Self help

Helping Underprivileged Communities on Your Holiday

It’s a big world out there and being lucky enough to explore it is something you should take advantage of.

However, it’s important not to forget that for every person who’s in a position to spend a week, month or a year travelling, there is another who may never leave the village they were born in. There are underprivileged communities all around the world, whose warm spirit and generosity help complete countless travellers’ trips.

With this in mind, I think giving something back to the people you meet on your journey by doing volunteer work abroad is incredibly worthwhile and will only serve to make your adventure even more special.

Here are three countries where I believe you can make the greatest difference to the lives of the people you meet.


Cambodia is one of Asia’s true gems, but it has a dark history and the wounds left by its past are only just beginning to heal. This is a country relatively new to the traveller’s radar, but it’s fast becoming a must-visit stop, thanks to its rich beauty and fascinating culture.

With the aftershocks of the civil war and genocide still reverberating, there is so much good you can do here. Among the most worthwhile is to volunteer at one of the country’s orphanages, where you’ll be able to help teach these youngsters.

Assisting them in getting to grips with English will give them a real chance of escaping the poverty they grew up in. Of course, it’s not all serious – and there’s also plenty of opportunity to have fun. Help put a smile on these kids’ faces by organising activities like acting or team sports for them to enjoy.

“cambodia ankor vat”


Nestled within the Himalayas, Nepalis a mysterious country and also one of the world’s poorest. Becoming a republic in 2008, it’s a place that has attracted thrill seekers for years, as this is where you’ll find Mount Everest.

However, many of the people live in poverty – which is where you can help. There is a variety of community projects running across the country for you to choose from, whether you want to teach in schools or build houses.

Among your options are helping out at a school or orphanage, teaching English to the Buddhist monks at one of the monasteries or building day care and resource centres, along with extending existing community properties.

“nepal mountains”


Uganda is one of the most beautiful countries in Africa and if you’re on a tour of the continent you should stop here.

However, it’s also home to one of the highest populations of orphans in the world and while there are community projects established out here doing all they can to help, they need more volunteers.

Your time here will be greatly appreciated and you’ll be called upon to assist in a variety of ways, from making home visits at the houses of some of the poorest families to training the children – many of whom live on the streets – in basic skills.

There’s not always a lot of laughter among kids who are living without any parents, or who are nursing loved ones who have been struck down by the AIDS/HIV epidemic. Put a smile back on the faces of these young people by organising games for them to play and helping them to feel cared for again.

Self help

Tips for Overcoming Barriers with Communicating Internationally

Overcoming intercultural communication challenges is not just a philosophy of sensitivity to each other’s nuanced identities. Nor is it a topic reserved for managers, and other employees of multinational organizations, anyone interested in pursuing an international or intercultural career, or even people who travel a lot.
Any random two people, even two from the same country or even from the same family can have vastly different cultural identities that create challenges to effective communication and understanding between them. Developing intercultural competence, even among people we perceive as similar to us, is essential to understanding, being understood, and consciously deciding for ourselves how respectful we wish to be to the people we interact with. suggests 6 main tips for overcoming common barriers to cross-cultural communication. I’d like to quote and elaborate on them.

Step 1. Break Assumptions
“Everyone makes or has assumptions about others. Assumptions are beliefs rather than objective truth and are usually influenced by a number of subjective factors.”
Assumptions are only beliefs. The only facts we know about any individual are those we learn by interacting with or observing that individual. If you assume something about a person based only on your perceptions of a group you believe they are a member of, you are limiting your understanding and desire to understand another human being. People should ask themselves why they possess these beliefs and openly discuss them with others calmly, motivated by a desire to understand. Though it often seems like these assumptions, stereotypes and prejudices are based on a desire to feel we understand the world by accepting over-simplified explanations these assumptions give us.

Step 2. Empathize
“In order to come to appreciate and understand people from different cultures, empathy is vital. Through putting yourself in someone else’s shoes you come to see or appreciate their point of view.”
This is a hard one. It’s often difficult to empathize with other’s vital, identity defining experiences you have not experienced for yourself. But if we don’t empathize, we risk missed opportunities. According to an article on How to Improve Communication in an Intercultural Business World, “it’s important to understand that we all have ingrained cultural biases. We hire people who resemble us.” If we don’t attempt intercultural emphathy when we perceive difference, then we are only limiting ourselves .

