Slumdog Zillionaires making money out of poverty

There’s a new trend in travel called Poverty Tourism.  This is the name given to tours of slums in third world countries.  Usually wealthy tourists are herded onto luxury coaches and driven through poor areas to see the how degraded the lives of the poor can be.  In some cases, these coaches stop to allow passengers the opportunity to purchase souvenirs to take back home.  Sometimes, poverty tourism isn’t even confined to third world countries, as I’ve heard of instances in Europe where tourists are taken to see refugee ghettos.  It’s as if these unfortunate people are dehumanised further by becoming part of a human zoo.

Another similar type of tourism is Volunteer Tourism, for which caring people are encouraged to go to some outpost and volunteer their time to help with various projects.  Whilst there are many worthwhile and legitimate projects around the world, there are some unscrupulous organisations which will charge prospective volunteers a huge fee to organise arrangements for them.  Unfortunately, when these volunteers arrive they find that the work they are required to do adds little to improve the standard of living for the people they have travelled to help, and that the bulk of the money they have paid goes straight to the pockets of the organisers and does not reach the people for which it was intended.

To take leave to volunteer to help those less fortunate is a very humane act, however, when considering to volunteer it is best to research the project in which you are interested, and the organisation for which you intend to donate both your money and your time to ensure that your charitable act will actually have some meaning.

There are many volunteer and humanitarian organisations that are quite legitimate.  Sadly, there are other organisation which give the appearance of being legitimate, but which are motivated by profit rather than charity.

Perhaps the best way to decide on which organisation you, as a volunteer, wish to help is to a) research that organisation by visiting forums which discuss volunteering, as you soon discover those that are held in high regard; b) research the projects that you wish to help, which includes investigate who the recipients of your largesse will be, living conditions at the place you will be living, and the satisfaction levels of former volunteers.

This last point can be tricky.  As someone who has volunteered I realised that there are people who have quite high expectations of the work they will do, and the influence they may have.  Some volunteers are simply not suited to living under third world conditions where things like constant, reliable electricity or easily accessible potable water are freely available.  If you are considering helping out in a third world country, understand that you will be living in those conditions too.  Humanitarian work involves not only working with the needy, but living with them too.  A volunteer does not retreat to a five star hotel in the evening.  Usually, if those needing help live in a tent or shanty, then so do the volunteers.

The other issue is the type of impact your involvement will have.  Unless you are a medical professional such as a surgeon or nurse, or an engineer or tradesperson who has the ability to construct permanent solid buildings, your work will probably be rather mundane.  This is not to say that it will be useless.  The truth is, unless you have a skill for which there is an absolute requirement, it is your person power that is important.  Your role may be to help in a kitchen or sweep the floors.  Sadly, some volunteers think they will perform some pivotal role in the running of the project for which they have volunteered.  Generally, this is not so.  Your assistance, in whatever context, is important and is helpful, but, in the main volunteers are called upon to do work that does not meet their full potential.

Volunteer Tourism can do much good – just do your research first, and don’t envisage yourself being treated as a saint when you arrive at your chosen project.

As for Poverty Tourism, all it really does is provide a means of getting satisfaction out of the hardship of others; and of providing profits to those who don’t deserve it.

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