One of the first things I noticed when I arrived in Chiapas, Mexico, to attend the ATTA World Summit was the hordes of children roaming the streets, dirty and bedraggled, selling everything from woven belts to cotton candy. It was disconcerting. I didn’t know what to do when confronted by their beseeching eyes and outstretched palms.
I’ve run into this situation time and again when I’ve visited Cusco. Clearly, I can never buy enough handicrafts to really make a difference in the children’s lives. But, should I buy any at all?
The answer seems to differ from place to place. In Cusco, we discourage our guests from buying handicrafts from children. We tell our guests to buy directly from the children’s parents or other adults. This encourages parents to send their children to school to learn rather than to the streets to earn a living.
Sadly in Chiapas, school is not an option for some children. In this case, our local guide advised us to buy something from the children rather than to just give them money.
According to UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro, “tourism can contribute to eradicating extreme poverty and hunger through improving basic infrastructure and services” while “community-oriented tourism can promote women’s social and economic mobility.”
I have, personally, seen the difference that tourism can make when I stayed with the porters the night before embarking on the Inca Trail and when I visited a weaving community in the Peruvian Andes. At the porter community, our local outfitter is raising money to build a computer lab to provide access to the Internet. For the first time in years, young adults are staying with their families in the weaving community to participate in the weaving cooperative rather than moving to a slum in Lima in the hopes of getting a job. Life is better because of the sustainable economy tourism creates.
This is why Llama Expeditions strives to patronize locally owned hotels and restaurants on our tours. It is why we work solely with local guides. And, it is why we support such organizations as Generacion and the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco.
When you take a Llama Expeditions’ tour, you become part of the solution for these children and their families. Have fun! Do good!