Slum Tours : The Human Zoo?

Over the past decade ‘slum tourism’ has sky-rocketed to popularity, seen as a new way to branch outside the more conventional tourist activities. This form of tourism can actually be dated back to Victorian times, when the curiosity of the upper-classes drove them to London’s East End to witness the living conditions of the poor. A century or so later and slum tours were being offered in India, Africa and Brazil. Now the idea has spread all over the world.

Rocinha camaras

UN-Habitat define slums as urban areas that lack one or more of the following: durable housing; sufficient living space; easy access to safe water; access to adequate sanitation; and security of tenure that prevents forced evictions.

Many become uncomfortable with the idea of a group of wealthy tourists visiting a slum to look at the poor; these experiences have been likened to a museum visit – the detached visitor sauntering around whilst critically looking at what’s on offer. But surely these trips have so much more potential, if orchestrated properly? First of all, visitors will experience the whole infrastructure of the slum and if they’re lucky, might even interact with its inhabitants. This experience begs the privileged tourist to open their eyes to deprivation, appreciate their comfortable lifestyle and may even lead a few people to offer themselves up for charitable work, or at least a donation.

Moving Mountains Kenya Chair, Gilbert Njeru, offers his first-hand account of the effects of slum tourism in Shauli Moyo and Grogon slums, both in Embu, Kenya:

Slum tourism in Kenya can have both positive and negative impacts on communities.There is a great feeling amongst the slum dwellers that most people will visit the slums and take photos, through which the locals get no benefit or assistance, whilst the tour operator benefits financially from their exploitation. It is hard to tell which organisations are genuine out there and which are there to make profits and benefit from the people who live in the slums. Most of the people are turning hostile towards visiting tourists; they are sick of having their photos taken as people use them for fund-raising and personal benefit. The slums are turning into a museum.

Moving Mountains is helping the communities in the slum areas by improving the infrastructure and learning facilities in schools whilst trying to lift the education standards With a couple of programmes running like the social welfare programme, we offer on-going support to children through funding school fees and uniforms. We also have a feeding programme that helps to maintain children in school, taking the big boys to polytechnics to learn skills that will help them get employed. Moving Mountains also offers grants to some of the families to start up small businesses that help them support their family’s needs.

Kenya slum 2

My experience with on a tour in Rio de Janeiro’s largest slum, Rocinha:                   

To be honest, I found the most unethical part of the experience took place before the tour even began – each of us boarded a moped taxi. This was both thrilling and slightly petrifying as we wound our way uphill through the busy streets of the slum to reach the starting point of the tour. Drivers there are daredevils by Western standards and we narrowly missed passers-by and the odd chicken; it was an interesting start.

Rocinha signOther than being fed facts about Rocinha, the tour was a chance to purchase locally-crafted items, including artwork and baked goods – I purchased a painting by 13 year-old Edu who lives in the slum; I couldn’t say no. We didn’t make fly-through visits; we got a chance to chat to the inhabitants in broken English or our tour guide would ask questions about slum life and translate the story back to us. We were assured that the slum community were welcoming of tourists, mainly due to the donations and aid work offered by the tour company that partners with the slum’s orphanage and school. The company also helps inhabitants into employment. The main objective of the organisation is to “dispel a myth that Rocinha is simply a place of drug dealers and extreme poverty” and it does this by creating a relationship with the local community.

Interesting cables…

Many competing organisations failed to create such a symbiotic relationship and their connection with the slum community wasn’t as positive, which can mean that the tourist’s safety is somewhat questionable.

Adventure Alternative’s view:

One of the success stories is the Africamp Street Kid Rehabilitation Programme. The background to this whole programme begins with an idea to take street children off the streets and try to give them a life, an identity and some hope in their future. They are given clothes, a school uniform, a place in which to meet safely, regular food and an opportunity for education. Mostly we give them company and friendship and a sort of surrogate family which is a big security for them.

This was the vision of Gavin Bate since 1991. Now it is a highly successful, well managed and fulfilling programme which incorporates many aspects of corporate strategy promoting pro-poor tourism, and charity being supported by commerce. This is now seen as a main tenet to aid in Africa by the Commission for Africa report in 2005.

