Travel Comment

Ponderings on all aspects of travel - both at home and abroad.

Opening our children's eyes

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There's nothing like a little spirited debate is there? It's great to see there are so many New Zealanders out there who are passionate about the benefits of travel for children.

So, having lit the blue touch paper I want now not to extinguish the flames, but to fan them a little higher.

For some time now I've been thinking how good it would be if a greater proportion of our kids (especially those approaching school-leaving age) could have the chance to go overseas (and I'm meaning beyond Australia) before they hit the workforce or further study or begin having families.

The comments of the Sikh policeman in Nelson who has had people call him Osama bin Laden among many other things, have only heightened my belief that we all need to get out a bit more.

Jagmohan Malhi, when asked on national television what he thought of being called a terrorist or having people call out Allah, used an Indian saying about a frog down a well. He gently suggested that maybe there were a few Kiwis who were a bit like frogs down wells - ie. their view of the world was a little limited.

Does it matter if many of our children do grow up with an insular outlook? Well Constable Malhi's experiences should be answer enough.

How insular does one have to be not to know that Sikhs are not Muslims. And of course that doesn't even address the perhaps more pertinent question that the huge majority of Muslims are not terrorists either.

Sure, you don't have to go overseas to learn this. One reason some of us battle on in the over-subscribed world of travel writing is to bring the world home to people who don't have the opportunity to travel. But there's nothing like being there.

Out in the big wide world Kiwis soon realise that their culture, language and beliefs are not the only ones. We experience what it's like to be in the minority, to feel bewildered and lost, even threatened by being out of our comfort zone.

Perhaps most importantly it is a real wake-up call as to how lucky the huge majority of us are. We do have poverty in our country but so much of what most of us considered hardships are laughable compared to what the majority of people around the world battle with each day.

We need our young people to get out there, see this for themselves - not because I think it will turn everyone into misty-eyed philanthropists but because it broadens our perspectives as human beings and I hope heightens our compassion for others.

More than ever today we need understanding between cultures. Ignorance breeds fear and what better way to banish ignorance that to spend even a little time with people of other cultures and learn that under the different clothing, behind the different religious beliefs, people are very much the same.

I would love more of our teenagers to experience this but how to achieve it?

Well we seem to have enough money to spend on yachting challenges and improving our gold medal tallies - why not on more short-term travel scholarships for kids to visit developing countries - even a frog that has had just a short glimpse over the rim of the well will never view life again in quite the same light.

- Jill Worrall

Pictured above: Cycle rickshaws and auto rickshaws dominate a street in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo / AP

* Jill Worrall is heading back overseas later this week and will keep nzherald.co.nz readers up-to-date on her travel adventures through her Escapism blog.

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