Step 3. Involve
“Involving others in tasks or decision making empowers and builds strong relationships. Using intercultural diversity is in essence a more creative approach to problem solving as it incorporates different points of view.”

Ange Teo, founder of a Cross-Cultural Communications Solutions Provider, says, that employees assigned positions requiring intercultural competence “may display anxiety and discomfort and may have had little or rare opportunities to socialize with people of other cultures before. He will lose sight on effectively communicating his ideas as his fears of not being understood, amongst others, overwhelms him.” Those fears of intercultural anxiety can be at least somewhat relieved if people in this type of positions are made to feel involved and accepted with their opinions and ideas respected.

Step 4. Discourage Herd Mentality
“Herd mentality refers to a closed and one dimensional approach. Such a way of thinking curbs creativity, innovation and advancement as people are restricted in how to think, approach and engage with people or challenges.”

Step 5. Shun Insensitive Behaviour
“People can and do behave in culturally insensitive ways. By attacking someone’s person, you attack their culture and therefore their dignity. This can only be divisive. When insensitive behavior is witnessed it is the responsibility of all to shun it and ensure it remains unacceptable.”

Begin the Shunning! I don’t completely agree with the idea that attacking a person is an attack on their culture though. What if that person is a chronic liar or thief? Then I am certainly only attacking them personally and their poor personal choices are not a result of their culture. And I wouldn’t need to attack their dignity because they’ve already done it themselves.
Cultural Insensitivity Can lead to the loss of potential customers and friends whom you have offended.

Step 6. Be Wise
“People need to be aware how to interact with people with respect and knowledge. Intercultural communication is essentially founded upon wisdom, i.e. showing maturity of thought and action in dealing with people. Through thinking things out and have background knowledge to intercultural differences much of the communication problems witnessed within business could be avoided.”

An immense challenge to being “wise” in intercultural interactions is lack of exposure to cultural differences which equals lack of knowledge. Can you really be faulted for offending someone by doing something you just weren’t aware would be offensive? Such as not knowing that in some Latin cultures, people are often as much as 30 minutes later than the agreed meeting time when conducting business. If you come from a culture that percieves time as a commodity might be upset someone arrives late. And being offended by this behavior which is normal in Latin America may be perceive that frustration as demanding and offensive. Perhaps sometimes lack of intercultural knowledge is forgivable if you are kind and understanding about the situation.

So with these “steps” in mind, we can attempt to challenge the intercultural fear of the unknown, biases, prejudices, and anxieties within ourselves and others.

But the two most major barriers to intercultural communication are still Language and Mindset. Languages can be learnt, and communication is still possible if you try. When I was studying Chinese in China, there were some Turkish girls in my class. They didn’t speak any English at all, and their Chinese was terrible. But we had fun communicating and they taught me quite a bit of Turkish. Language doesn’t need to be as severe a barrier to intercultural communication as some people think it is. There is always a way to communicate.
Though mindset is often the unbreakable barrier I’ve yet to break. How do you do it? Very often people have a mindset of anxiety, fear of the unknown, or complete indifference to people they perceive as different from themselves that prevents them from cultivating quality friendships and engaging in genuine communication with people they categorize as “other.” In that case, I would say become the change you want to see in the world. Set a good example and treat people with the same respect and inquisitive consideration you would like them to give you.

Self help

11 Killer Ways to Boost Your Confidence

1. Look good to feel good

Your appearance, clothes, cleanliness, style or lack of not only reflects how you feel about yourself, but also influences how you feel about yourself. If you feel like you don’t look good, it will influence how you interact with others, like a little nagging voice lodged in the back of your subconscious telling you you are presenting an inferior version of yourself to the world. That’s not necessarily true for everyone of course. But if you like the way you look, stay well groomed, wear clean clothes, it will help the way you feel about yourself and thus your confidence.

2. Work out

This one is more important than you might think. Working out makes you feel energized, and confident in your attractiveness. As you get the adrenaline flowing, you will be able to think and speak more clearly too. Working out creates a positive energy for your mind and body.

