1. What if I can’t locate a worthy recipient before I travel?
Take gifts anyway because your hotel, tour operator, or someone else will help you. You may stumble upon a worthy, local school or organization. NGOs (Non-Governmental Agencies) are common in many developing countries.
Recollection: In Nairobi, our driver suggested The Nest, a foster care/orphanage.
www.TheNestHome.com in Nairobi, Kenya. (pictured above)
In San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, our B&B owner helped us find a girls’ foster care/orphanage.
www.SantaJulia.org home for girls in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
TIP: Don’t give your gifts to someone you don’t know who says s/he will distribute them because s/he might distribute them (only) to her/his family and friends or sell them.
2. Any packing suggestions?
Fill an inexpensive or old suitcase with gifts and plan to give both the suitcase and contents away. (One suitcase you won’t have to haul home.)
Fill a suitcase you want to keep with gifts to give away. After your suitcase is empty, refill it with souvenirs to take home.
If you don’t buy souvenirs, repack by nesting a small suitcase filled with your travel gear inside a larger empty suitcase.
If you plan to keep your suitcase, when preparing for your trip pack a large plastic garbage bag to transfer items from your lodging to your recipient.
Inside the suitcase on the top of your gifts, place a large hand-printed request asking airline employees and/or Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) workers who may open your suitcase to “Please be careful with these gifts for poor children.”
It’s easy to pack too many clothes and accessories. Winnowing down what you take for yourself will make your luggage lighter, easier to carry, guarantee you fewer items to worry about, and give you extra space to PACforKids.
Avoid difficulties with customs officials, who may want to charge you duty because they suspect you may sell your gifts, by making advance arrangements with your chosen organization. Have a senior staff person write on letterhead stationary that your gifts are going to their nonprofit. If this isn’t possible, don’t let an exaggerated fear of customs officials dissuade you from taking gifts. More than likely you won’t be stopped or questioned. Just “stay calm and carry on” (as the British said during WWII) while going through customs. If you are questioned, honesty is the best policy.
3. What about airline luggage weight restrictions?
Each airline is different so read its specific requirements on the Internet. International travelers may be allowed more weight and more suitcases (2 plus a carry-on) than domestic travelers. We typically take one suitcase filled with 50 pounds of books and toys to gift, one suitcase filled with personal items (clothes, etc.), and one carry-on for each of us. If you are traveling on the same airline, initially for a domestic flight (example Chicago to NYC) that connects to an international flight (example NYC to Nairobi), you may be able to check more luggage all the way through from your first to your final destination at no extra charge.
Budget airlines usually permit less weight and fewer bags.
TIP: Germany’s Lufthansa Airlines flew us to India when we redeemed frequent flier points. Since Lufthansa permits 100 pounds per person to some parts of the world we took 100 pounds of books about India, soft toys, and children’s clothes in 2 big suitcases and had 2 additional suitcases for our own needs.
TIPS: Replacing plastic pellets in soft toys with fiber fill makes the toys lighter during weigh-in, to carry, and environmentally friendly (if the toys accidentally break open).
Weigh your suitcase on a scale or stand on a scale without the suitcase then stand on the scale holding your suitcase to determine its weight. We take an inexpensive ($5-12), light-weight, hand-held scale (sold in stores like Walmart) with us to weigh our luggage at our destination.
4. Can I give gifts if I’m on a land tour?
Yes. Before you travel, ask your tour guide if you will be visiting a local school or organization that would like your gifts. Tour groups often visit prescreened, worthy organizations that are endorsed and partially supported by the tour company. If you don’t take your tour company’s tours, you may have to carve out some time from your self-guided day(s) to do this, but your experience will be well worth it.
Recollection: On our tour of Peru with Gate 1 travel we broke-away from group tours to donate Spanish-English children’s books and toys to a preschool and an elementary school in Urubamba in the Sacred Valley. After we did this, a guide asked us to also donate to the Gate 1 supported school we would later visit in the altiplano region. We bought a good-quality soccer ball and using a permanent marker we wrote on it in Spanish (translated here) “For (name of) School from friends in the United States of America.” The day of our visit we presented it to the school principal saying in Spanish, “para todos los estudiantes” or “for all the students” to share. Unfortunately, our gift was not the best choice because our guide told us it was such a coveted object that someone would take it home and not return it. Small school supplies, like pencils given individually to each waiting child, would have been better gifts.
Photos: principal accepting soccer ball, children and their mothers patiently waiting for school supplies, Mary Jean’s hand-puppet monkey distributes stickers.
Tour companies that include visits to vetted, worthy organizations like schools, include:
- Overseas Adventure Travel and Grand Circle (support Grand Circle Foundation).
- Gate 1 travel.
2 photos of actual gates that Gate 1 travel company gave to a school in Rajastan, India.
- If you know of others, please email MJ@PACforKids.com with information.
5. Can I give gifts if I’m on a sea cruise?
Yes. One of the pluses of cruising is being able to store things in your cabin until you need them. If you plan on taking land tours ask if there will be any site visits to worthy organizations like schools, orphanages, etc. If there are no site visits and you want to give gifts, follow the same steps in “Locating Recipients.” You may have to carve out some time to do this, but it will be worth it.
