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In my six years as a writer on HOPE’s staff, I’ve been privileged to visit HOPE-network staff and clients in regions across the globe, and my trips are typically just a few weeks long. Here are the tricks I’ve learned to help maximize short-term experiences—for both you and those you visit.

1. Aim to be the best guest ever

Imagine the number of details your host is arranging for your visit. Now remember that they’re coordinating them on top of an already busy schedule, and you’ll see that your host is going above and beyond for you. Show your appreciation by being as pleasant and flexible as humanly possible. Gift-giving is also important in many cultures and should be standard in your travel protocol, however small the gift. When visiting American expats, think care package, and with national hosts, bring something related to your home region.

2. Research the dress code

Ask someone who knows the country or research online for cultural- and climate-appropriate dress, and remember that rural areas are often more conservative. For security reasons, it’s also wise to shoot for the “nationally ambiguous” look (avoid American logos, matching group t-shirts, and extremely casual clothing).

3. Venture beyond English

Americans are woefully renowned for being monolingual, but technology has left us with no excuse. Learn basic greetings and how to say your name in the local language—I guarantee your efforts will be received enthusiastically. Consider gaining a basic understanding of common trade languages like Spanish, French, or Swahili.

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While interviewing Ka-Tiwala (“trust-fellows,” or savings group members) clients and spending time with savings staff in the Philippines, these are some of the most encouraging things I’ve heard.

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The staff of CCT, HOPE’s partner in the Philippines, value savings and seek holistic transformation for families and communities so enthusiastically that they have pioneered a new twist on the HOPE savings model: savings groups for children. CCT savings facilitators have initiated groups for teens, elementary students, and even preschoolers. The idea took shape when mothers requested that their children join groups so they could learn the discipline of saving from a young age, which, like most habits, becomes easier and more permanent.

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Or “expert,” I should say. Malu Garcia is at the center of HOPE’s expertise on savings models that can alleviate poverty for the poorest of the poor. She specializes in training and equipping local staff who will be directly training savings groups, and she’s been traveling through Asia with me, assessing and providing additional training for our savings partners here. It’s truly a joy to serve alongside her. Here are a few more details about Malu:

• Malu has been working with savings programs since 2001 in conjunction with the Chalmers Center for Economic Development and Food for the Hungry. She defines training as “multiplying yourself in the lives of others.”

• Malu first joined HOPE’s team in October 2007 when she moved to Rwanda to help launch HOPE’s first church-based savings program with the Anglican Church. She traveled to each of Rwanda’s dioceses to promote the savings program, trained national coordinators, and built a foundation for a strong relationship with the national church. Today, the program is nearly 100,000 savers strong. Continue Reading…

I need to admit something: Sometimes I intentionally look away from photos of children living in poverty. Not the really sad ones – I mean photos of adorable kids with big eyes and bright smiles. And it’s not that I don’t like kids. I love them, actually. I’m that crazy lady who inevitably asks to hold someone’s baby, whether I’m in my parents’ church or a church in a Congolese village, and I’ve been that way since I was about four years old myself (Did you just get a mental image of toddler me carrying a baby half my size?).

Guilt is one reason I look away. If you’ve had the privilege of participating in some kind of mission trip, you probably know the simple joy of playing with cheerful kids who seem to come running from every direction. Across language barriers, we laugh and take pictures and give piggy back rides. We hold hands and give hugs and swear to ourselves that we’ll never forget their names. But honestly…I’ve forgotten most of their names. Distance and time have eroded those details in my brain, and I feel a twinge of guilt when I look at cute photos.

Pessimism is another reason. Despite all the wonderful things that are happening as God’s Church moves in the world, I know that at least some of these kids will still be living in the same slums years later, living out the same cycle of hopelessness their parents walked.

And finally, I look away out of fear that those cute kids will make me lose focus. Continue Reading…