There is much controversy in the so called “poverty tours” – do they provide a learning experience or is it just a way to gawk at those less fortunate? Having lived in Mumbai working in many poor and slum communities I am particularly aware of this type of tourism and it’s many sides. In some ways, it is educational for the people visiting to actually see with their own eyes how so many people throughout the world live, survive and often thrive on so little while we in the West spend our days focusing on our “first world problems”. However, looking at the other side, would you want to be a poor person having their lives, homes and livelihoods being treated as entertainment? Probably not. Hence the dilemma for us on our recent trip to South Africa.
As a former non-profit worker and advocate, I was quite interested in seeing the townships of South Africa in person that I had heard about for years, however I didn’t want to just take a bus there on our own to essentially gawk at the community members. I was lucky enough to find a really great alternative that met my desire to see and experience the townships, while also not putting people and their homes on display like they live in a zoo.