A taste of what Adventure Alternative clients can experience:

Clients have a full afternoon to visit and experience life in the slums where Moving Mountains works on a daily basis; Muthurwa slum is where everything started, the original street kids that helped shape MM and AA all came from this area and we have spent a number of years re-building the local Primary School and developing our ‘Black Cats’ Street Children Sports Program. After this, clients head over to Sub Saharan Africa’s largest slum, home to an estimated one million people; Kibera. MM and AA has been involved with projects in Kibera since 1991. Ushirika Community Clinic, which was developed by MM is also the base for our HIV/Aids Community Outreach program with a team ofhealth workers and volunteers working daily in the slum to provide medical and nutritional assistance and counselling to families and individuals affected with HIV/Aids.

 It’s not a case of quick entry and exit – this is where Moving Mountains Trust – Adventure Alternative’s partner charity – conducts a lot of its work and we want our clients to take part in the development of these areas and to meet the wonderful people that reside here.

Are we on track for 2015?

How are we doing in the run up to the post 2015 world?

On Tuesday I attended an event to discuss what will happen when the date for completion of the Millennium Development Goals expires. This week the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, co-chaired by the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron is meeting to discuss the new global framework of development and in particular the role of private business.

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So how does Moving Mountains and Adventure Alternative, two tiny players on the stage, stand up to the assessment of how progressive developmental aid should be carried out?

At the event we met Michael Anderson, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on the Post-2015 Framework, who commented that in developing the new goals we must stay focused on the fact that a vibrant private sector is the exit strategy from aid.

Funnily enough I have always thought that Adventure Alternative should play its role as a partner to development, mainly because our ‘products’ are mostly based in developing countries and it seems only right that the onus for upholding equitable employment standards should be on me. The spoils of tourism can and should be ploughed back into the destination rather than on expensive UK overheads, and that has been a principle of mine ever since I started AA in 1991.

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NGOs are beefing up their private sector teams, to engage with businesses and implement “inclusive” business models. Funnily enough that’s what Moving Mountains has been doing for a long time. I have always felt that if the charity can provide the capital investment for improving infrastructure (like we have done in the Nepalese villages for many years now) then the company can provide revenue and a route to market through tourism.

For example all of our youth trips, gap trips and international development trips contribute financially to communities where previously there was no market, while at the same time promoting the long term development aims of the charity. Our medical camps in Nepal bring important medical aid, but they also bring visitors to the villages, which in turn promotes jobs and income.

The fact is that development happens because people have access to economic opportunities and greater choice.  The exit strategy from aid is a vibrant domestic and international private sector – one that will create the vast number of jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities needed (two things prioritised by poor people themselves). That is exactly what I have tried to establish in Adventure Alternative.

For example, Kevin Onyango  is our book keeper in the Nairobi office, but he came from a very poor background in the town slums around Muthurwa where I started the work of MM. Having put him through school and college, he then got a job with the company. But most importantly his son Cliff will never suffer the same privation that he did, and I am fortunate to see that cyclical effect of combined aid and economic opportunity in the new generation.

Ang Chhongba Sherpa is my oldest friend in Nepal, a one-time porter who now helps to manage AA Nepal and MM Nepal. His own self-determination took him to school but with the opportunity offered by the charity and the company he was able to put all his children into school. Now his family lives in America and his sons Norbu and Sonam study business and engineering at college, and his daughter Tashi studies medicine.

 To my mind this is poverty eradication and sustainable development on a small scale, but reflects the global agenda of the post 2015 discussions.

As a businessman I see my role as teaching and promoting good business practises within the AA family of companies – an equitable gender environment, transparent trading and accounting, fair employment contracts and accountable supply chains to name a few. I can achieve this by investing in communications, staff training and development, and an ethical approach to the product itself. We don’t plant thousands of trees in Sarawak for nothing; the sense of responsibility for causing damage from flights has to be borne by all of us in the tourism sector.

