Many travelers feel motivated to help the people and communities they encounter on their trips to Peru. Some may go on a shopping spree to buy gifts to bring and other may orchestrate a clothing drive. But these acts of kindness, although done with the best intentions, may not actually be the best ways to help out.
Despite a long period of economic growth and the country’s growing popularity among international tourists, Peru is still a developing nation and many of its rural communities continue to live in notable poverty. According to stats released by the World Bank, the rural poverty rate of Peru is 18% (2012), though other sources estimate it may be as high as 50%.
With the imminent need so apparent, many travelers often ask, “What gifts can I bring to Peru?” The answer to this question is not simple and sheds light on complex issues that underline responsible gift-giving.
The ultimate goal of responsible gift-giving is to give in a way that is sustainable and empowers local communities in the long-run. Undoubtedly, the best way to learn what items are most useful and how you can give back in a mutually beneficial manner is to work with a locally-based non-profit group or organization.
Handing out cash and gifts at random, particularly in regions like Cusco and the Sacred Valley that experience a lot of tourism, can perpetuate levels of dependency which actually result in more harm than good. But this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t show your appreciation to the tour guides, hotel staff, waitresses, and trekking teams whose hard work goes a long way in making your vacation extra special. “Tipping in Peru” is respectable practice and a great way to show your gratitude.
Participating in a community-based tour or program whose proceeds go straight back to the local residents is a great way for travelers to give back in the areas they visit. “Awamaki“, a non-governmental organization that supports a network of local women’s fair trade cooperatives in the Sacred Valley, is one such option.
“There are plenty of ways to get involved with Awamaki’s work,” explained Laura Bennett, the Programs Director. “If you’re passing through Ollantaytambo, visit our Fair Trade store and buy one of the beautiful handmade products. The majority of the proceeds from the sale go straight back to the very same woman who made the product. Or sign up to a day workshop in Peruvian cooking, wood carving, basket weaving, or pottery, all led by local artisans. Or go on one of our Quechua community visits.”
In some cases, travelers don’t work with a specific community-based tourism project, but would still like to give something back. The same principles of responsible giving apply. Rather than giving gifts at random, it’s best to find a local program that accepts monetary contributions or supplies that can then distribute the helpful resources.
Here are “gift-giving no-nos” that every traveler can reference for some general tips. (These are just some general guidelines. If in doubt, talk with your local guide to get a deeper sense of the local needs.)
• Don’t give money or handouts (or candy) directly to children or adults
• Don’t give clothing (and never secondhand underpants), unless specifically requested
• Don’t give trinkets unless you made them or they are souvenirs symbolic of your home country
• Don’t give books and other reading material that are not written in the native language
Offering gifts as gestures of friendship naturally has more value than those given out of a sense of obligation. For this reason, try to establish a relationship with the children, communities or project that you give to.
(Photo: Britt Fracolli/Latin America for Less)
But remember the gifts that you leave behind don’t always have to be material possessions. Giving can also come in the form of ideas and talents exchanged during a volunteer experience or a casual conversation. Often, the best gift you can give is that of friendship.
Gift-giving, after all, is not just about doing a good deed and making yourself feel warm and fuzzy inside. It’s about giving in a way that’s responsible and makes a positive impact on the individuals and communities that make our trip so memorable. As travelers we should enter the places we visit with the honest, ambitious belief that our desire to make a connection can make a difference.
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