Travel Stories

Seeing the world is a constant education about life and the people around us. Travel can open up so much about the world. So much history, so much pain and so many stories that we never hear about, all which co-exist as we go about our daily, lucky lives.

Many of these stories remain unknown to us. One of my first big experiences of being so moved by people and their lesser-known past was my trip to Cambodia in 2015. Excited by the incredible Angkor Wat, I had no idea about the history, the obvious trauma felt by the country still and how much of that I’d take away with me. Millions of lives affected by the Khmer Rouge and a country still recovering. Education, medical and landmines safety are all areas that still require help and assistance with today. It’s not on our news, we don’t learn it in schools and we generally don’t know much about the recent genocide. I especially knew nothing. So, I read books, watched documentaries and continued to learn about the lives beyond the skulls that we saw in the ground that day at the killing fields.

The Freedom Bridge in DMZ

Similarly, I was completely clueless about Korea too. The war, their current situation and their history is just something that I never learnt about or really came across (minus the odd headline in the news that honestly, never really held much importance because the background was so unknown to me). Until a couple of summers ago when I read a memoir by a girl called Yeonmi Park. Yeonmi tells her brave story of a life in North Korea, of her escape, her families abuse and how she was sex-trafficked through China, living to tell the horrors. Yeonmi was one of the lucky ones, now working for the UN and sharing her stories to raise awareness and promoting assistance for the people stuck inside.

On my visit to the demilitarised zone (DMZ) that lies between the two Korea’s, all I thought about was her. The only safe land between two countries who are still technically at war, is now a tourist spot for people to come, see and (apparently) learn about the history and future hopes for the unification of Korea. It’s dangerous and important stuff. Now, I was probably being a bit naive but I genuinely thought I’d learn more from this tour. Instead, I found myself in a rant about mindless travellers, companies who profit from pain and plain ignorance.

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I’m disappointed because Yoenmi’s story is just one of many, but you don’t learn about the people or the humanitarian crisis on the tour; only the politics, money and photo opportunities. You visit Freedom Bridge which was made to safely bring prisoners over the landmines that still surround the land and is also a memorial, a place to leave ribbons for missing loved ones. It’s a beautiful place with deep meaning and sadness and a tonne of people taking photos with their thumbs up in front of the ribbon wall who seem to have no idea why or what the point of it is because we were never really told properly. And it’s not completely their fault when the rest of the tour takes you to a new train station built for joining South Korea through the North and to the rest of the world, photos of Trump’s recent visit (what a doofus) and the ongoing excitement about the abundance of wildlife that grows in the DMZ next to the fake propaganda village that you can see from the Dorasan Observatory. Which makes an interesting story for sure, but what about the real people and their stories?

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I thought about Yeonmi and the millions of stories still untold, the people living in one of the world’s most dangerous countries, whilst our tour guide (who was genuinely very lovely) was telling us funny stories about a flag competition between the countries…

And I guess that brings me back to travel. We’re constantly in someone else’s home, neighbourhoods, lands, eating their food and making friends with the locals. We should never forget that. When we visit these places, do further research, read books, talk to the people and learn their lives. It’s up to us to ask questions, think ethically and consider those whose countries we’re guests in. Seeing the world should expand our understanding when given the right knowledge and tools to see through the people’s eyes. When we know their stories, we form deeper connections with the world and life. We grow in empathy.

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Travelling isn’t always easy and it’s so much more than taking quirky Instagram pictures and island hopping. It’s important to move through the world with thought, understanding and responsibility, never forgetting how lucky we are because our lives are filled with connections, stories, a constant learning, feelings and people like Yeonmi who help us to understand it all.

 

Peace, love and happy conscious travelling people!

V

x

 

 

Below is a list of books, documentaries and links to learn more, get involved and raise awareness about stories that matter from people in crisis’s that have stuck with me;

Korea

https://www.ted.com/talks/yeonmi_park_what_i_learned_about_freedom_after_escaping_north_korea

https://www.ted.com/talks/hyeonseo_lee_my_escape_from_north_korea

https://www.amazon.com/Order-Live-Korean-Journey-Freedom/dp/014310974X/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=yeonmi+park&qid=1570171873&s=books&sr=1-1

China

https://www.ted.com/talks/sheryl_wudunn_our_century_s_greatest_injustice

https://www.amazon.com/Half-Sky-Oppression-Opportunity-Worldwide/dp/0307387097/ref=as_li_tf_tl?tag=teco06-20&ie=UTF8