3. Walk Faster? I say walk slower.

While doing some research for this article, I read somewhere that “people with confidence walk quickly.” However I completely disagree. Walking faster may in fact be an indication that someone is in a hurry, or walking with a purpose (which is great) as they have somewhere to go, and important things to do, but it doesn’t necessarily indicate confidence. On the other hand, walking slowly doesn’t necessarily indicate lack of purpose, or that you are tired or in pain. I always think people who have control over their lives, are confident and conscious and thus have the luxury of walking slowly. So I recommend walking slightly slower than usual. Because it demonstrates that you are in complete control. Have a slow, loose, upright walk, looking strait ahead as far as you can, not at the ground.

4. Good Posture

People with good posture appear to possess more self confidence, make better impressions on others, have better sex lives, have more financial success, and get much more respect than people with poor posture. Making an effort to maintain good posture, while in class, while on the bus, while having lunch with friends will influence you to feel more enthusiastic about whatever you are doing and you will automatically feel more important and confident.

5. Affirmations

One of the more well known methods to build confidence is to tell yourself positive things about yourself. Such as: “I am confident!” “I am a bold motha fucka!” And this is somewhat helpful for a confidence boost, though I believe the point of positive affirmations is to build the habit being positive about yourself and your life. Many shy people sink into a negativity loop by constantly reminding themselves why they feel inadequate. So start being positive in your self talk. Tell yourself positive things. Avoid being negative, not only about yourself, but the world around you if you can help it. Be positive and use positive language as much as you can, not only with yourself, but everyone.

6. Be grateful

Related to positive affirmations is being grateful. Devote a solid one minute each day to Being grateful for what you have, thinking about your previous successes, current social relationships and everything. This helps you condition your mind to be more positive and thus more motivated to take the next move toward success..

7. Compliment other people

When I was less confident, I criticized other people too much. I was too sensitive to the flaws of others and didn’t appreciate their positive traits and successes enough. When you develop a habit of praising others, making a habit of focusing on what is admirable about someone and delivering sincere compliments will also help you feel better about yourself.

8. Sit in the front row

By sitting in the front row at school, in the office, at events etc. you can overcome any anxiety about being noticed and visible to too many people. People who lack self confidence try to stay in the back to remain unnoticed. Don’t worry about your visibility to others. You are a sociable, confident human being who deserves to be recognized.

9. Contribute to Group Discussions

At school, the office, at a party with a group of people you’ve just met who you feel have incredibly well developed social skills you should indeed speak up and add your voice to the discussion. Many people are afraid of being judged for what they say. I was never afraid of being judged, though I used to suffer from just not knowing what the hell to say. By making an effort to speak up in these situations you will become a more confident public speaker.

10. Anchoring

We all know a person bitten by a dog, monkey, or walrus will likely develop a fear associated with that animal. Likewise, we can associate a positive emotion or mental state, such as confidence and a positive mindset with any stimulus. So when you are in a situation in which you feel confident and bursting with positive energy, do some action that you can associate with that feeling. Such as snapping your fingers, or doing the chicken dance, whatever is comfortable for you. And later, when you are in need of some confidence, do that action again and your mind will be reminded of that positive state that you anchored before.

11. Smile!

Goes along with being positive. Positive, happy people are generally more confident.

Self help

Human Rights and Social Efficacy

I wasn’t able to find some of my better essays i’ve written before, but while searching I did come across this little essay I wrote for a philosophy class. It’s not as insightful or well written as the intercultural communication essays i was looking for, but i still think it’s a little interesting.

The question of whether prescriptions of human rights are effective and adequate or not becomes irrelevant if we ask what brings about social justice besides assertions of the existence of human rights and find no other alternative to righting the wrongs of the world except in fact asserting the equality and rights of all human beings. Prescriptions of human rights are required for bringing about social justice and their efficacy is determined by the social and political norms of the society in which they are being asserted.

Without attempting to assert the existence of the human rights of those who suffer from social injustice how else are they supposed to overcome the barriers to attaining equality?

Asserting the value of human rights has indeed brought about social justice. When Stanton and Mott held the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls New York in 1848 they asserted that “all men and women are created equal, (CP 177).” They asserted that women have equal right to the pursuit of happiness.

Their efforts were the beginning of a movement leading Susan B Anthony to fight for women’s voting rights and form the Women’s Suffrage Association in 1868 which eventually achieved its goal in 1920 when an amendment was added to the U.S. constitution granting women the right to vote.

