DNfG BLOG

Charity Begins at Home

Charity Begins at Home

“Charity begins at home” she told me, perplexed, after I had finished describing the idea behind DNfG. “Exactly. All this poverty, these charity projects, you can find here in the UK too”, chipped in the other. And it’s true. I couldn’t deny that there was a need everywhere. But this is exactly why our organisation is needed. “It has to start somewhere”, I pointed out. 

 

We three were huddled around a stocky table in a too-stuffy pub somewhere on the south coast of England, for one of our sporadic catch-ups. Coming out of the January chill and peeling off three of my four layers, it was hard to believe that a few short days ago I was in 30 degree heat, coordinating an event that would welcome over a dozen charities working alongside us. Now, I found myself having to justify to two of my closest friends why I wanted to turn my attention to a country half a world away; a country whose language I didn’t speak and to which I had no discernable ties. To them, this was out of character for me: I had spent my life making steady, measured moves to cultivate a quiet, stable life. 

 

But sometimes life has other plans.

 

Last spring I found myself visiting my best friend in Colombia, and something just felt different. I couldn’t put my finger on it. Perhaps it’s what gap-year students are seeking when they embark on their adventures – that particular milestone I had skipped. Perhaps it’s what keeps digital nomads travelling. All I knew was that I could not unsee, could not unfeel, what I had experienced; I would return home changed, and with a hunger to go back. How could I not? We had stayed in a beautiful apartment for a fraction of what something similar would cost in the UK, with bills included. We had been able to eat out and order Ubers without a second thought for the cost. People were friendly and welcoming, despite my Spanish vocabulary extending to only about 5 phrases. More than a holiday, it felt like a possibility for a fresh start. It felt like the beginning of something.

 

A couple of weeks later I was catching up with the same friend, reminiscing about that fortnight spent meandering around sun soaked streets, when they mentioned a conversation they’d had with a couple of disgruntled locals. The topic was becoming a typical one: the community was unhappy with the influx of tourists overstaying their welcome and workation, annexing cafés and appropriating apartments. This wandering workforce was displacing those that called the city their home. Yes, their disposable income fuelled the very businesses that provided jobs for the city residents, but they had no real stake in the towns and cities they breezed through. Despite their best intentions of documenting an idyllic, carefree lifestyle, they were unwittingly driving an economy that was increasingly reliant on, and resentful of, their fleeting business. Even with the groundswell of support for more ethical and mindful practices such as slowmadism, shopping at independent establishments and putting in the effort to rent through private landlords, rather than line the pockets of large corporations and Airbnbs, the damage was done and the reputation had stuck: digital nomads, tourists and expats were collectively seen as largely unwelcome, their only positive contribution to the community being to keep the economy ticking over.

 

As an anxious traveller who had trawled online forums for tips and advice before visiting Medellín, I had seen the other side: people who were excited to experience a rich culture and vibrant community, people who were drawn to the City of Eternal Spring, and who themselves were just chasing a better way of life, however temporary that indulgence might be. The only difference was that this group was privileged enough to be in a position, whether through education, skill, sheer hard work or just plain luck, to be able to afford to travel. At the end of the day, we all wanted the same thing: to feel like what we bring, what we do, how we live, is a net positive to ourselves and those around us.

 

Nobody wants to feel unwelcome in a place that brings them joy. And whilst the vast majority of interactions in cities that attract tourists and travellers are positive, there is always going to be the feeling that visitors stay for the good times and move on with the mood. Indeed, even in an idyllic setting, not everything can be rose-tinted and carefree. We have to remember that the curated snapshots we see are a highlight reel, and that, as with every city, if you wander off the beaten path, the scenes can be quite different. In Medellín, for example, the invasion zones have sprung up in the hills surrounding the city. Million-dollar views seen from thousand-peso shacks, illegally built on rugged land and cobbled together from rubbish and rubble. Here reside those displaced either from other areas of Colombia (and even Venezuela), or who had been pushed from the lower stratas of the city out to the impoverished fringes. Neatly tucked away from the view of visitors, but with a perfect vantage point to see exactly what they were missing out on, of what they were priced out of. Other signs of the economic divide are more easy to spot; rough sleepers and street dogs, begging children and working girls. Even Comuna 13, popular for walking tours that showcase the vibrant graffiti daubed throughout a dynamic but once-destitute neighbourhood, cannot escape its violent past: It’s now a championed example of how far Medellín has come from its darkest days. 

 

But so much more can be done.

More than can be explained in one post. 

More than can be shown in one city. 

More than can be achieved by one donation.

 

That’s how DNfG was born: a realisation that somewhere amongst the highlights of my holiday, at the end of my workation, there are people just trying to make ends meet, in cities across the globe. 

Charity does begin at home, yes, but actually nobody stipulated it had to be your own. There are people on your doorstep that could use a hand, whether that doorstep is yours for years or only a few weeks. Being able to experience all that the world has to offer is absolutely a privilege, and one that should be taken whenever presented. But why not enrich the lives you touch whilst enriching your own? 

 

At DNfG we’re on a mission to make doing just that really easy, no matter where your travels may take you. And we’re starting on the doorstep of a city with one of the most densely-packed digital nomad populations. We believe that travel changes you, and in turn you can be an agent of positive change in the communities you call home, however briefly.

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