Cambodia

https://www.ted.com/talks/sophal_ear_escaping_the_khmer_rouge

https://www.netflix.com/title/80067522

https://www.amazon.com/First-They-Killed-Father-Remembers/dp/0060856262/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=First+They+Killed+My+Father&qid=1570171859&s=books&sr=1-1

https://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/the-khmer-rouge

Mexico

https://www.facebook.com/MisionMexicoChildren

https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/articles/2018-07-10/mexico-faces-its-own-surge-of-refugees-entering-the-country

https://asylumaccess.org/program/mexico/

Indonesia

http://www.dofeve.org

http://28toomany.org/

https://plan-uk.org/about/our-work/fsgm

India

https://www.netflix.com/title/81076756

http://www.nirbhayajyotitrust.org/

Europe and the Middle East’s Refugee Crisis

https://www.ted.com/talks/melissa_fleming_a_boat_carrying_500_refugees_sunk_at_sea_the_story_of_two_survivors

https://helprefugees.org

https://www.rescue.org/

https://www.amazon.com/Hope-More-Powerful-Than-Sea/dp/1250105994/ref=as_li_tf_tl?tag=teco06-20&ie=UTF8

Katherine’s story for International Women’s Day 2018

 

For International Women’s Day, we celebrate the women who have helped shape our past, those who fight for our future, and those who press for present day progress. At Misión México, we recognise and celebrate the women behind the scenes, the women who fill our home with love, life and hope, the woman who started it all and the young women that are still rising. This real-life story is dedicated to all of the work that is achieved thanks to these women and the work of Misión México, and to one woman in particular, Katherine. This is her story.

 

Who is Katherine?

A story that is important, unique and inspiring for all individuals, especially those from difficult backgrounds and especially for women like Katherine. Katherine is from Tapachula in Chiapas, one of the poorest regions of Mexico. Like many others, Katherine and her family had little options. As a teenager, Katherine’s education came under threat when it was felt that her joining the workforce would be more beneficial for her family, financially and because the importance of education for females was misunderstood.

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Second chances

Luckily, a teacher at school recognised her talents and helped support Katherine by seeking out ways for her to not only continue her studies, but to make plans for higher education. This is where Misión México comes in! Misión México is a refuge for children that provides education, safety and opportunity whilst bringing love, life and hope back into their lives. Katherine joined our Misión Mexico family as a teenager where she was supported financially, emotionally and practically so she was able to continue her studies and move forward to Prepa. Every year she would finish amongst the top n her class, and along with her grades, Katherine’s confidence and self-belief flourished too.

 

Katherine’s dream

As her confidence and knowledge grew, so did her dreams. Katherine wanted to go to university, study medicine and become a doctor so that she could give back to the people of Mexico and help the poorer communities. How incredible is that?

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Breaking the cycle of poverty

The incredible twist to this story is the ripple that her education caused. Founders of Misión México. Pam and Alan Skuse helped Katherine maintain a healthy relationship with her biological family whilst naturally becoming her second Mum and Dad. At Katherine’s prepa graduation, Katherine’s biological and new-found Mum sat side by side and watched her stand on stage, receive her higher education certificate (one of the top on the class) and prepared for her next step – medical school. Katherine’s mum turned to Pam and said “I am so thankful you, Alan and Mision Mexico came into my family’s life. You have shown me that girls in Tapachula can get an education and how important that is. You have helped my daughter achieve her dream and shown me that all my daughters should dream”.

You can read Pam and Alan’s graduation letter to Katherine here…

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Where is Katherine today?

A few years ago Katherine returned to live with her biological family so that she could support and encourage her sisters to remain in school and focus on their education, but would often return to Misión Mexico to visit her second family and to help, inspire and tutor other children in our home.

Thanks to support from donations and education sponsors, Misión México is able to continue to financially support Katherine’s dreams and was also able to support her family’s education. Katherine´s Education Sponsor, Susan has been sponsoring Katherine throughout her medical degree, and it’s thanks to people like Susan that we can continue our mission. You can read Katherine´s heartfelt letter to Susan here; 

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Katherine graduated university in December 2017, remaining one of the top students in her class. She is currently completing an internship in a San Cristobel hospital, and continues to be supported by Misión Mexico and her sponsor, Susan through our Adult Independent Program scholarship.

Katherine’s mum, who never believed that a female in Tapachula needed an education, returned to school part time and is studying her own secondary qualifications.

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How can you help?

Katherine and her family have made incredible steps that are changing their lives. But so many women and children will never receive these opportunities. Mexico itself is a dangerous place to be a woman, where every day roughly six women are murdered in gender-related cases. 781 million adults are illiterate worldwide, two-thirds of these are women. And although girls are achieving higher academic rates at school in many countries, many will not complete their education fully, many will end up working in unpaid labour at home and with their family, and many will not receive the same wages as their male colleagues.

