How are you and your family? My son and I are doing well. We have been out of the United States since June 5 traveling in Haiti and Belize. In Haiti, I served as the coordinator for a medical service trip via University of Houston. Now, we are in Belize, where I served as the U.S. fundraiser for a project with the Wagiya Foundation to assist the Garifuna community of Seine Bight with aesthetic revitalization in order to boost their tourism economy.
What I would like to discuss with you today is what it was like for my 12 year old son in both of these environments and how I managed his travel as a parent. Many of us feel super worried about taking our children to “developing” countries because of all of the issues that could possibly arise. What if they get sick? What if there is trouble? Is there risk of kidnapping? What if they hate the whole experience? All of these are valid questions that parents have when considering taking their children to a “Third World” country to volunteer.
To prepare for our trip to Haiti, I boosted my son’s immune system with Kids’ Echinacea compound and chewable probiotics. I was also careful not too let him eat too much junk food (i.e. vegetarian pizza, greasy chips, etc…) or consume too much dairy in the weeks before our departure. Mosquito borne illnesses are more likely to affect you if you have a low immune system.
Also, it’s important not to weigh your body down with a bunch of toxins right before a trip to a country where you will not be eating so many processed foods. If you do, your body will purge once you start eating mango every morning. On the other hand, if you are eating a pretty clean diet at home, you are much less likely to contract any illnesses or stomach viruses abroad.
In addition to watching his diet and using herbal prevention, I also made sure that he had a big noticeable water bottle to make sure he is getting enough water each day. We chose a bottle with a unique design so that it would not get mixed up with anyone else’s bottle. Once we arrived in Haiti, we were picked up at the airport by contacts I trusted and escorted to the non-profit compound where we resided, Haiti Communitere (HC).
HC provides a safe space in Port-au-Prince for international volunteers with 24 hour security, clean water, electricity, and wifi. HC also has a great community garden, fruit trees growing across the whole property, and lovely hammocks for resting. Each day, I organized activities for the pre-med students traveling with me with help from on-the-ground contacts. Outside of doing some fun stuff like visiting the museum and successful grassroots nonprofits, my group volunteered with the Missionaries of Charity Malnutrition Center, St. Joseph’s Hospital Wound Care, Orphanage Lillevois, an orphanage/school I can’t recall the name of that specialized in serving special needs children, and a few other locations.
We brought infant formula, children’s vitamins, diapers, prenatal vitamins, medicines, money for food donations, and many other necessities from the United States to distribute to grassroots organizations that were running low. In addition, we organized 2 clinic days with both American and Haitian medical staff. Lastly, we hosted a field day and planted a permaculture garden for an orphanage where many children previously suffered from malnutrition. We have been supplementing these same children for over a year and they are no longer malnourished, thank God.
In order to keep my son safe while accomplishing our trip goals, we participated in all of the excursions, all of the volunteer activities with children, some medical related outings, all of the planting, and none of the clinic days. I did not feel comfortable having him around sick people for full days in the sun, and that was fine. If you are planning a service related trip with your children, I recommend following your intuition as to what may be fine for your little ones and what may be overload. Also, be sure to keep an eye on how they are feeling and make sure they are drinking enough water. There were a few times when we got a little dehydrated and needed to put electrolyte tablets in our water. These are important to bring whenever you travel to a place where you may naturally sweat a lot.
While volunteering is a blessing in itself, I would like to share some fun highlights from our time in Port au Prince. There is a great cafe in the Delmas 33 area run by the Apparent Project, a nonprofit dedicated to providing Haitian parents with jobs so that they do not have to give their children up to orphanages. Many “orphaned” children are just children whose parents do not have enough money to feed them. If the parents have income, the families can stay together. In the Apparent Project’s cafe, they served smoothies, specialty coffees, slushies, pastries, pizza, and more. They also have music, Foosball, and a big chess board. My son had a great time there.
Also, you can tour the Apparent Project and see how parents are making dolls, clay cups, tote bags, custom tee shirts, and jewelry to support their families. My son loved learning about how to make necklaces from recycled cereal boxes. He also enjoyed seeing how the clay cups were formed by hand. Now, he wants to take a ceramics class.
Another highlight was having regular lunches at the UN base. They serve food and drinks from all over the world at affordable prices. It was refreshing to go there and have cold lemonade or ice cream after a long hot morning, and meet new people from exciting global destinations.
My little one also really enjoyed the Haitian National Museum, taking a car to the top of the mountain in Petionville, and playing with the children at the orphanages. We did not go to the beach on this trip to Haiti, but that is normally a really nice excursion too. Some of the best private beaches are Kaliko or Wahoo Bay, but if you want to save a little money, you can go to a public beach like Taino Beach.
During our free time, I found a balance between assignments to help my son process the trip, such as research and journaling, and allowing him space to just play games on his device or talk to his friends back in the U.S. on Google Hangout. On any volunteer trip, it’s important to remember that children are children and need room to just have fun.
I will post again soon with updates about how our trip has been in Belize so far and what the highlights are for my son. What other questions do you have about Haiti, or about keeping your children safe and happy while traveling? I look forward to hearing them!
Peace and blessings!
I pray that you and your family are doing well. How is your summer coming along so far? Ours is progressing beautifully. This summer, we are volunteering for a month and a half in Haiti and Belize. Currently, we are in Haiti for 2 weeks, as I am the trip coordinator for the University of Houston medical service trip to Haiti. Afterwards, God willing, we will spend one month in Belize assisting with a community revitalization project, in which I served as a fundraiser from the US, and will serve as a documentarian and tourist coordinator on the ground.
