Voluntourism: Packing Heart on Your Next Vacation


Street child in Bangladesh

— by Ann Craig-Cinnamon

Let’s face it: some of the most fascinating places in the world are located in some of the most impoverished places in the world. You can’t visit the Pyramids of Giza without driving through the slums of Cairo. The Taj Mahal, arguably the most beautiful building ever built, sits amid some of the worst poverty anywhere. Even vacationing on a beautiful Caribbean island, your luxury resort is an anomaly; the ugly truth is all around you.

I’ve been traveling for most of my life and, in fact, I lived in Tehran, Iran as a young woman back in the mid 1970’s. Poverty was all around me there. I had a beggar friend that I passed every day on the street. We were warned not to give money to beggars because if you did, they wouldn’t leave you alone and you might draw an unwanted crowd. So I didn’t give him anything, and for his part, he never asked.  We just had a friendly salaam and a smile for each other each day. But I always felt bad about it.  

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The commonly-used rationalization about the poor not knowing any better never held any truth for me. It’s more “there but for the grace of God go I” that sums up my feelings more accurately. I don’t know how you can witness other human beings struggling for their everyday existence and not get changed by it.

As much as I love to travel to exciting and exotic spots around the world, I have always had lot of trouble justifying my own good fortune being able to enjoy the best of what a country has to offer while the people there, many of them poor, are waiting on me and treating me like a king. I understand and agree with the logic that, by going, I am helping to create jobs and am contributing to the economy.  But it just doesn’t seem like enough.

A few years ago I read about a couple who, on their own, raised money, medical supplies and clothing at their workplace and church which they personally delivered to an orphanage in Nairobi. So when my husband and I decided to travel to Kenya we thought we would try the same thing. We raised several thousand dollars, lots of clothing, and had a local pharmaceutical company donate medical supplies which we then took with us to the New Life Children’s Home in Nairobi. We packed everything in old suitcases that we just left there. It wasn’t a difficult thing to do; it just took a little thought and planning. And we received way more than we gave when we had the opportunity to visit with those beautiful children and see the good work the orphanage was doing in a country devastated by Aids and other diseases.

More recently, when we visited Cambodia, we noticed wells that had signs on them. We asked our guide about it and learned that the wells had been donated by tourists who wanted to help when they saw the poverty that the people of Cambodia were living in. We decided to donate a well ourselves so our guide took us to an area near Siem Reap where the government had given small plots of land to the poor and the disabled. Many of these people had nothing but a shack to live in, and no water nearby. Drinking dirty polluted water was a common occurrence and people often became ill and even died because of it. So, we donated enough money to have a well built in an area where several families lived. Believe it or not, the well only cost us $200. For the cost of a utility bill here at home, several families would have fresh, clean water to drink. It was an easy thing to do. We didn’t even lift a finger.

There are a lot of non-profit organizations that offer what are called “voluntourism” trips, in which the travelers get involved in charitable work while they are visiting a poor country. And that is a great way to help. But if you are the kind of traveler who wants to go on your own, but still you’d like to do something to help while you are visiting, you can, if you seek it out. It doesn’t have to be Cambodia or Kenya. It can be closer to home, like in the Caribbean. Just do a little research ahead of the visit time to find an organization that is legitimate, contact them to see what they might need, and start a fundraiser of your own at your synagogue before you go. Tour guides are often a great source too. You have the added bonus of seeing for yourself that your donation is going to a good cause. I guarantee you that you will enjoy your trip a lot more if you leave something meaningful behind, rather than taking lots of things home with you.

Ann Craig-Cinnamon has spent 30 years in both radio and television broadcasting in the Indianapolis market. After living in Tehran, she developed a love for travel and has visited all 50 states and more than 70 countries on all seven continents. She is also the author of the new book, Walking Naked in Tehran.

Just Before Argo: The Tehran I Remember

— by Ann Craig-Cinnamon

As someone who lived in Tehran, Iran back in the 1970’s, I especially enjoyed seeing the movie Argo win the Best Picture Oscar. It’s a great story, with compelling characters and lots of suspense. The fact that the story is true makes it even more incredible because the plot is like something that would spring from the mind of Tom Clancy. Imagine sneaking US embassy personnel out of Iran right under the noses of militants using the far-fetched story that they were there to scout movie locations? I had no idea the CIA was so creative. The film also serves as a reacquainting of how America got where we are in our relationship with Iran.

