Learning and Volunteering

Poverty tourism versus positive, educational travel across cultural and economic divides

Written by on July 6, 2012 in Learning and Volunteering, Notes By The Way with 7 Comments

I appreciate this graphic via Staying For Tea, but it’s important to understand the context. The original intent was to show that a variety of programs and activities get lumped together, fairly or unfairly, under the negative label of poverty tourism.

Now poverty tourism is a horrible term, and I want nothing to do with it. “Poverty” as a destination is reductive and degrading of people, as if people in poverty, or who happen to own homes in slums, were all the same–or poor in every aspect of their lives. “Tourism” implies a consumer experience that can be bought and sold. “Poverty tourism” suggests we can turn the plight of people in need into an experience travelers can (comfortably and passively) purchase.  In practice, poverty tourism often means groups of people who consider themselves wealthy and enlightened traipsing through communities they consider poor and taking pictures of everything in sight.

ALL of the activities above, even when they’re sincerely enacted, may include poverty tourism in its worst forms, but they don’t all have to turn out that way.  I think some of the activities could be moved to a new chart under a new umbrella, such as: Opportunities for

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Written by on November 12, 2010 in Learning and Volunteering, Notes By The Way with 0 Comments

We help Japanese people come to Cambodia to serve in simple ways and learn life changing lessons. We created a non-profit in Japan and bring small groups and individuals throughout the year.

So I’m challenged by articles like these: The Moral Hazards of Humanitarian Aid and In S. Africa’s Orphanages, Is Doing Good Really Bad?

A Japanese participant shares a meal with a local family during a homestay

I know some people are going to question what we do, and that’s okay. We need to have answers for them. We are constantly rethinking what we do and how to make it genuinely participatory and grounded in long term relationships. It’s not enough to use these words if we don’t live them out.

Now I think coining a term, voluntourism, and making it an automatic pejorative is misguided. Perhaps it comes from the need to blame someone. But as one commenter on the second article says, it’s “not a zero sum game.” There are many programs that help people experience the two thirds world in a life changing way beyond mere site seeing and play. These programs may be respectful, based in relationships, educational, and self-aware. Or they may be voyeuristic, …

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Leading is inspiring people to participate with you

Written by on July 16, 2009 in Learning and Volunteering, Notes By The Way with 2 Comments

“Leading is inspiring people to participate with you.”

I wrote this in my notes last month while listening to Sherwood Lingenfelter, Professor of Anthropology and Provost of Fuller Seminary.

I’ve heard and seen many models and definitions of leadership: top down, bottom up, leading from in front (horizontal). I almost skipped this one, but the word “participate” grabbed me. I realized this is what I do, or hope to do, when I bring Japanese to Cambodia.


For those of you who don’t know the background of this post, here’s a quick summary of what we do. I have been taking groups of people from Japan to Cambodia for the past one and a half years. The primary purpose has been to develop the Japanese participants. They go to Cambodia where they share their lives and serve in simple ways. In the process, they have life changing lessons. Currently we’re in our infancy. Our long term purpose is to have a learning/serving community in Japan with some common experiences and values. We hope they will work together with us to support effective Cambodian leaders helping people lift themselves out of extreme poverty and move forward under their own power in the …

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