In 2018, I experienced an out-of-this-world safari in Kenya and Tanzania. The thrill of searching out wildlife in their natural habitat, experiencing the great migration of thousands of zebras and wildebeest, the experience of overnighting in luxurious tented camps and lodges and meeting wonderful people, was all a breathtaking and life-altering adventure. That story comes later and is not what this story is about.  But it does bring to mind the people, the poor, not only in Africa but many parts of the world and the dignity they struggle to maintain despite their often dire situations and attempts to survive. 

“Poverty Tourism” is on the rise in many third world countries. Tourists haul out their cameras to take that perfect shot of a mom cradling the baby that is wrapped in a worn rag to keep its’ tiny body from the hot sun; perhaps an action shot of dirty, barefoot children playing on a dusty road, or the old men with hopeless expressions on their deeply-wrinkled faces, sitting cross-legged on the street…  

Organized journeys often show us the good, bad and the ugly of a destination and really, isn’t that why we explore foreign lands? However, how we act and react when our stops include poverty-stricken locations which are meant to show what life is really like, is of utmost importance. Sensitivity and respect is not a suggestion; it is essential.

The rationale for these visits includes the fact that tourism brings a source of income to poor areas, which may very well be true. But what of the dignity of those who sit and endure the clicking and flashing of cameras? As one resident in Kibera, Kenya said, “We are not wildlife.” Kibera, a suburb of Nairobi, is Kenya’s largest slum. The woman said “seeing the tourists manoeuvering this dusty neighbourhood to see how we survive was shocking.” She wonders how tourists in Europe or America would feel if she were to do the same in their countries. We visit these places in the name of discovering a part of the world completely foreign to our own. Yes, it is a wonderful idea and the best way to appreciate and gain a better understanding of our world. Travel makes us more tolerant of other cultures and in the end, hopefully, makes a more peaceful and kind planet. For me, I believe these experiences have made me a better person.

I have felt very uncomfortable on occasions where I have found myself in similar situations and wondered what these locals must be thinking of us. Sometimes photos are helpful in the sense that they create awareness when shown in our home country; awareness of the horrible conditions that many around the world face and perhaps the images spur financial assistance in other ways. If used properly, such pictures can be a very powerful tool. But we must be very mindful of how we handle ourselves; always being aware of the feelings of those whose images we want to capture. Before we lift, point and focus that camera, we must put ourselves in their place and think again. As we make our next journey of discovery, wherever it may be, a kind word, a polite request and a caring attitude will go a long way.



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