Around the world the conversation has moved beyond “do no harm” and “doing good”, to companies “doing good by doing good business”.  The post 2015 development goals need to be underpinned by a clear recognition of the role of the private sector in driving long-term development, and therefore the factors that are needed to help it grow.

In the tourism sector there is a cynicism and boredom with words like ‘sustainable tourism’, a fatigue borne of over-exposure to confusing semantics and underwhelming action. For many people, it’s still about using low energy light bulbs. I sit on the sustainable tourism committee at the Association of Independent Tour Operators and our biggest problem is that the majority of the membership think that sustainable tourism is not an integral feature of the association.

 ‘Sustainable tourism’ is out of step with how far the general business and development discussion has come.  We have moved onto the question of “how”, while many people are still at the “why?” stage. The cutting edge of global developmental policy is already onto granular issues, but many people are still navel-gazing on whether it’s something they want to do. And the “Why” is vital because people generally follow a vision and a cause, and at the moment sustainable tourism has no visionary to take it forwards.

I am very happy that in its own small way Adventure Alternative and Moving Mountains reflects a joint business model that is progressive and accountable; it requires a dynamic approach to business management, especially nowadays in the current climate. Flexibility, adaptability and knowledge of online technology and marketing is a big part of my ‘toolkit’.

But when I look at Kevin Onyango and Ang Chhongba and how far they have come, and how far their children will go, I know it is all worthwhile. I keep in mind the essential vision of the company which is this:

We believe in combining good business sense with concern for the social inequities we have created on this planet, and we do this by providing authentic holidays and amazing adventures to far flung corners of the world.

What can charities expect from the ‘youth of today’?

A recent publication by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) concludes that Britain faces a long-term crisis in terms of charitable donations. CAF’s analysis of different generations within the UK and their philanthropic tendencies has revealed that younger generations are failing to match the generosity of people born between 1925 and 1966 (the Silent Generation – ’25-’45 and the baby boomers – ’45-’66). This evident ‘generosity gap’ has been growing wider and wider over the past three decades with the over-60s now six times more generous than the under-30s.

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So why do both the Silent Generation and the baby boomers have a greater sense of philanthropy over generations X, Y and Z? Maybe a commitment to help those less fortunate was bred out of the experience of war – an era of hardship and pulling together; community spirit was then far more prevalent than can be observed in most places in the UK today. This habit of helping, caring and supporting may help explain why these older generations are racing ahead in the donation stakes.

The economic downturn surely has a part to play; not only are there more and more people becoming reliant on charitable services, but less and less people are donating, especially the under-30s.Since 1980, the participation rate among the under-30s has fallen from 23 per cent to 15 per cent. However, according to the report, the majority of the decline in donations occurred between 1980 and 1990, rather than more recent times that have been fraught with economic gloom.

There have of course been many other large changes in sociological and economic conditions during the last century. It is quite feasible that these have had a marked effect on the general attitudes to charitable donation and volunteering. One example may be a broader exposure to global media and a proliferation of charities and charitable trusts. The way in which charities now fundraise has also undergone a huge transformation during the last 50 years. This may be argued to have created some degree of saturation and possible confusion over which causes to support.

On reading this article, I retained a slither of hope; maybe this decline in donations from younger generations would be somewhat counteracted by an upward trend in volunteering, donating time rather than money. According to the Institute for Volunteering Research, this isn’t the case. The average number of hours spent volunteering per volunteer declined by 30% between 1997 and 2007 (Helping Out, 2007). Evidence also suggests that there is a trend towards more episodic volunteering, rather than sustained activities.

ImageThere’s certainly an increase in voluntourism – short bursts of intense volunteer work. But what’s better – a month long volunteering trip whereby all of your time and effort is ploughed into the cause, or two hours a month of volunteering activity over the space of a number of years? In both instances the overall number of hours may eventually become comparable but they will of course have different degrees and durations of effect and commitment.

There is no doubt that the number of ways that individuals can contribute to good causes has increased over the last century. In particular there are now many more opportunities for people to actively engage in the activities of overseas charity work. This can only be a good thing for global awareness and outward looking society. But whether this means that involvement in UK-based volunteering activities should suffer is still up for debate.

