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A trip that can change lives

Socially responsible holidays are on the rise as a growing number of travellers look for ways to give back

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The KOTO restaurants in Saigon and Hanoi have set up schools to teach street children cooking and hospitality skills. If you visit Vietnam stop by any of these restaurants to sponsor a trainee or buy gifts and support the institution

More and more people in the UAE are taking socially responsible holidays. Is it the need to help those less fortunate? Or is it to show their children what’s beyond the UAE bubble?

Sustainable and responsible travel has always been key to guidebook publishers such as Lonely Planet. "Through travel we develop our understanding of other cultures and can break down the barriers that governments, religions and economic and political beliefs often seem to build up between us," says Heather Carswell, Media and Communications Manager, Lonely Planet, London.

But now, says psychologist Christina Burmeister at the German Neuroscience Center, Dubai Healthcare City, there is a big move from selfishness to selflessness even among Dubai residents as people are becoming more aware of one person’s impact on society as a whole.

Burmeister believes that in Dubai the uptake of a socially responsible holiday results from a general awareness for more eco-friendly concepts, but the main motivation is that people want to give something back.

"Parents may have a sense of responsibility to teach their children that there are others less fortunate. Young people may be searching for a sense of fairness. Psychologically, giving back or being selfless can be much more rewarding than enjoying an all-inclusive vacation where you are waited on hand and foot," says Burmeister. "Being selfless gives us a sense of worth — a sense of meaning."

Among the UAE’s residents who believe in giving back is teaching assistant Lorraine Thomson. She took more than 20kg of shoes and second-hand clothing to an orphanage in Bulgaria near her home in the town of Veliko Tarnovo during an annual summer visit. She carries the same whenever she returns to her second home.

Another Dubai-based resident Janee Pfeifer took 50kg of clothing, school items, seeds and medical basics on each of two visits to the RAEY Foundation, a community development project in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. "I did it for the satisfaction of doing something small, but you know it makes such a big difference," says Pfeifer.

The South African national was told what was needed at the time by Dr Carolyn Roesler, who set up the foundation while she was living in Dubai. Since then, Pfeifer also sponsors the education of four children there.

Courtley Winter, a Dubai-based specialist travel consultant with Travel Counsellors, sees a noticeable tendency for travellers from the UAE to be "more allocentric and to seek different or unusual destinations".

Clients often ask for advice as to what gifts might be suitable for local people in remote regions they might be going to, such as the hill tribe in Thailand, or how they could help handing out food rations at a mission in Kenya. "If I have a client travelling to Vietnam, I tell them about KOTO restaurants in Saigon and Hanoi and recommend its cooking school. KOTO (Know One, Teach One)was set up to teach at-risk youth, cooking and hospitality skills," says Winter.

"Another emerging market, especially for expats who feel their children are enjoying a privileged upbringing here in the UAE, is to expose them to different countries and see that not all children are as fortunate as them."

Winter would then direct them on mini breaks to Nepal, India and
Sri Lanka.

Dubai-based travel specialists Africa Connection receive more requests from UAE corporate companies that go to Africa for business than private individuals. "They ask for guidelines on what their company can take with them for the local community and how the company can get involved with a local initiative," says Judy Fell, Director, Africa Connection. "We then work closely with the camp/lodge where the company will be staying to make sure that there’s a good match of what’s taken."

A school on the island of St Lucia in the West Indies benefited from the contents in travellers, Steve and Lorna Payne’s suitcases. Their host hotel, The Landings, has links with the global non-profit Pack for a Purpose scheme.

Says Steve Payne, "We were able to pack some three kilograms of things (pens, pads, pencil sharpeners, erasers, crayons and small gifts) for the community project supported by The Landings with the knowledge that it was actually needed, not what we thought might come in handy." The hotel donates supplies to the Grow Well charity in Gros Islet.

Founder of Pack for a Purpose, Rebecca Rothney, provides a website directing travellers how to add value to
their holidays in an easy and meaningful way. It gives a list of specific items requested by each project at each destination, which, she says, helps in "making sure travellers donate supplies that are most critical to the community".

Based in Raleigh, North Carolina US, the scheme has caught on like wildfire. "Through the kindness of travellers, Pack for a Purpose has delivered more than 9,000kgs of needed supplies since December 2012, positively impacting thousands of lives in communities worldwide,"
says Rothney.

"It’s my personal belief that, in general people wish to express gratitude for the hospitality they receive while travelling and if they can find an easy and meaningful way to do so, they will," she adds. ■

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