The Poverty Tourism Conversation

Last week I was working on some materials for when our staff returns (in two weeks, three days!)  They return before classes begin and spend a week training together.  Part of the week is the URT, but we also cover office policies, team building, and some more formal learning.  As I prepared, I stumbled my way into the recent upswing of posts on short term trips.

The surge can largely be accounted for because some well known bloggers accepted the opportunity to travel and blog with an organization that addresses poverty.  Rachel Held Evans was invited to Bolivia with World Vision.  Heather B. Armstrong went to Bangladesh with Every Mother Counts (and was strongly criticized by some.)

The decisions (and the posts that followed) were controversial and sparked a wealth of conversation about Poverty Tourism (or whatever you want to call it).  It is a topic I find fascinating and difficult.

Here are some of the posts I have appreciated on this recently:

Jamie, the Very Worst Missionary– She lives in Heredia, I lived in Heredia, I have friends who live as missionaries in Heredia.  I like that I can picture the exact model of Tourista-labeled mini-bus that goes around her town.  I don’t know how I feel about having ridden in it.

Center for Transforming Mission– I found their clearly articulated purpose in a Vision Trip very interesting.

Fuller Youth Institute– This is actually a variety of posts over the last while, and I enjoyed mining through the various perspectives.  I particularly appreciated this piece from Eric Iverson.

I’m biased for FYI, because I’ve worked with them enough to know how important their work is to them.  So when they offer ideas and suggestions on short-term trips, I know they’ve really thought it through and, even better, gleaned from research.  Oh, how I love research.

I will offer one thought on this for now.  In my observation, we aren’t being particularly precise when we talk about the subject.  Is poverty toursim/slumdog tourism/poverty safari just another way to describe any short term trip to a region with material poverty?  Doesn’t it matter who the trip participants are, what organization they partner with, how they prepared beforehand, what they spend their time on the ground doing and seeing?

Sometimes we discuss these ideas and lump everything together.  But I am inclined to feel like an individual writer is not quite the same as a team of 15 high schoolers and that an organization that runs trips en masse is not the same as an organization that is on the ground full time year round.

Many commenters on posts seem to say, “I can support short term trips if they’re done right,” but I’m not sure we’re talking enough about what “done right” looks like.  Just saying “not that” isn’t quite clear enough for me.  And if we think there is a better way, I would love to hear that side a bit more.

Thoughts?  Have you had glimpses of what trips done right look like?  How would you advise someone interested in a short term trip?  Or have you found other articles or posts that you’ve liked on this topic?  I’d love those links too.

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