and pick up key phrases in the local language (if you are headed to Ecuador, that means Spanish and Kichwa). If you are a big adventurer, you won’t be satisfied with only hearsay. Still, listening to the positive and negative experiences of other travelers is valuable, if only to help you build a list of must-sees and should-avoids. You can hit the ground running when you arrive in your host country and if a problem should arise, you will be familiar with effective coping strategies.

Register your travel information with the United States embassy.

This tip, like the first, isn’t specific to travelers to Ecuador. The U.S. State Department offers a free service called the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. You can enter your travel information about your trip abroad and subscribe to Travel Warnings and Alerts for your destination country, which can help in an emergency. You can enroll online.

Be prepared for traveler’s sickness.

At camp inauguration, Emma and I performed a skit for the campers in which we poked fun at ourselves and other travelers. We used a gallon-size ziploc full of pills, lozenges, sunscreen, bug spray and our other pooled toiletries as a prop, and the skit got a good laugh from the kids who are familiar with over-prepared tourists.

I didn’t use much of the first-aid baggie that I had packed, but it wasn’t useless. Advil and Tums can help you cure common traveler’s sicknesses or at least treat them until you can reach a doctor. Some toiletries—notably tampons and contact lenses/solution—aren’t as widely available or cheap in Ecuador as they are in the U.S. Stock up on your prescriptions before you go.

Most importantly, make a note of the nearest hospital, doctor and pharmacy. Keep the doctor’s number at hand. Hopefully you won’t need it, but it’s a relief to have if you do.

Familiarize yourself with domestic transportation and travel safety in Ecuador.

I stayed in Quito by myself for a few days so I could meet camp volunteers at the airport. While in the city alone, I joined with other independent travelers for sightseeing, cab rides and walking at night. To avoid being thought of as “easy targets” by pick-pocketers in the Centro Histórico and other tourist areas, we tried to travel in small groups and use as much Spanish as possible.

Taxis are widely available in the northern cities of Ecuador where I traveled. Hoy, a newspaper based in Quito, printed an article in 2010 claiming that about a third of the city’s 15,000 taxis are unregistered and illegal. Only travel in cabs that are marked (the side doors should display a company name and a registration number). If a cab doesn’t have a meter, negotiate a price with the driver before you get in.

If you are traveling around the country by bus, buy tickets in the terminal before you board so that you are guaranteed a seat. At departure there might be a dozen empty seats, but as the bus fills, passengers holding tickets can and will kick you out of your seat. That means a long bus ride standing up or sitting in the aisle, which is uncomfortable at best, dangerous at worst.

Especially if you will be visiting the mountains, engaging in adventure tourism or hiking, bring a headlamp. Even Andean villages that are frequented by eco-tourists don’t have street lamps. With a flashlight or headlamp, you will be more visible to the drivers of cars and motorcycles that wind up mountain roads at top speeds. (I also found that my headlamp minimized my stumbling during nighttime trips to the outdoor bathroom!)

Be especially cautious when banking.

Due to service charges and exchange rates, using ATMs in other countries can be expensive. To avoid the expenses that add up after multiple transactions, I often withdrew larger amounts of cash at a time. If you are doing the same, do be cautious. Don’t take out cash in unfamiliar neighborhoods, when you are by yourself or after dark. As soon as the ATM spits out the cash, divide it and hide it in several different secure pockets. To do this as discreetly as possible, I recommend using ATMs that are inside banks and not in view of the passersby on a crowded city street. Needless to say, if you are out running errands, stop at the ATM towards the end of your trip so that you can minimize the amount of time you are walking around with large amounts of cash on your person.

Petty theft and pick-pocketing comprise the bulk of crime in Ecuador, especially around the city of Ibarra where I spent the summer. Thieves usually seek cash (again, do be conscious of those around you when you are banking), but the bright side is that identity theft and cybercrime are much less common. If your wallet is stolen, contact your bank and cancel your banking card, but don’t panic; your card has probably been tossed without a second look.

Seek immersion, but remove yourself from situations in which you feel unsafe.

Definitions of safety and security differ between Ecuador and the United States. I grew up accustomed to security cameras in stores, but in Ecuador I was followed up and down aisles by teenage security guards with machine guns. As another example: Ecuadorians, especially near Ibarra, tend to travel in the beds of pickup trucks without the slightest thought to buckle up, which has always been second nature to me.

