Poverty tourism

GOV 240 Service and Politics Abroad



By Sunday Nov. 27th 11:59pm, answer the questions below in a reply to this post.  That is, make sure your comment/answer is published on this page.  Write roughly 100 words.  Students who respond thoughtfully to others’ posts, in addition to making their own comments, will get more points for completing this assignment.

Odede, “Slumdog Tourism”New York Times, Aug. 10, 2010; “Letters: Are Poverty Tours Demeaning?”, New York Times, Aug. 16th, 2010.

What is a poverty tour?  Can it have positive consequences for the tourists and those living in the toured areas?  Do you want to avoid having our trip turn into a poverty tour? How might we do that?



Filed under Courses, GOV 240 Service and Politics: Kenya

8 responses to “Poverty tourism

  1. Adam Nicolais

    After reading both sides of the argument on poverty tourism, I have come to the conclusion that tours of slum areas can be both productive to the betterment of those in need, and also counterproductive depending on the way the tourist acts on what they see. I believe that Mr. Odede is correct in saying that all too often tourists use slum tours as a zoo, taking pictures and then leaving to go back to their normal lives, leaving those living there demoralized, humiliated and in a worse situation then before. However, I believe it unfair of this author to say that all tourists act this way, and those who act on seeing these slums by communicating with the residents, offering donations, using their education to help improve the situation, and raising awareness in their home countries greatly contribute to the betterment of these poor societies in the long run. Hopefully, we students from Wagner College can act more like the second description of a slum tourist, and aid the poor communities as result of the knowledge we learn from the tours.

  2. Bettina Briccetti

    I feel that in order for tourists to fully understand how the African people live, they must see and experience an average day. Going off of this, I think that a poverty tour can be beneficial, if conducted properly.
    Tourists that take humiliating or degrading pictures make the African people seem like zoo animals, as mentioned by Kennedy Odede. These tourists are not doing anything beneficial.
    Throughout our trip, I feel that we can make a slum tour beneficial to both ourselves and the community. By being educated on the situations the African people live with on a daily basis, we can do everything we can to help and educate other Americans on how they can assist as well.

  3. Grace Zhang

    Odede’s argument is relevant to the majority of those who go on slum tours. However, I don’t believe that everyone who witness such extremities of poverty can go home complacent. Though “slum tourism turns poverty into entertainment, something that can be momentarily experienced and then escaped from,” it does promote social awareness to bring about change. Improving life in the slums is a long process but I believe that with awareness brings empathy and progress.
    Another point Odede makes is the conduct of the slum tourists. I agree that the behavior can be dehumanizing and disrespectful. The story of the tour of a woman giving birth is revolting and unethical. Boundaries should be established by tour guides to protect the privacy of the African people. Oded specifies on the invasion of photography. He feels like he is an animal being observed and then forgotten. Though the poverty they live in is appalling, they are no different than us-people with feelings and pride. I hope on our trip to Kenya, we will not be what Odede describes as the typical slum tourist but as a group of people who have a positive impact that lasts long after we leave.

  4. Joseph Kritzer

    It would be irrational to judge the positive aspects of a poverty tour based solely on the actions of the people going on the tours. It is necessary to consider the reactions of the people witnessing these tours as well as the people who are experiencing these conditions. As Odede and the other students who replied alluded to, taking pictures and gawking over these terrible conditions only worsens the affect on the poverty-ridden people. While, I think that people going on the tour and taking away a willful attitude to change the things they witness is certainly positive, when weighed against the humiliation and tragedy, it does not seem worth it. I believe there are other ways to make a difference. On our trip, I do not think photography of the conditions is necessary. We should simply go with the desire to help regardless of what we see once we arrive.

  5. Lenny Giordano

    The most important mindset that I think all visitors must embrace can be summed up in Bob Kegan’s post: “accept cultural differences with grace.” To be graceful in this respect is to be poised and to have respect for others. When encountering people who are less privileged, one must act tactfully. It would not be right to gawk, point, and photograph the local people as if they were not aware of it, as if we were there to record and judge their way of life. For us to avoid the negative connotations that come with the stigma of “poverty tours,” we must connect with the people. Sharing conversation, laughing, smiling, and even crying. Listening to what they have to say as opposed to taking photographs or simply making observations and personal judgements. We must enter with a blank slate, no preconceived ideas of these areas and the people that reside there. It is easy to imagine that, when putting yourself in their shoes, they can feel negatively about our presence, as if we are there to simply sample their lives and then escape back to our lives in the US. We should keep in mind how easy it is to make the wrong impression, especially when reacting to things we have never seen or experienced. For us, our experience there must be one that is positively motivated. For them, we must show how we are there to understand what their life is like, and to do what we can to make a helpful contribution, to extend a helping hand.