It took more than forty years of asserting the need for change through speeches, discussions, media attention and other venues to raise awareness of the need to establish equality and give the movement enough social credibility to establish equal voting


Mott and Stanton’s piece claims that “The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward women, (CP 177).” Many societies historically have and continue to treat women inferior based merely on the fact of their gender. But changing social norms that advocate inequality and thus limiting recognition of one’s innate human rights takes an immense amount of time and social momentum. This momentum can be initiated by asserting those rights in order to move in the direction of human equality and hopefully bring about social justice for those injured by destructive and oppressive social norms.

People can assert their human rights to equality and attempt to achieve social justice when equality is absent because they otherwise face unnecessary harm imposed upon them by a society with socially constructed norms of oppression. And perhaps more importantly, there is no reason for inequalities to exist other than social traditions and conditioning that arbitrarily asserts the superiority of one group over others.

Hegel points out in his Anthropology that to those who enforce and support social norms advocating inequality, “it was (and often still is) hoped to prove that human beings are by nature so differently endowed with mental or spiritual capacities that some can be dominated like animals. But descent affords no ground for granting or denying freedom and dominion to human beings (CP p.7).” Hegel explains that humanity’s implicit rationality provides the “possibility of equal justice for all men and the futility of a rigid distinction between races which have rights and those which have none (CP p. 7).”

This logic can be extended to say that rationally, psychological and physical harm placed on groups of people and individuals merely because they are born into a certain “race,” gender, nationality, economic class or other classification is arbitrary and thus unnecessarily harms members of society. The arbitrariness of these harmful norms is thus reason to assert the existence of human rights as all human beings are born equal, but face inequality as a result of socially constructed oppression.

Political scientist Jack Donnelly asserts that the “understanding of the innate equality of all human beings leads naturally to a political emphasis on autonomy. Personal liberty, especially liberty to choose and pursue one’s own life, clearly is entailed by the idea of equal respect. For the state to interfere in matters of personal morality would be to treat the life plans and values of some as superior to those of others (Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice, (2002).”

Bringing about social justice which would assert the legitimacy of these ideas is the goal of many human rights efforts. These efforts attempt to transcend social traditions of arbitrarily constructed social oppression and instances of inequality through assertions of human rights as necessary for societies to recognize these issues as problematic and eventually achieve social justice and change in some form which would eliminate or at least reduce the harm of inequalities.

Examples of social justice brought about by efforts to assert human rights such as establishing women’s right to vote, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to illegalize segregation are the legal results of efforts to assert the fact of innate human rights and equality and the resulting changes of those societies. Although it has not occurred and is unlikely to completely eliminate social norms advocating racism and discrimination, oppressed people’s have indeed used human rights to bring about social justice through persistence and time.

In talking about the persistence of racism, Stannard provides an interesting quote by Alexis de Tocqueville who visited the United States and wrote a virtual encyclopedia of life in the country which was published in 1835. Tocqueville noted that people of African origin in America are “hardly recognized as sharing the common features of humanity. His face appears to us hideous, his intelligence limited, and his tastes low; we almost take him for some being intermediate between beast and man. To induce whites to abandon the opinion they have conceived of the intellectual and moral inferiority of their former slaves, the Negroes must change, but they cannot change so long as this opinion persists (CP p. 21).”

Tocqueville is correct that it is oppressive opinions that limit certain groups of people from being viewed as equal, and thus treated as equal. These opinions are social constructions that can be reduced over time through education of society, and efforts to change societal institutions promoting oppression and inequality and the opinions which keep them in place.

Abolishing slavery was indeed a victory for social justice in the U.S. as it asserted the humanity and innate rights of former slaves as human beings, but it did not abolish the opinions mentioned by Tocqueville which maintained the harmful institution of slavery. It is these opinions and assumptions of superiority which still existed in post-slavery America that maintained racism and other examples of discrimination which still exists, and legal segregation based on race.

Achieving social justice required a long time, and it can be argued that it has not been completely achieved as social norms of racism and discrimination are still obvious in many people, institutions and contemporary societies.

The norms of the dominant society in the U.S. allowed the 1896 Supreme Court to establish segregation with so-called justifications of it being “separate but equal” and claiming to have “no tendency to destroy the legal equality of the two races, or establish a state of involuntary servitude.”

