Dedicating your holiday to a charitable purpose is not only rewarding, it teaches (you and) your kids to be mindful of the less fortunate in the world. To encourage your children to be true global citizens, it’s important that they understand what a privilege it is to be able to travel. That’s why Eleanor Craig, President of Tabitha Foundation (Singapore) and her husband Andrew have taken their son, Jonathan (now 10), to build houses for the disadvantaged in Cambodia twice since he was 8 years old. She tells suitcases&strollers about her experience.

Why did you decide to take Jonathan on a house-building trip rather than a normal vacation?

Like many expatriate children [the Craig family lives in Singapore], I felt my son was a little too comfortable with the joys of jetting around the world in business class with mum and dad. I wanted Jonathan to understand that within an hour's flight of Singapore there was significant poverty where children had no toys, couldn't go to school, had no safe home and, in many instances, had insufficient food to eat. I wanted him to think about the differences between their lives and his life and, hopefully, in years to come he would remember to help others who are less fortunate than him. 

How did Jonathan enjoy the house-building experience?

He loved the fact that he was part of building a house that he saw people move into the day we finished it. I think he also enjoyed just feeling as though he was part of village life for a few days.

Did he literally do "building"?

Yes he was armed with a hammer on both builds. His main task was to hammer nails into the floor to keep the floorboards in place.

Were there other children non-Cambodian children on the house-building trip?

The second house build [we went on] had more kids which was great. It meant that the Cambodian kids played more with the house-building children; they had such good fun. Language was no barrier and each group showed the other simple games which they could play. I really do believe they each felt that they learnt from the other and they also saw that, despite the backgrounds they were born into, they were all just kids at heart.

Is it common for Tabitha to do house-building trips with kids?

Many of the international schools [in Singapore] take children on house-builds but they tend to be 15 to 16 years old. There are not a huge number of builds which have kids but there are certain groups who regularly hold family builds. They are such a good experience and definitely bring families together.

What is an appropriate age to start taking children on house-builds?

Probably 10. I think Jonathan enjoyed the second house-build [trip] more, because he had so much interaction with the Cambodian children. He really took a lot away from the trip. He and his friends were then able to do a presentation about it at school and at 10 years old I think they were able to articulate much better what they did and why they did it.

What did Jonathan learn from the experience?

That children in Cambodia are just like him. They can play the same games, run as fast (and in some cases faster!) than him, and when they are happy they laugh and smile. But they are born into a life in rural Cambodia which means they probably won't get exposed to the same chances in life as he will. However he can do something about it.

What were the things Jonathan didn’t like about house-building?

Nothing that I can think about other than coming home!

What are your tips for choosing the right charitable holiday for a family?

If possible go with another family, I think the children get a lot out of sharing the experience with their friends. Choose something where children will feel that they are part of the team. Make sure they have a "real" job. Try to choose something which will take you into an every day situation in that country so that it feels as genuine an experience as possible. And choose something which sounds like fun. Children are more likely to remember the event if it was enjoyable.

Why should people choose house-building over other kinds of philanthropic work or just donating money?

Tabitha works with the poorest communities in rural Cambodia.  When you go on a house build you are given a rare opportunity to be in a village which you could never reach as a normal tourist. You meet families who greet you with huge smiles and kindness and when you leave you have the privilege of seeing those families move into a house which you have built. It is difficult to believe that they have the resilience to keep smiling despite previously having had no secure home to live in.  

There are many philanthropic things which you can do, but for me house-building goes to the core of helping another human being. I also appreciate that not everyone can take time to do something like this and the best option for them may be to donate money. But, with a little forward planning and three days in Cambodia, I really do believe the experience will live with you for a lifetime, and in all probability, will change how you view the world.

To find out more about introducing kids to poverty, see the suitcases&strollers story here.

To read about how one 8-year-old boy raised money for a charity in Cambodia, see the suitcases&strollers story here.  
To find out more about how to do a house-building trip to Cambodia visit the Tabitha Foundation (Singapore) website