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Travel and poverty
Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2013-09-05 20:32:06 | San Francisco, California, United States
Keywords: generosity, poverty
I am fully aware that although I'm not even close to be rich by North American standards, I am for most of the rest of the planet. I know from the beginning of the planning of this journey that I'm richer than most people I encounter along the way. Since I'm not that used to be amongst poorer, I know I'm not ready to face Africa... that's why I didn't take a plan to start my journey there. I know Central and South America will be a good preparation for Africa.

But poverty isn't only in poor countries, it's also here in North America. Since I stay in hostels and very cheap hotels, I'm often in the poorest neighbourhood of the cities I'm visiting (was certainly the case in Vancouver, Sacramento and here in San Francisco). In those areas, I do see lots of homeless people dragging the street not having anything to do, looking for every dropped penny, every can or bottle with a deposit dropped in the garbage cans. Most of these people also smoke the botches of cigarettes dropped by others on the sidewalks. It's also sadly common to see the poorest have addictions to alcohol, tobacco, drugs... when they can barely feed themselves in the first place. But those addictions allows them to escape the reality for brief moments and go to a happier place in their mind.

Here in San Francisco, near the centres where they can go to get free groceries and other life necessities, it's common to see them expose on the sidewalk what they got in hope to sell them and make a bit of money. As we're now sadly used to in large cities, we walk by those people without even looking at them, by fear of feeling obligated to donate them a bit of money. Sometimes, we fear it will be used to procure items we don't want them to have (as if we really knew what they need, or if our own values were attached to the money we give away), sometimes it's simply because we don't want to part with the money we earned doing a job we hate. The worst in my opinion is that sometimes we don't even notice them anymore! I know it happened to me a few times when I was in Montreal.

I always said one of the reasons why I'm not taking planes on this journey is to travel at human speed, to be able to get to know the environment I'm crossing. To feel the changes in altitude, to see the roughness of the terrain or the beauties along the way. Another reason is to contribute as little as I can to pollution and to destroy the natural beauties I want to visit. Taking buses and trains is much more ecological than taking planes. That's one side effect of my life-time goal not to leave the world in a worst situation than it was before me, a goal that has oriented my life choices in the last 30 years or so. Whenever possible, I want to leave the planet in a better shape than it was before my passage.

Besides environmental concerns, I also want to have an impact on people I'm going to meet. Yes, I'm spending a bit of money at each stop I make and it helps the local economy, even if it's not significant. I cannot afford at the moment to give away money if I want to live my own life dream of visiting the world. But starting in Mexico I'll have more time for each location and I'll begin to look for opportunities to volunteer for a few hours in each town... give something back to the communities I'll get so much from through my travels. A way to say “Thank you for allowing me to visit your area”. I'm not pretending that will be a change in the life of those communities, but it will help a little. Big changes come from lots of people doing a little effort.

Most people donate money, that allows them to clear their conscience and say they did something good. Yes, money is very important in our society and every cause needs it badly. But when you get involved in a volunteer organization (like I am with Mensa now, and like I was in a dozen others in the past), you quickly realize that not enough people give of their time and skills to help promote the causes they make a check to.

I want to help local charities in the cities I'll visit in the future countries by donating my time and offering my skills or experiences. It could be building a small Web site for a charity organization and help them promote their cause. It could be meeting a class of students and teach them a bit about geography or French. It could mean simply use my arms to sort food donations, help cook and serve a meal, or simply paint a wall. When you volunteer, yes you make your skills available, but the priority of the task is not to please yourself by doing something you like... but be useful for the charity you give your time too. It might not be something you like to do... but it will last only a few hours for you while it will have a positive impact of at least 100 times that duration on other people.

I'm simply a normal human being with what I think some good values who realizes every day how fortunate he is to do what he's doing. I'm not trying to be a hero or to glorify myself; I just want to do what I feel is the right thing to do.

Above you see Allan... whom I met on Market Street here in San Francisco. I gave him a few dollars and he accepted to let me take a picture of him. I had tons of questions for him, but I didn't want to intrude in his life or make him feel like he owned me anything. I'm just thankful for him to have accepted to be taken in picture to illustrate this blog entry.


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