Recollection: In Hanoi, Vietnam, our tour organizer told us about a school floating on Ha Long Bay that we would visit. With her help we donated a large bag full of school supplies to it.
Photos: School floating on Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.
6. Should I give to beggars?
American budget travelers are wealthy compared to millions of people in developing countries around the world who earn $1-2 per day and will never travel beyond their homes. With so many people so poor, why are travelers advised not to give small change to beggars? Here in the USA we are regularly advised not to give to street beggars but to donate to well-known nonprofits. The same is true in developing countries. For excellent Internet articles on this complex subject read the following:
“What to Consider When Making Charitable Donations” By Bonnie Tsui, Real Simple magazine, December 2012.
“Checking on Charities” by Jaclyne Badal, Wall Street Journal newspaper, December 10, 2007.
“How to Choose a Charity Wisely” by John F. Wasik, New York Times, November 7, 2013
Internet key words include: “giving gifts abroad” “etiquette guides for travelers” “poverty facts and stats – global issues”
Culturgrams published by Brigham Young University.
Do’s and Taboos Around the World by Roger E. Axtell.
The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty by Peter Singer, Random House, NY, 2010. www.thelifeyoucansave.org.
“Slumdog Millionaire” the 2009 Oscar-winning best picture about India’s beggars.
7. Can I personally give away my gifts?
It depends. If you are not on a guided tour ask if someone representing your intended recipient organization will meet you and give you a site visit. If you are going to a school or organization there probably won’t be enough gifts for every child. Give your gifts to the person in charge, school principal, senior manager, etc., to distribute at an appropriate time so no child is left disappointed and without a gift. In Sum: Ask before handing out anything.
Recollection: In Cape Town, South Africa, we toured Home From Home, an organization helping homeless youth, with a founder/director who accepted our gifts to fairly distribute at a later time.
Photos: www.HomeFromHome.org.za in Khaylitsha township near Cape Town, South Africa, is home to some 800,000 Black South Africans.
Advice about Giving from Summer P., Director of Operations, Love in Action Center for Children, Chapala (south of Guadalajara), Mexico. “One issue we are attempting to correct is the culture of entitlement that has been created in our community because we live in an area that has many expats who are very generous givers. When our children see expats they put out their hand and it is filled up. This is not how the ‘real world’ works, and we see evidence, in our children who have out-grown the center, that we are doing them a real disservice.” Summer advises, “Give your gifts directly to the person in charge who will distribute them fairly at an appropriate time. You can still meet some of the children, but everything will be handled in the best way possible.” www.loveinactioncenter.org.
The 6 photos, above, are at Love in Action Center for Children, Chapala (south of Guadalajara city), Mexico. www.loveinactioncenter.org. Director Summer P., from Portland, OR, and her volunteers are doing an impressive job improving this facility and caring for the children who live here. As Summer requested, we gave our suitcase full of toys, books, and school supplies to the school before our visit that included (see photos) playing a Dora the Explorer bean bag game (we took it with us and left it) with some of the resident children, pictured here. The bottom-right photo shows an American expat, who voluntarily manages the Love in Action reuse shop, with a local secondary school student who helps her.
Thank-you comments from Love in Action director, Summer P., “Thank you for your awareness of the special needs of our children and for the way you are engaging with others throughout the world with both love and wisdom … We are grateful for the gifts that you brought, supplies for the children, an awareness and subsequent education for those interested, and good collaboration between helping agencies. Thank you for your intentional community building…it is beautiful.”
The 12 photos, below, are at Tepehua Centro Comunitario AC, also in Chapala, Mexico. Expat, English woman, Moonyeen K., president, is assisted by dozens of volunteers, including Americans, Canadians, Europeans, and locals. Some 20,000 ex-pats live full or part-time in or near the towns of Ajijic and Chapala on the shores of Lake Chapala.
ABOVE 3 photos. Left – Tepehua president, Moonyeen, chats with volunteers and Kelley while, in the background, a volunteer doctor registers a woman and her children. Center – an expat volunteer doctor examines a local woman. Right – a volunteer dentist checks a local woman’s teeth.
ABOVE 3 photos. Left – Mary Jean chats in Spanish with local children at Tepehua community center. Middle and Right – After we gave a Frisbee, books, toys, and school supplies to Tepehua some of the children played Frisbee with Kelley.
ABOVE 3 photos. Left – Local children enjoy a once-a-week, free lunch prepared by local expat volunteers and their moms. Middle – Mary Jean chats with local women during lunch. Right – a local expat Canadian, originally from Hungary, helps a little girl try on what will be her first pair of new shoes. The day we visited, he donated 50 pairs of shoes to local children.
ABOVE 3 photos. Left – A Canadian volunteer and expat helps a mother select inexpensive clothing for her children in the Tepehua community center store. Middle – Kelley shops in a modern grocery store with a Canadian expat who will teach local women how to bake and sell their goods in a market. Right – Kelley pays for the bakery supplies at the grocery store’s modern computer.
8. Will I be asked personal questions before my visit?
Perhaps. An organization’s #1 priority is to protect its vulnerable children. Before you are allowed admission to a site, like an orphanage or foster care facility, a staff person may vet you.
