When a Trip of a Lifetime Takes a Deeper Meaning

Last summer we took the family trip of a lifetime – a safari to Kenya and the Dominican Republic of Congo. The memories of the majestic natural beauty and our exposure to the human condition that exists throughout the vast majority of the planet, combined with the simple joy of being together, will be forever etched in our minds. On this basis alone, the trip was worth it. However, the benefit we gained from this journey far exceeded the wonderful pictures, captivating stories and extraordinary family bonding.

We strive to give our children a strong education and impart the values of what it means to have the good fortune to be able to help people and our planet. We try to model a life of compassion and gratitude in hopes that this is how they choose to lead their lives. As hard as we try to instill these lessons and values through conversation, nothing is as impactful as what they experience first-hand. Traveling to impoverished and developing parts of the world exposes them to a set of human living conditions and issues that simply can’t be captured in pictures or news reports. We wholeheartedly agree with Beasley’s proposition that poor locales are filled with rich experiences and worth the logistical challenges of experiencing them.

On the long jeep ride to our base lodge in the Congo we drove by barefoot children — barely 4 and 5 — carrying enormous containers of water for miles to their homes. For our children, this was hardly a familiar sight and they had endless questions. Our guide responded, “this is the water they live on and it’s their responsibility to help their family even at such a young age.” Even more eye opening was understanding the primacy of quality infrastructure: roads, electricity, running water, and security from crime — as essential elements for creating any systemic improvement. Watching our children internally comprehend and process what they were seeing was invaluable and potentially life altering. The dinner conversation later that night can be summarized by our 14 year old son’s final declaration that “when you get to see more of the world, you get to see how privileged you are. We are obligated to give back.” We try to have conversations like this at home, however, these discussions take on a completely different meaning and authenticity when one is immersed in this reality.

Our itinerary wasn’t just about the “drive by.” We met and engaged with people. We visited families in their small huts with no access to electricity or running water and learned about their life and daily activities. These interactions conveyed some powerful messages to all of us. First, as our daughter beautifully described – “these people find happiness and contentment with what they have, even when there is so little.” Talk about a perspective that everyone should embrace! Second, we saw the substantial impact even small improvements make in areas like health, infrastructure and education. These families work exhaustively trying to make the most of what they have. After these visits, discussions with our children ensued around the profound and transformative benefits that global philanthropists like Bill and Melinda Gates and Howard Buffett are delivering in the parts of the world we visited.

Finally, an added benefit of doing a safari in Africa was the opportunity to experience the delicate relationship between man and nature. It became immediately clear upon our arrival how man is egregiously disrupting this balance. It is painful and infuriating to see how poachers are jeopardizing entire species by needlessly killing them for their horns and tusks for supposed benefits that have been thoroughly debunked by science.This flagrant butchering is in addition to the reckless actions we as humans are taking by overextracting from the planet. Experiencing the beauty and precarious balance between man and our natural environment instills the awareness that we need to be thoughtful and take steps to prevent extinction or irreversible damage while it’s still possible. As one of our teenage children said, “When you see the majesty of these animals and how people are driving them to extinction when they don’t have to – because of greed and ignorance – it makes you want to do something to stop it, I feel like we can.”

The impact of our recent trip extends well beyond gorgeous photo montages. We all, and most importantly our children, have a new and deeper understanding of the struggles and opportunities that exist for our brethren in the world. We have a clear appreciation of our blessings and what we can do with those blessings to make the world a better place. This trip, more than any other, has instilled that we are global citizens that cannot be passive about the living conditions of our fellow man and our natural world. The results of this trip have been material for our children – our son spent the remainder of that summer in Africa working on a conservation program for big cats. Our daughter will spend her next summer participating in a community service program in Zambia and working to restore parts of the British Virgin Islands devastated by recent hurricanes.

A family trip to parts of the developing world can be a wonderful experience on multiple levels. Given this fact, we are exploring other similar trips and encourage others to do the same, especially while our children are at formative ages. The awareness, personal growth and inculcation of values that can emerge from these excursions is unmatched. At home, we strive to have substantive and thought-provoking conversations about our role in the world. Trips like this form a basis for these conversations by exposing us all to the realities of the challenges of life for so many on our planet, and making clear our essential obligation to help provide solutions.