No one has ever become poor by giving.
― Anne Frank, Diary of Anne Frank
With so many issues in the world, how do we find simple ways to make a difference? It can easily feel overwhelming to look deeply at the numerous challenges we’re currently facing. Fortunately, there are lots of fun, easy ways to be part of the change, which we’ll explore today with the help of two people who are well-versed in the art of reaching out: SEA Backpacker magazine founder Nikki Scott, and Soma’s Mike del Ponte.
Volunteer at home — wherever that may be
I’ve chosen to volunteer with a local grassroots organization in my town that helps Burmese women living in Thailand obtain opportunities for education. This is usually very difficult for them, as their refugee status prevents them from having many basic rights. Since I live here, it is pretty easy for me to reach out to NGOs in person.
Vote with our dollar
However, if we live in the West, how can help people struggling in other parts of the world? One answer is to take action with our dollar by spending money on ethical products made by companies that are dedicated to making a positive difference in a global context, like Soma.
Donate time or money while visiting new places
If we happen to be traveling or away on vacation, it’s also important to remain conscious of our environment, and the affect that our presence has on local people.
Nikki’s positive attitude resonates with her readers, who use the magazine not only as a travel diary, but also as an up-to-date resource on ethical volunteer agencies and NGOs abroad. This provides readers with a list of positive organizations to which they can donate their time or money, knowing they’ll genuinely be helping, rather than unintentionally hurting the local culture and people.
I spoke more about this with Nikki Scott, founder and director of the popular travel magazine, South East Asia Backpacker.
K: Soma is currently raising money to help bring safe water to three villages in Cambodia. What has been your experience with the water crisis in South East Asia?
NS: I was living in Koh Phangan, South Thailand for a while, and I do know that the Thai islands in general, due to their huge popularity among tourists, face water shortages frequently.
I couldn’t believe it one year on Koh Phangan during Songkran (the Water Festival in April) when on one hand, local businesses were telling me that they were forced to close due to lack of water, yet on the other hand, tourists were throwing buckets of water in the street to celebrate Songkran! I think there is a lack of information about the problem in many parts of South East Asia and how travelers can help (or at least not add to the problem) during their trip.
Spread awareness about topics dear to our hearts
When it comes to water, lack of awareness among travelers in the East is akin to the lack of awareness among those of us living at home in the West. Water conservation and safety issues are not particularly glamorous topics, but they’re integral to our environment’s future: spreading information and ideas about what we can do to help is key. For travelers, Nikki even noted that this would be a good topic to write about in her travel magazine.
Support ethical companies
Hearing her words also reminds me of the increasing need for global unity: when one person is adversely impacted by water-related problems — like the store-owners in Thailand — we are all affected. Supporting Soma’s endeavors in Ethiopia, and now Cambodia, to help people obtain access to safe water is a simple way to be part of a global movement for positive change.
The best ideas are those that (…) create new solutions to emerging problems and challenges.
– Mike del Ponte, CEO and co-founder of Soma
Give back to the community, using our experience
Not only does purchasing a Soma water filter help people in other countries, but it also supports the change-makers behind the company, like Mike del Ponte. Mike is currently giving back to his local community by being an Alternative Grant Ambassador, helping to “award a one-year membership at TechShop San Francisco (…) and $1000 to support the creation of a product (…) in the field of sustainability in design and technology.”
About this ambassador role, Mike says he is “really excited about the opportunity to mentor those who are still in the idea phase to ultimately help them write and then build their ideas into reality.”
K: Have you ever had any inkling to add a charity aspect to SEA Backpacker?
NS: We run a regular section in the magazine about volunteering or charity projects in Asia that are looking for backpackers to get involved with them, or donate to them, and we always try to share information and spread the word of worthy projects where we can.
Here are some volunteer organizations that we have worked with, or that have been recommended personally to us. The best way we can help at the moment is by getting the word out there with thought-provoking articles, and stirring up interest and the right attitude amongst the people traveling in South East Asia.
Choose organizations and volunteer opportunities mindfully
Finding organizations that are morally sound is actually trickier than we might think: while most volunteer agencies and NGOs are founded on good intentions, they sometimes operate in ways that are not beneficial to the very people they are trying to help. It’s imperative that we trust the organizations we give our money or time to. Asking friends, researching online, or reading trusted magazine resources are all good ways to help ensure a positive experience — for us, and those we’re aiming to help.
While we do our good works let us not forget that the real solution lies in a world in which charity will have become unnecessary.
― Chinua Achebe, Anthills of the Savannah