  6. Jericho Densmore

    I feel like, regardless of our good intentions, our time in Kenya will inevitably be somewhat of a poverty tour. That is, we will are all privileged people using the lives of under-privileged people to gain something. Gawking and picture-taking will be unavoidable, no matter how much we try to avoid it. And maybe what we are gaining is a more open-minded outlook on the world, maybe we are gaining knowledge, perhaps we are gaining an inspiration to help- all very positive things. But these gains are still at the expense of others. Hopefully, what we leave behind is at least as significant as what we take away. That right there is, in my opinion, the ultimate goal, and that is also what justifies us in doing what we are doing. Our presence in Kenya will help some people, our money will do good, the knowledge we gain will potentially be beneficial to more than just ourselves… so yes, I do believe that these poverty tours have positive consequences for both the tourists and those whose home we are touring. But who am I to say? Obviously, I choose to go on this trip, I choose to believe that I am doing good in going on this trip. The people of Kenya, and of other popular poverty tour locations, don’t necessarily have that choice. In our case, it sounds like the community we visit is fairly open to our presence, but that isn’t always the case. I think even if the people of a poverty-stricken community cried out in peacefulness and desperation, telling us that our presence only makes things worse for them, that people would STILL find a way to convince themselves that what they are contributing is worth their discomfort- most people tend to stick to what they think is right, even when something shows them that they are wrong. So lets try to keep our trip as least poverty-tour-ish as possible- lets be sensitive to the dignity of the people, lets keep photo-snapping and gawking to a minimum, let us try to leave behind as much as we take away. But we also need to remember that, unfortunately, our being there is our choice, not theirs- and respect that as much as possible.

  7. Allison Dufford

    A poverty tour is plain and simply observing “how the other half lives.” While many good points are made in Kennedy Odede’s argument that poverty tours only provide situations for others to gawk at while the observed lose their dignity, the argument that resonated with me most is the fact that these onlookers do not do anything about the poverty they’re observing. I would not imagine any tourist’s intentions to be bad, but as outlined in the article, a poverty tour is purely a way to raise their social awareness by observing the poor, but then what? I do believe that in a way, our trip to Kenya can be looked at as a poverty tour because we are going to another country to see and experience how they live; however, we are not going to just observe and nothing else. Yes, I’m sure we will take pictures and be more than a little stunned at our surroundings, because that is natural, but we are going on this trip with the intention to not only better ourselves but also to help the people we are going to be around. I believe that is how you respectfully avoid being a typical poverty trip, having the objective that we are going to do something. As mentioned by the student in the response to Mr. Odede’s article, are we going to feel like saving the world after? Yes…Is that possible? Not entirely, but as long as we know that we went for the right reasons and contributed to a community of lesser fortune we are already participating in something much greater than a poverty tour.

  8. Elana Abt

    Before reading this article, I never considered how the people in Kenya might feel about coming and invading their lives. How many times has a white person walked up to them and taken their picture and walked away? I don’t want to be that person to those people. If us students respect these peoples’ privacy and are just there to simply learn about the culture and not gawk at them, I think we will be successful in not making this a poverty tour. I am going to Kenya to learn more about poverty. I come from a middle class family in Chicago, and sometimes I forget how fortunate I am. Unfortunately the people of Kenya aren’t as fortunate. I want to be able to donate my time and money and hopefully make a difference in at least one persons life. After reading Odede’s article, I am saddened that this is his reality, but I think it is wrong for him to make a generalization of all tourists. Yes, there are people that do these slum tours to make themselves feel better, and then they go back to their five star hotels and they don’t even give back to the community. But this is not what we intend to do. I want to feel what it is like to live on the other side of the track, thats why we are living in the village and working side by side with these people. By doing this hopefully our trip won’t become a poverty tour.

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