Travel demands that you challenge yourself to adapt to a new culture. This could mean trying new foods, eating meals at new times, wearing clothes that do not automatically label you as a tourist, among many other examples. Seeking immersion is admirable… but trust your instincts when it comes to your safety.

If your cab driver seems to be drunk, get out of the car. If your host family mistreats you or if a member of the family does or says something inappropriate, switch host families. If a stranger offers to give you a ride to your destination while you are waiting for a bus, say no, gracias and wait the few extra minutes.

By all means be an open-minded adventurer, but your safety should never be a compromise.

Kenya – Mariah Hennen (2012)

Mariah Hennen

Mariah Hennenis a student at Kalamazoo College. Mariah spent the summer of 2012 in Kenya where she is worked with The Umoja Project, developing a palliative care program for vulnerable children.  Mariah received a $1500 scholarship from Sara’s Wish Foundation.

Here are Mariah’s travel safety tips:

Kenya touched my inner-soul and left there a mark that I wasn’t expecting.  I went to Kenya preparing myself for a more professional experience; centering myself on the idea that I was there to intern and my learning would be focused around that experience.  However, I left Kenya with more personal and heartfelt experiences, rather than entirely professional.  My memories of Kenya are grounded on the people I met, the stories I heard and the times I shared with others.  I came expecting to develop professionally; I left having developed as a human-being.

For me, I will always remember Kenya as a time full of joy.  As result of the people I met and the work I was fortunate to complete, in Kenya I felt so free, alive and joyful.  Kenya supported my growth and challenged me in exciting ways.  I attribute my growth primarily to one of distinguishing characteristics of my time in Kenya: the people.  In Kenya the tradition of hospitality is genuine and generous.  Coming from the United States, a place where the welcoming of strangers is much less common, at times the Kenyan hospitality was overwhelming.  Often, it was also humbling; as those who had little offered me whatever they could, sometimes a cup of tea or several avocados harvested from the tree behind the house.  No matter where I was, at a school, visiting a home or walking down the road, the happiness to receive visitors was inspiring.  These experiences challenged me to think about the way I treat visitors in the U.S., causing me to question whether I am as grateful for the presence of a stranger, as I am happy to welcome a friend.  In Kenya I was received joyfully into communities that respected me as person and treated me as friend.  Together we celebrated the pleasure that comes from creating relationships and through these relationships I learned about a different culture and about myself.

The Kenya that is portrayed in the media is commonly one of horrible sadness and despair.  This is not the Kenya I experienced.  While there are terribly difficult situations, there is also so much good occurring.  Kenya is filled with incredibly dedicated and truly decent people, who are devoting their lives to creating a better future for all Kenyans.  Every day I was inspired by the people I worked with; their abilities to be visionaries of a better world, to empathize with those in their communities and to channel their emotions into productive work.  The guardians, the teachers and the religious leaders, who tirelessly dedicate themselves to the orphans and vulnerable children in their communities, taught me about just how positive change occurs when communities come together to work to solve an issue.  As I interned in Kenya I was often reminded that related challenges also exist in the United States.  Here there are also orphans and vulnerable children, here there are addicts and street children, and here there are people who go to bed hungry.  Reflecting upon this, I am challenged to examine whether I am dedicated enough to work to change big issues not only in Kenya, but in the United States.  Despite the difficulties around the world, my time in Kenya, being part of an incredible organization and seeing amazing work being done, gave me hope.  Change is possible, it just takes commitment.

My time in Kenya was full of personal growth.  It provided me the space to reflect on where I have been, where I perceive my life to be going and decide if I was taking the correct steps forward.  There was professional growth, too – I did learn an incredible amount about how international partnerships work and the struggles of grassroots work that come along with working directly with communities.  Most importantly, I left with a better understanding of if this type of work is my future.  It is an unclear answer and I still have much to ponder, but this summer left me with incredible ideas and models for what my life might include.  This experience challenged me to contemplate about what healthy lifestyles are, to think critically about U.S. involvement in international NGOs and to reflect upon my remaining college years.  This summer opened up new doors and reaffirmed my passion and excitement for the future.

