The Travel With An Open Heart project

As a result of my first visit to India, I now sponsor two delightful little girls in a home for destitute children in Mumbai.

In 2012 Taste for Travel will be regularly posting stories on voluntourism and aid projects worldwide which give severely disadvantaged children better lives. The number of people choosing altruistic over hedonistic travel is growing. The Travel With An Open Heart project will also alert you to scams that lure vulnerable tourists. Feel free to contact us to share your experiences. We’ll include lots of links for destination choices, or purely to help you understand more about social issues where you’re heading.  Or maybe you’d just like to make a donation to a project you like. Let’s get started!

If Greece is on your travel radar for 2012, spare some thought and a donation for children who are the silent sufferers of the economic crisis. A recent news story slapped me wide awake.

The Guardian: From cases of newborn babies wrapped in swaddling and dumped on the doorsteps of clinics, to children being offloaded on charities and put in foster care, the nation’s (Greece’s) struggle to pay off its debts is assuming dramatic proportions, even if officials insist that the belt-tightening and structural reforms will eventually change the EU’s most uncompetitive economy for the better.

Propelled by poverty, 500 families had recently asked to place children in homes run by the charity SOS Children’s Villages, according to the Greek daily Kathimerini.   One toddler was left at the nursery she attended with a note that read: “I will not return to get Anna. I don’t have any money, I can’t bring her up. Sorry. Her mother.”

“Unfortunately, there’s been a huge increase in demand from families in need,” said Dimitris Tzouras, a social worker employed with the organisation for 19 years.  “In the greater Attica region [of Athens], we’re talking about a 100 per cent increase partly because public welfare is in such disarray people have no one else to turn to.”

Few know more about the plight of children abandoned, abused and neglected in Greece than Costas Yannopoulos, who chairs the local charity the Smile of the Child.  The Athens headquarters of his 16-year-old organisation is home to children who have endured life’s worst excesses. Inside the tidy, two-storey building are cots for babies who were abandoned in hospitals, found in windowless homes or taken from unfit parents.

Yannopoulos recalls the baby he discovered in a rubbish dump and the eight-month-old boy whose body had “turned to jelly” lying unloved in an overworked maternity ward. The crisis has made a bad situation worse,” he sighed. “Alcoholism, drug abuse and psychiatric problems are on the rise and more and more children are being abandoned on the streets.” An English version is coming soon.

Voluntourism allows you to see the world and make a positive difference. I follow Sarah and Oliver Ehlers on Twitter, and I like what they do. A Broader View Volunteers was founded by the Ehlers after a trip to Chile. While there, they saw the overwhelming need of the children and incredible difference volunteers made in helping a local orphanage.  After returning home to the US and researching different service organizations, they decided to create an affordable, safe and worthy program so that anyone who wished to travel and volunteer – could easily afford to do so.

The 180 volunteer programs in 21 countries range from teaching and vocational training to orphanage support, animal rescue centers and women’s support projects. (I’ve noticed on social media there are two schools of thought on helping out in orphanages: One is that it’s a good idea, and the other that it reinforces the trauma of abandonment because you’re there for a week, hand out hugs and smiles. And then you leave and never come back) A Broader View has projects in South America, Africa and South-East Asia.

It’s unthinkable to imagine that over 500,000 young Australians live in poverty. Karlie Cowley, the wife of irreverent Tower Estate winery/luxury lodge owner Matt Cowley (both pictured left), does a lot for Australian kids doing it tough.  Our recession-resistant economy might look fabulous from abroad but the country is like most others: there’s the haves and have nots and Karlie helps raise funds for A Start in Life. ASiL has been helping children in need for 87 years. Children in remote rural areas often do it the hardest.

In 1922, William Thompson and a group of businessmen recognised that mums and their children who had lost their husbands and fathers in war time, were destitute and in need of urgent financial help. His extraordinary vision, partnered with the generosity of the community, enabled Thompson to build a boarding school and later to establish this independent charity to support young, disadvantaged Australians.

The organization believes that education and training are critical pathways into employment, social contribution in our communities and the essential ingredient in breaking the cycle of poverty. Educating children and youth is critical to creating economic growth and the future of Australia. It’s about going beyond just uniforms, text books, stationery and basic educational tools. It’s about breakfast before school, having food in their lunch box, good health, being able to join in school activities and excursions and having a bat for cricket or glasses to read. If you want to pitch in and help:

In the US, my food blogger friend Caterina Borg (at donates her time and resources to St Ann’s Infant and Maternity Home in Hyattsville, Maryland. The vision of St Ann’s began prior to 1860 and the beginning of the Civil War. In 1861, St Ann’s initiated its first education and job-training program to prepare single mothers to become family breadwinners. St Ann’s programs provide residential care and services to abused and neglected children and to single pregnant and parenting adolescents in crisis, as well as quality day care to the children of working families. From its beginnings, St Ann’s opened its doors to the poor of all races and faiths.  St Ann’s participates in federally-funded programs.

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