While I know that you would love to read more about what we are doing in Haiti and Belize, I am going to first elaborate on how you can plan a trip abroad this summer on a budget. In the next post, I will let you in on all of the details of our activities.
Many families want to travel internationally, but find the possibility prohibitive because of cost. Here are ten tips to keep costs low and plan a great trip.
1. Choose a country with a low cost flight from your country of residence.
This summer, we are traveling to Belize. There are flights Houston to Belize throughout the year for $250 – $350 round trip, per person, which is much cheaper than traveling to most Central American countries. You can also travel cheaply this season to Mexico, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago, and Dominican Republic. It would be wise to explore the travel warnings, safety, and ease of ground transportation of each country before you purchase a flight there.
2. Look into hostels and Airbnb. Be sure to read reviews!
I have yet to utilize Airbnb, but I have many friends that have used it with great luck. I’m not a fan of couchsurfing, but if I can rent a couple of rooms or a whole house from a family and see lots of reviews beforehand, I would feel more confident about it. I do, however, use hostels and nonprofits quite frequently for international housing. Right now, my son and I are at Haiti Communitere, a nice international hostel-style nonprofit where our beds, including 2 vegetarian meals each day, are only $25/night. We have electricity, WiFi, clean water, showers, and we get to meet lots of cool people everyday. When I was studying in France, I stayed in St. Christopher’s Hostel in Paris and Barcelona. Research your housing options in the country you plan to travel to, and while doing so, remember that hotels are not your only option.
3. Utilize grocery stores and a kitchen.
A great way to save on food while abroad is to prepare your own food. You can buy beans and rice, bread, peanut butter, jelly, and fruit, from a local grocery store, and save a ton on eating expenses. While I understand that you want to sample the cultural fare, you don’t have to sample it every day and every night. Meals abroad can easily be $10 per person, and for a family of four, or even two, that can add up very quickly. Also, look for sales while at home and stock up on nuts, Clif bars, and trail mix, to bring with you.
4. Organize a group to divide costs.
If you coordinate with another family who wants to travel to the same country, you can plan your itinerary together and split ground expenses. I always invite friends when I prepare to travel. It’s good to have extra set of eyes and hands, and extra contributions to the pot. Just make sure you choose someone you actually enjoy being around.
5. Serve internationally.
If you love helping people, then you can fund your trip through doing some type of needed service internationally. If there is a job associated with it, your flight and housing may be covered, as mine is with my current trip. However, on previous trips, I utilized either scholarships, grants, or crowdfunding (i.e.: CrowdRise, GoFundMe, or Fundly) to assist with costs. When you are doing work to make a difference, people will want to help you, and it’s great to bring your children along to share that experience. Check out idealist.org for jobs for people who love helping people.
6. Teach internationally.
You can teach internationally in various capacities. If you do not have any type of certification nor a 4 year degree, you can teach a subject like Physical Education for an international school. If you do have a degree and an TEFL or TESOL certification, you can work as an EFL (English as a foreign language) teacher in many countries. If you want to teach a core subject at an international American school for pay comparable to what you would make in the US, you will need either a 4 year degree, a teacher’s certification in your state, and 2 years teaching experience OR a 4 year degree, a master’s degree, and some teaching experience. If you are serious about getting a really great teaching position internationally, I recommend going to UNI’s (University of Northern Iowa’s) international teaching fair in February.
7. Lead a tour.
If you have experience traveling, and are ready to share that experience, you may decide to lead a tour abroad. You can advertise to escort parents and children to a country that you have traveled to before, to learn, serve, or have an adventure. For this service, you can charge a reasonable administrative fee that would cover costs for you and your child(ren). It could be a lot of fun! Be sure to have everyone sign a waiver that attests they are responsible for themselves and their children.
8. Travel with an existing tour.
Maybe you do not feel confident enough to lead a tour, but like the idea of being with a guide. Seach tour to (desired country), and throw in “children” or “kid friendly” to find a group that resonates with you. Packages often include airfare, housing, and food, and thus can help cuts costs and planning time.
9. Apply for a grant or scholarship.
If you are in school, or have already matriculated, but enjoy scholarship, you may be able to receive travel funding. If you are an adult undergraduate student, you can apply for scholarships such as Gilman to cover costs, and request to bring your child(ren), if it is manageable. For example, if you have older children or teenagers that could attend a day camp nearby while you are studying French in France, you could present this plan to Gilman with your request for funding. If you are in graduate school, you can apply for a Fulbright or Boren scholarship. As a professional, finished with school, you can still apply for certain Fulbright research grants in your field.
10. Workaway or WWOOF.
A few years ago, I signed up with workaway.info and began communicating with families and organizations internationally who were in need of someone with my skills and talents. Workaway is a site that connect families and orgs globally with individuals (often with children) who would like to work abroad, for short or long periods, in exchange for housing and food. A good match for homeschooling families, especially for single mothers with children, may be helping another family homeschool.
WWOOF stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and consists of working on organic farms, in exchange for housing and food. You can often bring your children and this can be a cheaper way to travel. Keep in mind that this may be hard work and that the locations in which you are working may be away from all of the touristic attractions.
A hope this is a great start on your journey to spending a summer abroad with your children. Let me know if you have any questions (or comments). I look forward to hearing from you soon! Safe travels!
Love and Light,