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Although I realize the film wasn’t shot in Tehran, it certainly did evoke memories of the place where I spent almost two years as a young woman. I was gone by the end of 1976, still a couple of years away from the events in the movie, but my apartment was right around the corner from the US Embassy and I passed it on a regular basis while I lived there. I certainly had no clue at the time that it would become the center of the world’s attention just a few short years later. Nor did I have any idea of what was on the horizon for Iran itself. Yes, I was young and naïve, but who knew?

The Tehran I remember is not the one represented in Argo with its mob mentality and screaming militants with murderous intent. Oh sure it was frightening to me because it was a strange country and strange culture on the other side of the world and I was 19 and newly married. Throw in the fact that I suffer from OCD and what you get is someone who is basically scared of everything. But never was I afraid that a riot would break out and rarely did I think that my safety was in jeopardy. I had some incidents, mainly as a woman in a culture that is not always kind to women, but generally speaking, people that I met in Tehran were not only friendly to Americans — they wanted to meet and get to know Americans.

Allow me to relate one of my favorite stories from my time there. I received a phone call at home one afternoon, which was rare. When I answered, it was a man speaking Farsi on the other end. I told him I did not understand and he attempted to speak a little English. In the end, as it turns out, he had called a wrong number, but when he discovered that it was an American that he had dialed up accidentally, he wanted to take the opportunity to talk to me. He asked if he might call again and I said yes. He began calling on a regular basis. His English improved and he eventually invited my husband and me to dinner. We became friends and visited often with each other. Not something you would dream of doing in today’s post-9/11 world, but we thought little of it at the time. I had other Iranian friends that I enjoyed getting to know and who wanted to get to know me primarily because I was American.

That was my experience in Tehran. The Tehran I knew liked Americans. My opinion, without having visited there in more than 35 years, is that despite the regime that is in power, the average person in Tehran would like to be friends with America. Perhaps I’m still naïve, but when you see a movie such as Argo or you see actual news stories of protests in that part of the world against the U.S., don’t assume that everyone feels that way. The average person is home with his or her family or at work just trying to get along like the rest of us. We have more in common than one might think.

Ann Craig-Cinnamon has spent 30 years in both radio and television broadcasting in the Indianapolis market. Featured in a documentary shown on PBS called Naptown Rock Radio Wars, Craig-Cinnamon is a trailblazer in radio. After living in Tehran, she developed a love for travel and has visited all 50 states and more than 70 countries on all seven continents. She is also the author of the new book, Walking Naked in Tehran.

Presidential Campaign Fail To Vet Their Supporters

The Obama and Romney campaigns are both being attacked today having failed to vet their list of supporters.

Meanwhile, Romney has similar problems of his own:

  • Dr. John Willke is the doctor who misinformed Rep. Todd Aiken that women who are victims of “legitimate rape” do not become pregnant because their bodies “shut down” due to the trauma. Aiken is under pressure to abandon his US Senate campaign against Claire McCaskill in Missouri for having given voice to such an ignorant, misogynistic point of view. Dr. Willke told The Telegraph that he had a private meeting with Mitt Romney at his Cincinnati home last October and that Romney thanked him for his support and told him, “we agree on almost everything.”

    The 87-year-old endorsed Mr. Romney’s bid for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination and was one of his official campaign surrogates. “I am proud to have the support of a man who has meant so much to the pro-life movement,” Mr. Romney said at the time.

  • As we reported in June, the GOP selected Yossi Gestetner as their “Jewish Outreach Director” in New York. As reported by The Jewish Channel and Vos Iz Neias, “The newly appointed Director of Jewish Outreach for New York State’s Republican party has resigned from his position after just eight days in office, calling himself a distraction to the party.” The distraction? Espousing anti-Zionist positions, among others.

    As Vos Iz Neias notes,

    “According to a report by The Jewish Channel, Gestetner’s resignation came less than thirty minutes after Josh Rubin, a reporter for NY1, asked State Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox about an investigation of Gestetner by The Jewish Channel, which conducted an hour long on-camera interview with Gestetner. During that interview, Gestetner discussed several issues that may put him at odds with both the Republican party and many of New York State’s 1.6 million Jewish residents, which include his being a spokesman at a fundraiser to benefit an alleged child molester, his controversial stance on referring suspected cases of child abuse to a rabbi before alerting the authorities, his views on government assistance programs and his work for Torah True Jews Against Zionism, an anti-Israel organization that states that Zionism is contrary to Torah Judaism.”