Adventure Local, Support Global

 

The adventure and travel world has done a somersault since the start of 2020. It’s left a lot of us feeling a bit dizzy and pausing to consider where to go from here.

International travel is certainly off the table for some time to contain the spread of Covid-19. Yet, as we’re fortunate enough to see lockdowns start to ease in Canada, a number of us are looking towards how we can responsibly get our adventure fix this summer.

For years we’ve fallen in love with glamorous beaches, forests and mountains on our Instagram feeds that are thousands of miles away. There’s something in the exotic that tantalizes, and has made a number of us forget about the jewels in our own backyards. 

The Covid-19 pandemic presents an important opportunity to search for these backyard gems – the places we can safely go to enjoy the outdoors, support local sites and small businesses in their recovery, and, importantly, not pose a health risk to those around us through being mindful and keeping space.

And yet this is also a time for us, more than ever, to realize just how connected we are to those who live across the world from us. A pandemic is a global issue, and it highlights the many global issues that both impact and unite each and every one of us. We’re talking Covid-19, the climate crisis, gender inequality, and the need for equal access to education for our next generation. 

As we continue to support access to education in Cambodia at Banana Backpacks, it’s more important than ever for us to remember this connectedness and the increased impact the pandemic has had on education in countries like Cambodia where school closures have resulted in challenges to access online learning materials because of internet connectivity, and half of all students are now studying for less than 10 hours a week since the shift to home learning. New types of support are needed to ensure students and families are supported, and our next generation doesn’t suffer from their inability to access education during this challenging period.

This August will mark the launch of our newest campaign, My Backyard Adventure, to highlight places loved by our favourite local adventurers and how our Canadian grown and Cambodia supporting Kiri Collection can help support these adventures. We hope this campaign will help all of the somersaulting adventurers and world travellers out there to learn to love their local, while continuing to support their global world. Today’s global citizen may not travel the world, but they can still help change it for the better.

Responsible Travel | A Guide to Travelling Responsibly & Ethically

Solo man sits on a dock by lake

I always liked to think I was doing my best to be an ethical traveller and travel responsibly. When I took my first big trip in 2010 and was hopping along Southeast Asia’s infamous Banana Pancake Trail, I avoided Thailand’s tiger temples at all costs. I tried to carry my waste out with me when I trekked through the Himalayas in Nepal and through the jungles home to orangutans in Indonesia. When travellers I met would give local kids candy or express their desire to visit an orphanage to help, I would gently encourage a dialogue about the detrimental implications of these actions.

But I still accidentally went to a tarsier “sanctuary” in the Philippines in 2013 that didn’t support their conservation. I only learned 4 years later that there was another sanctuary on the island that promoted responsible tourism with a similar name. I used plastic water bottles without thinking about their impact on the environment or alternatives like using a SteriPen and reusable water bottle. And only on my second trip to Cambodia did I learn that I should pass or receive things of importance with two hands, not one. So much for educating myself on local customs and etiquette before visiting a new country.

I made my fair share of big responsible travel faux pas for someone who was trying to be an ethical traveller – and, let’s be honest, I’m sure I still make a number of new mistakes. While I’m always disappointed in myself for these irresponsible actions, I try to remind myself that I’m still continuously learning and evolving as a responsible traveller.

So, what’s the good news? In today’s world there are so many great guides out there that make traveling responsibly that much easier for both first time and veteran travellers who are hitting the road. To make this process even simpler check out the infographic at the end of this guide!

Don’t want to travel alone? No problem! There are amazing group adventure companies that are increasingly building responsible travel initiatives into their itineraries and the ethos of their businesses. Our fellow Canadian friends over at Free & Easy Traveler always impress us with their incorporation of responsible travel into their trips. They make doing good for the world seem easier than ever before. Here are some of the awesome things they’re doing, and key responsible travel points I would suggest looking into, whether you’re traveling with a group or on your own.

Girl walking to school

Support child safety when you travel

You’re likely to encounter children wherever you travel. And while interacting with them can be a highlight of any trip, your actions can have a big impact on them. So how do you ensure their safety? Start by downloading the 7 Tips for Travelersproduced by the ChildSafe Movement Second, choose tour companies (like Free & Easy) and travel gear (like our packs) made by companies who are certified ChildSafe Supporting Businesses. These businesses ensure that children are protected and that the company’s staff have been trained to take action to protect children. The impact of this? Free & Easy staff who were working in Thailand actually helped to identify and report the forced labour of children, which led authorities to the eventual arrest of a human trafficker in the area.

Clean up the planet on your trip

This starts with not leaving the planet messier than it was before your trip. Bring a reusable water bottle and use refill stations on your trip so you don’t contribute to a swimming pool sized amount of plastic water bottle waste. Say no to plastic bags for your souvenirs and any market finds. Bring or pick up a metal or bamboo straw so you don’t need to use a dreaded plastic straw. Minimize flying where possible, in favour of a more eco-friendly, slower, and often more scenic option. When it is necessary to fly, consider carbon offsetting to at least help counterbalance some of the impact of visiting awesome places! Less is a good option to check out for carbon offsetting. 

Want to take your responsible travel to the next level? Help clean up on your trip with an initiative like Free & Easy’s TrashHero beach clean up on Koh Lipe. This initiative helps prevent more trash from ending up in our oceans and keeps the area clean for the local community. Spend a day making friends, an impact, and a solid travel memory!

