Thursday, January 05, 2012

Equal Opportunity for Travel






Greetings,
I just signed the following petition addressed to: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of every country in the world.
This petition was created by Chip Huyen. She is probably one of very few Vietnamese backpackers you'll ever meet. She started her round the world trip in May 2010, and hasn't stopped since then. To finance her trip, she finds odd jobs on the road and hosts a column for a Vietnamese newspaper. Her biggest problem is not how to make money, but how to get visas.

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To make traveling as an equal opportunity

When I was in Israel, everybody told me not to go to Palestine. “Palestinians are bad people. They will mug you, they will kill you.” And when I was in Palestine, I heard the same thing about Israel. “Why would you want to go back to Israel. People there are horrible.” The truth is that I met amazing people in both places and had great experiences. But I had a hard time explaining to people I met there that those on the other side of the wall are also humans who are just trying to hold on to life. They also need to work to make a living, they also have a family to love, they want the same things we want and they are scared of the same things we are scared of.

I took me a lot of nerves to decide to travel in Africa. All I had ever heard of this continent before setting my foot here was famines, droughts, AIDS, rapes, human trafficking, tsetse and all kind of weird traditional practices. Only when I’m here that I realize that Africa is also a place to LIVE with its own charm and its own pace. Nobody can beat the Sudanese and the Malawian for their friendliness. No country can beat Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa for their vast wilderness. Ethiopia is second to none when it comes to traditional dance and music. Addis Ababa, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Lagos are among the fastest growing cities in the world. I stop judging circumcision or body scarification, but simply accept them as different facets of cultures.

There was one country I decided to skip out of fear: Somalia, a country whose name has been synonymized with crimes, rapes, war and piracy. But just few days ago, I met a 27 y/o girl who hitchhiked through Somali and Somaliland all by herself. She’s hardly any bigger than me, and her backpack is twice as big as she is. “This is absolutely an amazing country, people are very warm and friendly. I had no problem at all traveling there alone,” she told me. I couldn’t help but laughing at myself. I thought that I knew something, yet I still let myself fall into the classic trap of media’s brainwash. Forget what you’ve been taught, forget what you’ve been made to read. You can never understand a place and its people until you are there.

I believe that mutual understanding is the key to world peace, and traveling gives you the first hand experience to really understand the world around us. As we understand more, we judge less. As we judge less, we are more willing to accept, rather than to hate or to be afraid of, the differences. We will not hate somebody just because they are of different color, different religion, or different culture. We will not let the bombings done by few people turn us against the whole nation. We will see people as what they really are, rather than what the media or the government wants us to believe.

I’ve realized that traveling is a powerful educational tool. I’ve learned more in the last 18 months of traveling than in 12 years of schools: about history, geography, politics, cultures, business and almost everything else. I’ve used super innovative web and services in India, as well as advanced technologies in Israel. I’ve learned about filming by couchsurfing with an ultra talented director in Pune (India), following an aspiring actress to a bunch of film sets in Mumbai (India), hanging around with a globe-trotting guerrilla filmmaking group in Mombasa (Kenya). I’ve learned about gambling by watching my friends playing poker for a living in Kathmandu (Nepal), by working at a casino here in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania). I’ve learned about Tibetan Buddhism by staying with a Tibetan family in Sikkim (India), by meeting Dalai Lama. I’ve learned to sail, I’ve learned to rock-climb, I’ve learned to cook dishes from different countries, I’ve learned to make my own jewelry from recycling materials. As I travel, I’m introduced to many amazing ideas that I had never heard of, or thought that they would be possible.

My decision to start traveling is the best decision I’ve ever made so far, as traveling really helps me grow up. Traveling exposes me to different situations that help me understand my true self. Traveling teaches me to be independent, to be easy-going, to be adaptable, and to be tolerant. As I travel, I have a chance to meet amazing people: those who teach me, those who inspire me, those who become my best friends and those whom I’ve fallen in love with.

I know, I’m just damn lucky to be among the 0.001% of youths from developing countries who have a chance to travel. Traveling is still a privilege of people from developed countries where they have better finance and better passports. It hurts me that many people my age will never make enough money to get out of their countries to see what the world is really like. Even if we do, most of the times we are put back by the mission impossible to get the necessary visa. Those who were born with American, European or Australian passports will never understand how painful it is to always have to apply for visas way in advance for every single country with little hope that your visas will be granted. You can’t be spontaneous. You have to spend a lot of money. You have to gather a lot of resources. It’s like we are being punished for what we have no control over: for being born in the wrong country, for being born to parents with the wrong citizenship.

I have a dream, ridiculous it might sound, that every youth from developing country who has the guts to travel will be able to do it. I propose the establishment of a foundation, called Traveling as an Equal Opportunity Foundation (TEOF), that will help youths to achieve their dreams.

Eligibility to become a TEOF youth:

- Youths between 18 and 25.
- Fluent in English.
- Wish to travel.

TEOF will do:

- Advocate for “traveling as an equal opportunity”: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of every country should make it possible for TEOF youths to obtain the necessary visa to travel in the country.
- Sponsor visas.
- Provide information and consultancy.
- Provide financial support (limited).

TEOF will be run by youths and for youths with local chapters all over the world. The local chapters will make sure that traveling youths in their locality are not doing anything illegal. TEOF will provide support and consultancy, but TEOF youths are expected to be responsible for their own safety and finance.
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So if you're a keen traveler, do sign the petition. As Mark Twain always say,


Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.

Sincerely,

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