One of the best things you can do this holiday season (or any time of the year, especially this year) is to help those in need.
There are thousands of worthy organisations worldwide that are helping those affected by Covid-19 or that are continuing their regular work because hunger, poverty, violence, and so on didn’t go away just because the pandemic came to the forefront of our attention.
Whatever non-profit or charity you choose to support, if your personal situation allows it, will be endlessly grateful for your donations, your time, or anything else you can give.
If you have a bit more to spare and are looking for other incredible organisations to support, here are some that I am giving to this year.
As you travel around Thailand on your scooter, one thing that is for certain is that you will see elephants along the roadside. On the edge of town, halfway up a mountain, just outside a temple, elephants, sometimes even baby elephants. But after your brain’s initial excitement (ELEPHANTS!!) the logical side of your mind will catch up to your childlike wonder and you’ll notice a sign advertising elephant rides, how thin and malnourished the animals look, chains or ropes around their ankles, scars indicating phajaan, or breaking the spirit. It’s hard to see and worse to notice the throngs of tourists eager to sit atop these majestic creatures without a care for their well-being. Equally as bad are the number of elephant parks that advertise themselves as “sanctuaries” to capitalise on another type of tourist’s desire for a more ethical experience, when their parks’ methods are no different than the abusive ones in the roadside attractions.
Still, I was hopeful that I could have a genuinely ethical trip to a real elephant sanctuary in Thailand, and so we went to the Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai. As we went on the weekend of my birthday, Steve treated me to the overnight trip, two days and one night staying at the park, visiting the elephants, walking some of the hundreds of rescue dogs they also care for, and learning about Thailand’s animal tourism industry.
The plan was this: Finish our Southeast Asia adventure on March 25, spend two weeks visiting friends in Seattle and Vancouver, arrive in Philadelphia on April 6, and fly to Ireland on May 8. Obviously, that didn’t happen. But we cut our trip short, headed straight to my parents’ in Philly, and spent three months hanging out, going for walks in the park, and catching up on Netflix, Steve’s 90-day visa-free allowance in the States was up so he headed back to Ireland.
￼I was meant to stay an extra month, see my sister, and then join him, but rumours began to fly that the EU would implement a ban on travellers from high-risk countries. Although I would qualify for an exemption that should have allowed me entry, I didn’t want to chance it and end up stuck for the foreseeable future, so on the 24th of June I booked my flight from JFK to Dublin for just a few days later, and on the 28th I was off. This is what it was like to fly internationally during the pandemic.
I’m not sure five words have ever given me such a radical mindset shift. Like so many of us, the ongoing murders of Black people at the hands of the police, and the police response to peaceful protesting in the wake of yet another unjust death, has cemented the idea that we cannot just put our faith in law enforcement to do the right thing and uphold justice and fairness in our country. This is something that I’ve already known, but do to my privilege, I’ve never had to sit down and think about how that would look.
On March 15 I was in a hotel in Hanoi, full of nervous energy and the fear that a staff member or another guest would exhibit symptoms of Coronavirus and the Vietnamese government would lock down the hotel until they could figure out the scope of the virus there, and Steve and I would miss our urgently-rescheduled flight back to the United States.
Of course, we had been monitoring the situation throughout our travels in Southeast Asia. The first cases of the virus had been reported in China shortly after we arrived in Indonesia, but it seemed unlikely to affect us. Apart from seeing a lot of locals wearing masks in Singapore and Thailand, something which is common practice in Asia anyway after the SARS outbreak, it was business as usual. We even went to a Lunar New Year in Bangkok’s Chinatown, and any fears of the virus were outnumbered by excitement for the holiday from both locals and tourists.
When I was in grad school in Ireland, my friends and I made an agreement that if one of us should find ourselves with an unwanted pregnancy, we would rearrange our schedules for an immediate “girls’ holiday” to the UK—cocktails, spa visits, shopping, all that fun, female stuff. And an abortion.
It’s something that I had never had to think about in the United States. Roe v. Wade had been settled by the Supreme Court almost two decades before I was born, and while another Supreme Court ruling from my own home state, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, allowed for more restrictions and guidelines, abortion would have been generally accessible to me had I needed it.