Let’s finish on a positive note:

The report highlights that there is usually a steep increase in giving with age, so there’s still hope for the apparently tight-pocketed younger generations. Those born in the 1970s and 1980s seem to be catching up with their predecessors; donations were typically below those of older generations when this cohort were in their 20s, but giving is increasing with age.

The report offers the facts; the next step is to try to understand why such differences exist and how they can be manipulated.

Nomad: A person who wanders or roves

Nomaders is a great new platform – it allows dialogue to be exchanged between travellers and locals. But these aren’t just any locals; ‘local heroes’, as they’re named by the Nomaders community, are people who want to showcase their hometown by sharing their culture, introducing travellers to activities that could never be found in the guidebook!

Local heroes aren’t satisfied with Starbucks and Subway, these are people that know the hidden gems in an area – the places that properly showcase the spirit and culture of a community. Local heroes are also often people who interact with their local community through associations, cultural groups and community initiatives.

Hey, if we just described you, maybe you could be a local hero and help to enhance the tourism experience through authentic and exciting activities!

The organisation aspires to the same message as Couchsurfing and the likes – gain unique experiences by viewing a location through the eyes of a local!

We’re really proud to be able to say that Adventure Alternative tours facilitate and encourage interaction with locals, offering a personalised and unique experience. This is especially true of our AlternativeGAP tours.

Each group is accompanied by 15 Kenyans on their gap years as part of the Moving Mountains Kenya scheme, so integration starts from the very beginning. Not only that, but the groups are joined by Kenyan aid workers who act as guides and mentors, teaching participants to engage with the communities and people who are beneficiaries of Moving Mountains Trust.

AlternativeGAPpers

The group is self-sufficient, travelling in our overland trucks and living in local situations, sometimes in tents, sometimes in homestays and sometimes in our guesthouses. This is where the trip differs from most tours – it’s the opportunity to travel at a pace of life which is slow enough to feel you have got to know the land and its people.

Fundamentally our gap trips are linked to long-term development projects which we believe reflects the integrity of the experience. The tours include homestays and work in some of our projects like children’s homes, rescue centres and our volunteer’s centres, along with experiences that highlight the flipside of life in Kenya, along with the people that make this country so special!

AlternativeGAPper teaching in school

Cycling through the Great Rift Valley and ending up camping on an extinct volcano with the Maasai people – now you can’t say that’s the average holiday experience!

Like Nomaders, AlternativeGAP Kenya tours are designed for people who have a real desire to explore a country and understand both its development needs and also appreciate its uniqueness. This will take an open mind, initiative and a sense of curiosity about the world. The next tour will run from 12th January, 2013. To find out more about these GAP trips, and other Adventure Alternative tours, visit the website.

Africamp Update 2012

Adventure Alternative’s Africamp project in Tigithi is progressing nicely. The team’s primary goal is to help build Tigithi School’s second classroom. Many of the older children walk over 8km to reach the nearest secondary school. Soon there will be one on their doorstep! The classroom should be fully functioning by the start of the New Year but we have already had the local elders congratulate the group on their hard work.

The Africampers will be working and camping alongside the kids from Tigithi School. Work has thus far included collecting basalt from the nearby quarry, making concrete and then plastering the walls and floors.

The team is divided into 4 groups:

Duma – meaning ‘cheetah’ in Swahili

Pumba – ‘pig’

Simba – ‘lion’

Twiga – ‘giraffe’

Yesterday, the Simba group went off on an excursion to Mau-Mau cave where they swam in the waterfall, picked and ate passion fruit and caught glimpses of a troop of colibus monkeys – sounds idyllic! The day ended with festivities around the campfire.

Having a chat and getting to know each other after a hard day’s work!

Adventure Alternative runs a number of international development tours, including Africamp trips that help contribute towards sustainable development in Kenya. For more information on these trips and for an insight into the wonderful lands of Kenya, visit our website. The Moving Mountains website offers an insight into the different projects that have been run in collaboration with Adventure Alternative and different tour groups, including more information on Tigithi School and how our partnership with them has developed over the years.

For more photos from the trip (updated regularly), visit us on Facebook or Google+.