Sending a child off alone on a mission trip can be scary, more so for mom than for the child. Whether they are going to someplace close like the Dominican Republic or as far away as Rwanda, advice for preparing them is the same. I have been lucky enough to travel on many mission trips around the world, I have also taken my children with me. This summer they are going alone. My 14 year old just left for two weeks in Rwanda, my 16 year old is leaving for Haiti at the end of July.
Here is my best advice for preparing them (and you)
Get all the shots suggested, but don’t freak out
We get all of our international travel shots done at Passport Health, you can also have them done at your pediatrician. The chances of getting typhoid fever are extremely small. Don’t let the first step on their trip, getting medically prepared, scare you. Keep their shot records, some shots only need to be repeated every 5-10 years, some every 2. JJ only had to get one shot for this trip because all of his vaccinations from our last trip were still good. Also, some countries require proof of vaccination for entry.
Travel with Benadryl, the location of the nearest hospital and medical insurance
On my last trip to Haiti with my daughter she got stung by a jellyfish. Usually no big deal. What we found out the hard way is that she is SEVERELY allergic. I had no idea what to do. I had no medication with me and it was night time. The hotel gave us some “anti-allergique” pills and we did what you think we did (but in the shower, we are girls). It was a long rough night of her convulsing with fever. I have never been so scared. By the grace of God she made it through the night and was fine. Never, ever again.
Get medical evacuation insurance and send your child with a copy of the policy and the 800 number
I bought policies for both kids from Travel Guard. They were around $33 each. They no longer sell annual policies for medivac. You will get an 800 number and if anything happens you have an advocate who can guide you through the process of getting to the nearest medical facility and get you to the hospital of your choice abroad if you should need it.
Send them with cash AND a credit card
Why a credit card? Airplanes do not take cash for food. My son’s teacher recently chaperoned a trip to Costa Rica for a bunch of teens. Long flight. No free food. No one had a credit card. So that was fun for all. If you give them a gift card, be aware that they usually do not work outside of the United States.
Send them with a camera and teach them to use it as a bridge
I love using my camera to connect with locals. They love seeing photos of themselves, oftentimes I am in areas where locals don’t have access to cameras or even mirrors. Children are particularly thrilled if you shoot short video and show it to them.
Teach them to ask before they take photos
I feel so passionately about this that I wrote an entire post on Photography Etiquette. A developing country is immensely photographable. Sweet children in the streets, women carrying their groceries on their heads, mud and grass huts. But it’s important that they realize that these are people’s homes and lives. They deserve dignity and respect. Never, ever take a photo without asking first.
Consider giving the shirt off your back
When we travel with mission groups there is generally a way to leave clothing and gifts behind. We usually leave empty handed. I buy duffel bags at Wal Mart that we can leave pack clothes that we plan to wear on the trip and leave behind.
Remember that you are not a hero
The most important thing you can give your child as they depart on a mission trip is a reminder that they are blessed to be working alongside those in other countries. They are not heroes for doing the work. It is cheaper and more effective to hire locals to paint walls or pour cement. It is a blessing and a gift to be allowed the chance to be a part of someone’s community for a short time and to lend a hand in whatever way we can.
Learn at least thank you in the local language and be respectful of local dress codes and customs
For instance, in Haiti you will not find women in shorts. They are a more conservative society and women wear skirts. Religious women cover their shoulders. If you are traveling with a Christian organization, it’s polite to wear longer shorts or skirts and t-shirts vs. tank tops.
I would love to hear about other advice you have for mission trips. I learn something every time I go, sometimes the hard way.