Recollection: In San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, an American volunteer asked us about ourselves before our tour of Santa Julia foster care/orphanage.
9. Can I take photos of the recipient(s)?
Always ask permission from your guide and photo subject(s) before taking photos. Photos are often resisted, but if you give a gift your subject(s) will probably pose with a smile. If you take your photo subjects’ address and promise to mail them a photo, a treasure they might not often receive, keep your promise. Use your photos as a way to share your experiences with others while still on the road and back in the U.S.A. Perhaps you will interest other travelers in starting to PACforKids.
Recollection: In South Africa, Black African preschoolers and their principal posed for a memorable photo. We took her address and when we returned home we mailed her a copy of the photo below.
Photo: Preschool in Lwandle Township near Hermanus, South Africa.
TIP: When meeting a child or giving a gift, use a cute hand puppet because it is less scary than an unfamiliar adult.
Photos: elf (left & center) and elephant (right) hand puppets befriend local children in Mexico (center) and Kenya (right).
10. Can I take a tax deduction?
It depends. Write down what you give and ask the recipient to sign and date it. Some organizations outside America may have U.S. 501-(c) (3) nonprofit status and your contribution may be tax deductible under the Internal Revenue code. Ask for an acknowledgement form. Also check with your tax attorney.
As a bonus, for your generosity, you may receive a thank you note.
From the Nairobi, Kenya, foster home/orphanage where we donated money, toys, and books we received a receipt, while there, listing what we gave. Back home, we received a charming, hand-made card with a drawing of a thatched-roof home, and the card was signed by several children.
Recollection: In Urubamba in Peru’s Sacred Valley some of the elementary school students, unrehearsed, sang songs and recited stories for us as their teachers and the principal watched. See photos of the children and their teachers in “Locating Recipients.”
11. There are so many needs in America, why should I PACforKids in other countries?
Don’t think of this as an EITHER/OR choice. Worthy organizations at home and abroad need and appreciate your generosity. But while children in wealthy countries may not appreciate a modest gift like a pencil, children in developing countries may be thrilled. See the photo of Lao PDR children on our “Home” page who literally came running for a pencil. During your international travels you will enrich yourself and poor children by giving something meaningful to those in need.
12. Will you help locate a worthy organization?
We do not have the time to do this, but locating an organization is relatively easy and will teach you how to find a worthy recipient if you want to PACforKids.
We welcome your post-trip experiences to post on this website. See “How to Share Your Story” and “Shared Stories” for details.
Photos: A monkey hand puppet and red clown nose helped in befriending some of the 48 children living in Casa Alto Refugio, Puebla, Mexico. www.casaaltorefugio.com, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Director Sue Borja (in pink shirt) is in the right photo. Borja is a former Canadian now married to a local man. When I asked “Why do you do this?” she said, “Someone has to” and “Why not?”. Antonio Prado, Director, Spanish Institute of Puebla, Mexico (www.sipuebla.com), connects students and visitors wanting to help local children living in this orphanage.
13. Will my money or gifts be stolen or squandered? Locate a recipient using guidelines in this website and you shouldn’t have problems.
14. What if I want to continue helping an organization? It’s wonderful that a worthy recipient touched your heart. If you plan on continuing to give money or gifts consult your attorney and do more research on the Internet by typing in key words like “nonprofit costs; financial disclosures” or go to websites like:www.CharityNavigator.org www.GuideStar.org www.Give.org
15. Were you or are you openly or privately endorsed, affiliated with, or supported by any political, religious, or other organization?
No to all aspects of this question.
16. Who paid for this website?
We totally wrote, photographed, designed, and paid for PACforKids ourselves.
17. How much do you typically spend? We only buy used books (50 cents – $1 per book; if they were library books we remove metallic alarms) and toys (about 30 cents – $1 per toy or free at garage/tag sales when you explain why you are shopping) that are in good condition but may need to go through the washer and dryer. We never pay an airline extra luggage fees because we follow their packing guidelines. At our destination we have occasionally paid a taxi or taken a bus to deliver us to our recipient’s location, but by contacting an organization in advance they sometimes pick us up (we offer to reimburse for gas).
Keep in mind that you will spend thousands of dollars to travel to another country and your gifts will cost less than half a percent of your trip – a miniscule price for helping and bringing joy to children who have very little. Your efforts will reward you with joyful feelings and could be the most memorable aspect of your trip.
18. Were your PACforKids efforts worth it?
Absolutely. You don’t have to be rich and/or famous to experience emotional rewards when you PACforKids. Our emotional rewards, evident in the three photos below, were so great that we were inspired to create this website to share our tips. For travelers who enjoy the pre-trip preparation process, gathering your gifts and communicating with your recipient organization will be rewarding. We are confident your PACforKids on-site experiences will be among your happiest travel memories.
If you have a great experience share it with others as you travel, when you return home, and on this website by emailing us at MJ@PACforKids.com.
Photos: The Nest, Nairobi (left); Casa de Santa Julia, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (center); Habitat for Humanity preschool, Urubamba, Peru’s Sacred Valley (right).