11 August 2010

Are There Any Positives to Slum Tourism?

I wrote up something quickly last night and did not post it before bed. Lesson. Learned. Today.
And I thought that I was too negative:
To be fair, many foreigners come to the slums wanting to understand poverty, and they leave with what they believe is a better grasp of our desperately poor conditions. The expectation, among the visitors and the tour organizers, is that the experience may lead the tourists to action once they get home.
But it’s just as likely that a tour will come to nothing. After all, looking at conditions like those in Kibera is overwhelming, and I imagine many visitors think that merely bearing witness to such poverty is enough.
Nor do the visitors really interact with us. Aside from the occasional comment, there is no dialogue established, no conversation begun. Slum tourism is a one-way street: They get photos; we lose a piece of our dignity.
The above is an excerpt from a wonderful Op-Ed by Kennedy Odede in the NYT on Tuesday.  In the piece, Mr. Odede speaks of his experiences as a young man living in Kibera slum in Nairobi and the tourist groups which pass by his home.  I cannot express how encouraged I am that the NYT are running pieces like this one.  It is vital that the voices of those who are coming from the nations receiving all the aid, development, and tourist attention are clearly heard.
This is a subject I would like expand on soon, but I want to get some reactions to it.  Is there a place for slum tourism.  Mr. Odede argues, swiftly I might add, that they provide no good to the tourists and the slum inhabitants.  Do you agree or disagree with him?