It wasn’t until 1954 that segregation was deemed illegal by the Supreme Court and that it was legally considered “inherently unequal.” As historian Jennifer Rosenberg points out, “Although the Brown v. Board of Education decision overturned all the segregation laws in the country, the enactment of integration was not immediate. In actuality, it took many years, much turmoil, and even bloodshed to integrate the country (2006).”

It took many years of oppressed individuals and people who recognized the social norms of inequality advocating respect for the human rights of people to change these institutions.

The irrational opinions of superiority which maintained institutions such as slavery and segregation persist in causing harm to individuals in various forms of racism and discrimination. It is only until society’s socially constructed opinions of innate superiority and inferiority are changed can the fact of innate human rights achieve real benefits of social justice.

Efforts in asserting human rights and the need for equality have achieved victories. Such as bringing voting rights to women, and ending legal segregation. But legal victories for social justice such as these do not automatically change the opinions advocating inequality, although they do signify that social norms have been moving in the direction of equality.

The effectiveness of efforts to bring about social justice by promoting the existence of one’s human right to equality is determined largely by the extensiveness of social norms of the acceptableness of inequality. Another very significant factor is time. Just as it took many years to achieve institutional victories for women’s rights and the illegalization of segregation, the effectiveness of human rights to bring about social justice depends on the time required to shift social norms to those advocating equality.

The effectiveness of human rights is thus limited largely in part to social norms. Many societies claim that ideas of human rights have no legitimacy within their culture as it is a “western” invented philosophy and thus does not apply to their way of doing things. As people and authorities within these societies become more accepting of assertions of human rights, these ideas become more likely to initiate social justice.

China is often villanized as a violator of human rights, with many examples, some very well known. However, there are groups and natives within mainland China who assert their human rights to live without torture, censorship, oppression, and other state imposed institutions and norms imposed upon their livelihood.

When I lived in China for a little more than a year I met people who thought “western” nations had no right to impose their ideals involving human rights and universal standards of equality upon their culture. However, I also met just as many people who either held strong opinions advocating their innate rights as human beings and those who wanted to work in a society with more recognition of their innate human rights, such as a journalism student I met who wanted to find a job in Hong Kong or Taiwan where she would be more free from the censorship of state sponsored media.

The point is that social norms are changing within this country in the direction of respect for human rights which with time may eventually bring about actual social justice as people will eventually feel more comfortable discussing issues openly. It just takes time to shift in this direction, and for this direction to bring about social justice.

Sociologist Malin Oud makes the point that “less than two decades ago, the Chinese government dismissed human rights as a bourgeois and Western concept of little relevance to China. The discourse of human rights has, since then, to a certain extent been ‘normalized’ in China (Creative Tensions and the Legitimacy of Human Rights Education 2006).”

Oud also points out that the Chinese constitution was amended in March 2004 to include the words “the State respects and protects human rights”. The effectiveness of this amendment is of course limited by the fact that there is no mechanism in place in China for enforcing these words or even establishing specifically what they should imply. However, the change is significant as even the term “human rights” was controversial only a few years ago (Oud, 2006).

The legitimacy of human rights within a society or even an individual person is proportionate to it’s effectiveness in bringing about social justice.

A 2004 study by the International Council on Human Rights attempted to establish the effectiveness and legitimacy of human rights organizations. The focus of the study was to establish how these organizations acquire public legitimacy and the effectiveness and access social groups and people have to their services.

The study found that “A sound constitutional foundation is the best guarantee of legitimacy.” It was found that human rights organizations are more likely to acquire public legitimacy when they are recognized by the states in which they operate.

This may be a combination of a causal as well as a correlational relationship. The causal relationship being that if a human rights organization wants to bring about social justice or change within a community their ability is limited when restrictions are placed upon them by government’s which do not recognize their legitimacy. A correlational relationship because a government’s unwillingness to accept the legitimacy of human rights organizations may indicate public norms of unwillingness to embrace the changes such organizations would advocate.

The fact that humans are born innately equal and thus do not need to endure socially constructed norms of torture, oppression and inequality may not enter into the social consciousness of some societies and thus has a comparatively limited effectiveness at bringing about social justice within them.

Attempts to challenge social norms maintaining oppression and inequality are necessary to achieve equality and bring about social justice in instances in which public recognition of that equality is limited or nonexistent.

Even though discrimination based on race and gender still occurs in many societies and still causes psychological and physical harm to many people, progress has been made where assertions of human rights and equality attempt to bring about social justice.