While recently in San Miguel de Allende, I learned of two wonderful, and inter-connected charities. What does this have to do with authentic travel? Essentially, while both organizations serve the local population, they also enable North Americans, who make extended stays in that city, to have a more genuine, mutually-beneficial connection to the local people. We first heard of them when we signed up for a three hour walking tour through the historic city, which has had a long history of ex-pat influence.
Founded nearly fifty years ago, Patronato por los ninos provides dental care, and medical services not covered through the social safety net, to children in the hundreds of villages which surround the city. While the staff delivering the care are all Mexican, the ex-pats do their part through fundraising. Walking tours are probably the largest mechanism for this. Patronato is an American organization, which gives tax receipts to all American donors. A parallel Canadian organization, Amistad has also begun partnering with Patronato in giving care. This is not a duplication- it is only by donating through Amistad that Canadians can get a tax receipt, plus Amistad offers other non-medical programs. For example, Amistad supports the local library and related reading programs, and offers art classes to local children.
This example builds on an earlier post. It spoke about the role of self-transcendence – accepting that we are all part of a larger universe- in personal authenticity. The same post also suggested four criteria for authentic travel that would flow from that understanding of authenticity -finding experiences that allow a person to:
- lose track of her or himself in the experience;
- become more curious about (and kinder to) others who initially seem quite different;
- build his or her courage muscles; or
- enhance an ability to be generous.
From my perspective, even just taking a walking tour with Patronato por los ninos hits at least three of the four criteria. And, for those ex-pats who volunteer with these, or any other locally-serving charities (particularly ones which have local staff and/or partners), probably all four criteria are kicking in at high gear. I’d love to her about other volunteer groups that provide this type of mutually beneficial ex-pat and local exchange.