I left Kenya with family, friends and a place to go back to in the future.  Kenya embraced me and I am honored to be a part of communities there.  My time is colored by the incredible people I met, by the scenes of joy I experienced and by the times of fellowship I shared.  Kenya is a blur of color and smells, a mixture of sweet and sour, a combination of sadness and joy, and full of an overwhelming sense of hope for the future.  I am eternally grateful for the support I received from Sara’s Wish Foundation.  Without the support my time in Kenya would not have transpired and I would have missed an amazing experience.  Kenya changed my life, inspiring me to continue forward and showing me hope for the future.

Specific Safety Tips

  • Learn and follow local traditions and customs, especially regarding dress, gender relations and hospitality.
  • If possible, always travel with a partner or partners.
  • Avoid harassing/pestering individuals by evading eye contact, ignoring comments, moving away or engaging in conversation within your group.
  • Learn some words in the local language.  These might include thank you, please, hello, how much, no and yes.  Even speaking a little of the local language opens up possibilities for relationships and such relationships help create a safety net around you when you’re in the area.
  • Treat everyone with respect and openness; such behavior provides you better treatment and allows you to further enter into the community.
  • Use common sense when traveling by public transportation.  Never enter overcrowded matatus (buses), examine motorcycle drivers and their bikes carefully, and always determine the price of a ride before you get on.
  • Don’t stay out after dark.
  • Never tell someone where exactly you are headed.  Instead when asked, answer “around” or “in the area”
  • Trust yourself.  If you feel uncomfortable then remove yourself from the situation.
  • Don’t travel with valuables.
  • Use a bag that crosses over your body and that you can keep close.  Especially when in crowded areas stay aware of the position of your bag.
  • Keep a contact list for yourself while in country and provide a list of contacts for family and friends back in the US.  Set times when you will call back to the US just to say you’re okay.
  • It really helps to have a local cell phone, even if you only use it for emergencies.

Brazil – Katy Miller (2011)

Katy Miller is a medical student at the University of Iowa. Katy spent the summer working on a human rights project that addresses barriers to care for children with disabilities in Brazil.  Rachel was awarded a $1000 scholarship from Sara’s Wish Foundation.

Here are Katy’s travel safety tips:

  • Know the area.  Ask locals which neighborhoods and streets are safe, and avoid the places that seem to be questionable.  If you’re not sure if an area is safe,   to become familiar with the area before going anywhere alone – it’s especially helpful if you can travel with locals or get a “tour” from someone from the area.
  • Get a cell phone and make sure to keep it stocked with minutes!  It can be helpful for calling  a cab or, if necessary, calling for help if you end up in a difficult situation.
  • Be cautious with public transportation, especially at night or when travelling alone.  Try to travel with a companion if possible, and take a taxi after dark.
  • Only use certified taxis – it’s best if you can have a local friend recommend a couple taxi drivers, and keep their cell phone numbers in your phone to call when you need a ride.  It’s much safer than flagging a cab on the street, and you don’t have to wander around in the dark looking for a cab – they can come to you.
  • Find the balance between saving money and being in a safe environment.  I stayed in hostels when I traveled, but I made sure they were in a good neighborhood and that they had good ratings for safety.  Hostelworld.com is a good website to use to find hostels, in part because it’s easy to see where the hostels are located, and it also has scores for safety, cleanliness, and helpfulness of staff.

Ghana – Maria Crossman (2011)

Maria Crossman is working on her masters degree in public administration at George Washington University. Maria traveled to Ghana during the summer of 2011 where she volunteered in an orphanage, teaching and mentoring the children in ways that support both their intellectual and social growth. Maria received a $2000 scholarship from Sara’s Wish Foundation.

Here are Maria’s travel safety tips:

  • Do research on the community you are traveling too and pay attention to cultural norms that are important to follow in an effort to not draw attention to yourself
  • Try not to travel after dark
  • Always keep your money in many different locations and bring more than one means to get extra money out of your account if necessary
  • Take time to understand your intuition and gut feelings.  I recommend reading the Gift of Fear to get a better grasp of this.
  • Take the contact information of family and friends while abroad and provide them with a way to get in touch with you if need be