  • You can get involved by becoming an Education Sponsor for one of our girls, or by sending donations today! Contact events@lovelifehope.com for more information.
  • Volunteer! Run projects! And visit us in Tapachula! We’re currently recruiting for April 2018 and onwards. So, if you’re interested, please don’t hesitate to contact us via social media or apply at volunteer@lovelifehope.com
  • Follow, share and support us on social media

https://www.instagram.com/misionmexico/

https://twitter.com/mision_mexico

https://www.facebook.com/MisionMexicoChildren

 

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The dangers of fashion

Documentary watch: The True Cost and Minimalism (find them on Netflix now)

Got a new date? Buy a new dress. Feeling down? Hit the shops. Hole in your socks? Bin em. Don’t like that tee? Charity bag. Hate spending? Get bored quickly? Want cheap clothes and a tonne of option? It all sounds pretty harmless but the true cost of our shopping is literally damaging our planet and failing to protect the lives of millions around the world. Where are we going so wrong and how can we do better?

It’s funny how as you walk into a store like Topshop, you feel fully ready to splash the cash and treat yo’self (for the third time that week), whilst in a land not-so-far away, people are suffering because we just can’t help ourselves. We live in a world where we want, spend, buy, and chuck at the most alarming rates, whilst separating ourselves from the production and side-effects. The average American is currently consuming 4x more than what our planet can sustainably supply, and we brits are next in line. Altogether, we are consuming 400% more than we were twenty-years ago with the consumption of 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year. Doesn’t sound so fun now right?

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Consumerism is a fairly new definition which is why there’s no surprise that people are A) unaware of the word in general and B) think it’s a joke similar to global warming. Well actually, it’s very real and very damaging and the way we are consuming is in fact the biggest joke.

Now this is not a lecture or a blog to tell you to stop waking into H&M, but a conversation with information about how we can create a better lifestyles for ourselves and others by changing our behaviours and thoughts before it’s really too late…

 The People

  • “Without my wardrobe, people would have no work” – It’s true that 97% of our clothing is made abroad, however our consumption is not only causing inhumane working conditions for the workers (that are mostly women), but is also putting people out of work too. For instance, giving all your leftovers and unwanted stuff to charity is not always the best idea. In fact only 10% of clothing gets sold in charity stores and the rest ends up in dumpsites and stores in developing countries which is then cutting out their local industries and filling their landfills with pollution and more issues thanks to the us in the west.
  • 1 in 6 people in the world work in the fashion industry. Most of these are women who are earning less than $3 a day and working in extreme conditions. From Beyonce’s big Ivy Park scandal to the deaths of over a thousand workers at Rana Plaza, people are suffering directly as a result of our mindlessness materialism.

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The Environment

  • So the 90% of clothes that don’t get sold in charity shops is boxed up and packaged to countries like Haiti and Mexico where they sit in empty shops, landfills and pollute the land and water because it’s not bio-degradable and the people in these countries don’t have the right tools and knowledge to deal with all our mess.
  • Cotton is in such high-demand that it’s now genetically modified and grown. But at a huge cost. Studies suggest that there’s almost a 20-50% chance for cotton farmers to develop cancer and other related diseases as a result of exposure. The True Cost documentary also highlights how over 250,000 Indian farmers have killed themselves due to debt related pressure from cotton farming.

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How you can make a difference:

  • Watch the documentaries ‘The True Cost’ and ‘Minimalism’ which can both be found on Netflix and will both make you question what on earth we’re doing! I’ve watched both a bunch of times and they’ve really inspired me.
  • Send your old coats to http://care4calais.org/winter-coats-needed/ and https://wrapuplondon.org.uk/
  • Stop sending all your old sh*t to charity shops. Use Depop, eBay, car boot sales and sell them on! You’ll make some money and your clothes will go to a new home, instead of a landfill like the ones damaging Haiti. Winner winner.
  • Give directly to the people that might need them and cut out the middle man of charity shops.
  • Re-vamp them, give the old stuff some love and get creative with your clothes.
  • Be a conscience shopper. Know the difference between want and need. Find things that you really love and invest rather than buying endless amounts of throwaway clothes. Slow down, think and re-wear. If you don’t love it that much, then don’t buy it. Isn’t it funny that our parents have clothes from 30 years ago in their wardrobes and I struggle to find anything older than 5 years?

Fashion can be fun, but fashion should never be the cause of someone’s death and livelihood. That’s not fun. Time to turn it around! We have a responsibility to our planet and the people in them. Let’s change the future

Thanks for reading you beautiful bunch!

Vanisha

X

Follow my twitter and instagram @vanishamay

Resources

http://clothesaid.co.uk/where-do-your-clothes-go/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-30227025

https://truecostmovie.com/

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/beyonces-ivy-park-sportswear-line-denies-claims-its-clothes-were-produced-by-sweatshop-workers-a7035926.html

https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17569-consumerism-is-eating-the-future/

https://www.1millionwomen.com.au/blog/5-crazy-facts-new-fashion-documentary-true-cost/