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All Aboard the Poverty Train

poverty-tourism You might have read about it in the news.

Companies are now offering poverty tours. Basically, wealthy people can pay money — sometimes a lot of money — to go see what life is like for those living in poverty.

One article [3] I read recently calls it “poorism” — a catchy phrase for this idea of visiting a developing country and viewing those living in poverty as a tourist attraction.

Poverty tourists go as a group, following a tour guide as though they are seeing a museum exhibit or an attraction at an amusement park. One of the companies, the other article [4] mentions, after a day of viewing poverty even treats the wealthy guests to a gourmet dinner as a culmination of the evening.

Sickening, right?

Yeah, that’s what I thought too. But I very quickly was struck with my seeming hypocrisy.

In thinking about the articles, and what it is about this trend that bothers me so much, I couldn’t help but think about our “vision trips” and sponsor tours, both core components of our marketing strategy. How are our trips any different than what these articles talk about?

Are we, through our exposure trips, simply promoting another form of poverty tourism?

We take groups of wealthy people overseas to see poverty firsthand. Many times on these trips we walk as a group of foreigners through a slum, observing how the poor live.

We look at the dilapidated shacks and dusty, rutted roads. We take photos and video of those living in poverty.

Yes, we spend time at projects or homes, loving on whatever children might be around. We stop and pray with single moms and overworked fathers. But we are still taking a group of people through the slums for the purpose of exposure.

And then at the end of the day, or the end of the trip, we return to our lives of wealth.

So tell me…is what we are doing on our trips different than what I was so quick to condemn in these articles? Is there a difference?

I think there is. That difference is in the answers to two questions:

What is our motivation for going in the first place?
What is our response when we get back?

How we answer these two questions makes all the difference between our trips and those mentioned in the articles above.

Are our hearts broken into small enough pieces that we come back changed? Do we go back to our lives as they were before, or will we make a profound change because of what we saw? Will we be become a voice for those we saw who are suffering in silence?

If we don’t – if, after exposing ourselves to the poverty and suffering of others, our lives remain the same – that is when it beomes poverty tourism.