Elephant mother and baby

Choose ethical animal experiences

Yup, that means tiger temples are off the itinerary for sure. But what about elephants, you might ask? Who doesn’t love seeing elephants in their natural environment? Don’t worry, this isn’t off the table as a responsible traveller! What matters is how you see elephants, or any other animal for that matter. Riding elephants causes them significant harm and even other seemingly harmless activities can cause them a great deal of distress. Educate yourself on any animal encounters you have planned and whether they have a negative impact on the animals you’re seeing. Choose group trips through companies like Free & Easy that have a strong commitment to supporting animal welfare on every one of their trips to ensure you’re making ethical choices.

Leave an impact when you travel

This one is your chance to get creative! Free & Easy does an awesome job of this through their Party for Prosthetics initiative. Drink beers and give the tabs from these cans to an organization that can use them to create prosthetic limbs for people in need? Awesome. Pick up one of our Khmer Explorer Travel Sets to carry your gear, and support a student’s meals for a year in Cambodia? Awesome. Find an initiative that resonates with you and helps better the planet and the people living on this planet.

10 simple steps for responsible travel

Responsible travel doesn’t have to be hard. Check out this infographic for a few simple steps you can take on your next adventure!

responsible-travel-infographic

Responsible travel isn’t a one size fits all – you can make it uniquely yours and take these basic steps to go beyond doing no harm, to doing good in the world in your own unique way.

What actions do you take to travel responsibly? Tell us in the comments below!

Obstacles to Education in Cambodia

education in cambodia

The obstacles to education in Cambodia become clear on a visit to this beautiful country. If you visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, you’ll learn that this former school was converted to a security prison in the 1970s. Many of those tortured and killed here were educators. When you travel north to the temples of Angkor Wat you may notice that there aren’t many schools in the nearby rural areas. These sights hint at the obstacles to education in Cambodia. The country has made huge steps forward since the 1970s genocide that took the lives of nearly two million people. But Cambodia continues to face enormous challenges to educating its young population and building a better future for them. This is a challenge we’re attempting to help tackle by supporting education with our Khmer Explorer Travel Backpacks.

education in cambodia

Education in Cambodia during its genocide.

When the Khmer Rouge came into power in 1975, education came to an abrupt halt in Cambodia. Schools were not only closed, but the majority of the buildings were destroyed or used for government purposes. One of these was the secondary school that became Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnom Penh. Thousands of Cambodians were tortured and killed here. A number of them were educators. These intellectuals were seen as a threat to building a new, agrarian society. In the entire country between 75% and 90% of teachers, 96% of university students, and 67% of all primary and secondary school students were killed from 1975 until 1979. 

In the entire country between 75% and 90% of teachers, 96% of university students, and 67% of all primary and secondary school students were killed from 1975 until 1979.

And this is a conservative estimate. While the Khmer Rouge had a goal of building up a new type of education system, this was largely unsuccessful. By the time the regime was overthrown in 1979, the majority of children in the country were found to be illiterate. Not only were educational resources like school buildings and books destroyed by the Khmer Rouge, but more tragically, the country’s national intellectual capital was nearly entirely wiped out.

education in cambodia

Education in Cambodia today.

Education has drastically improved in Cambodia since the 1970s, but it remains far from a priority in the country. Cambodia’s government currently spends only 2% of its GDP on education. This means that there is little funding for adequate teacher training and salaries, or money for classroom materials or resources. A significant number of the rural schools don’t have any access to clean water for their students. This lack of investment has resulted in inadequate schools, both in number and quality.

Some improvements have been seen over the last years at the primary school level in particular. According to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, a national average of nearly 80% of students now finish primary school (Grades 1-6). Sadly, the completion rates fall drastically to 43% for lower secondary school (Grades 7-9) and to an even lower 20% for upper secondary school (Grades 10-12). Those who are particularly at risk of dropping out are girls and children living in rural areas.

The reasons for this extreme drop in school attendance are complex. Among these are the high direct and indirect costs for families to send their children to school. The cost of buying children mandatory uniforms, textbooks, and bicycles (often needed to get to schools that are located far away) puts education out of reach for a number of families. To put this in perspective, in the rural areas of Siem Reap province where the temples of Angkor Wat are located, many people live below the poverty line on less than $1 USD each day. As a result, they’re forced to choose between food or education for their children. Many Cambodian children at the secondary school age consequently turn to work instead of attending school to help their families get by.

But education in Cambodia is slowly improving. A UNESCO report in 2015 on education in Cambodia showed that a few initiatives have made a real difference in lowering dropout rates. Among these was the provision of school meals. A number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are partnering with government schools to build capabilities and improve access to education in rural areas by focusing on these initiatives. One of these is our NGO partner, Caring for Cambodia (CFC), that supports students through their school meal program, Food for Thought. [You can read more about our support for Food for Thought through each of our Khmer Explorer backpacks here.] These initiatives to support rural schools have seen some impressive results. In the case of Caring for Cambodia, the student dropout rate at the schools they support has fallen to just 2%.

education in cambodia

Why improving education in Cambodia matters.

Education plays a key role in sustainable development and empowering change within a country. It has the power to reduce inequalities and poverty, provide fair employment opportunities, and improve gender equality. It offers a hand up not a hand out. And in the case of Cambodia, it’s a key foundation for building up a country with a difficult past. As Cambodia continues to face new human rights challenges, education proves to be an ever more important force to encourage positive change and awareness.