26 October 2009

CSM on Kibera Tours

The Christian Science Monitory blog features a small article about slum tourism in Kibera slum.  As a reminder it is the largest slum in Africa and popular destination for NGOs, volunteers and now poverty tourism.  The post is brief and says nothing really new, but it is the first comment that I want to share.

A woman writes:

I live near Kibera, and most of my friends who live there would find one of these tours repulsive. One of them commented bitterly the other day “we are not the animals of the Maasai(sic) Mara for tourists to come take pitcures(sic) of.”

This is something that I have thought for awhile.  Why would people feel the need to go into the homes of the poor to gawk?  Are they willing to open up their homes so people can see how rich they are?  There is a lack of respect on the most basic level when doing this. 

I was a part of a similar thing when attending a Maasai village with my family in September, but the difference was that we were invited.  To me it was a bit strange, but we were welcomed in by the village and were charged a fee to enter by them.  I wish that was not a way for them to make money, but it is a choice that they made.  Nothing was forced upon them.  The Maasai own Masai Mara.  They collect the park fees and care for it. 

Kibera is full of unwelcome guests.  Some people are happy to see the white people walking around because some will dole out money or goods because they feel bad after seeing abject poverty firsthand.  It is important to understand how a large portion of the world lives, but it crosses the line when it is done in a less than dignified manner and the actions of the individuals in the tour creates a culture of reliance. 

Would you give money to your alcoholic friend if he needed to borrow some?  or to your cousin with a gambling addiction?  Then why do it in Kenya?  I think that the golden rule tends to be a good standard to follow.  Do you want pictures taken of you at your worse?  Do you want people to walk around you unkempt bedroom?  Do you want people to point and stare at you?

As far as I am concerned the answers should all be no and thus should be why poverty tourism should no longer exist.  It is growing at a rate that I cannot quote, but it is growing and that in of itself is a problem.