Tuesday, August 10, 2010

slum tourism

A take on the phenomenon, courtesy of a Kibera resident and Wesleyan student, in The New York Times.

I've always thought that the impulse to connect is laudable, but that most tours through squatter communities amount to little more than gawking and taking photos.

Of course, it's also true that very few charities and NGOs are transparent, either.


David Week said...


This looks like a great blog, and one I'd like to subscribe too. I've never lived in a slum, but often next door. I'm also familiar with the great work of John F. C. Turner and his colleagues in legitimising slums.

But... where's the RSS feed for this blog?


rn said...

david: thanks for the note. I have the site feed aspect in blogger turned on. Is there something else I have to do to make the feed available?

rn said...

I think I just popped a feed link onto the blog. Let me know if it works.

lifeinrocinha said...

I certainly understand the controversy about slum tours. I am both FOR and AGAINST them. Let me explain this.

I was born, grew up and still live in brazil's largest slum or favela. Life is dificult yes, but not impossible. I am proud to live here in Rocinha. I will never leave here, but I do not want to leave here. This is my home. This is my feelings about this issue of slum/favela tourism.

What I like about the tours is the contact I get from foreigns who come here. This interaction helps me to educate people about my life here in the favela. When foreigns come here I feel like my home/favela has value and are worth to be seen. The Brazilian goverment mostly ignores us and helps us very little. We want our voice to be heard. I want to feel that somebody on the outside cares about us and recognizes that we exist. Up until about 5 years ago favelas did not exist on maps. Why was this?
Many foreigns come to learn how we create and live in our comunity with little or no goverment involvement. Others come becase of the art and culture that exists here.
I do not judge why people come, they confirm that we exist.

I started in tourism becase I saw the oportunity to show my favela and help create jobs for others here. We live here, and should be making the tours here. I have heard outsider tour companies exagerrate things or tell outright lies about my favela. They do this becase they do not know and do not live here. I am here to show a social experience not some adrenalin tour. With my work, about 20% return to volunteer in social projects or start their own programs in the favela. Recently people have contacted me wanting to make projects like a rooftop garden class and another person wants to help bring solar energy here. These are people who came on visits here in the favela. Is this bad?

What I do NOT like about the tours...the tours made in jeeps or trucks is the worst becase it presents us like a zoo. The tourists have no contact with the locals and this reinforces a sense of possible danger. Tours or visits where the guests walk in the favela are more welcome. There is one company that tells their guests not to interact with the locals if they are approached. This is wrong. The glamorization of violence is another thing that we do not like here. It is as if these companies are trying to capitalize on some kind of excitement. Favelas are not war zones and people need understand that real, honest hardworking people live there, we just make less money.

There are tour companies here who use the comunity to make money but they give very little or nothing back to the community. This is not right. They should contribute something for the betterment of the favela. There are plenty of social projects here who could use help.

I am not ashamed to live in the favela and people should not feel shame to come and visit. All we ask is please do not take fotos of us like we are animals and do not have fear if we say hello to you on the street.

If we want to stop or reduce poverty, we need to stop pretending it does not exist. I call it socially responsible tourism. If you chose to tour this type of comunity, try to give something back however big or small. I work with a art school and encourage people to bring art supplies, not money.

Slums, favelas and shanties are where 1/3 of the population live in all major cities, serving the needs of mostly the rich. Visiting these places may increase your knowledge and awareness at a much deeper level than visiting a museum or art exhibition. Ignoring poverty is not going to make it go away and those who have more, should not feel guilt. Unfortunately, this world will always have this unbalance of wealth. Sad but true.

Thank you,

Zezinho da Rocinha

Luella said...

@Zezinho: Thank you for sharing your thoughts! It is true there will always be AN imbalance of wealth, and I think that is okay. But this level of imbalance and the way it is perpetuated is not okay.

Matt said...

Wonderful blog.
I just found it and am finding it very insightful. Excellent work.
In 2006 I spent some time with local friends in poorer barrios of Medellin, Colombia.
This wasn't jeep tours, but hanging out day and night, meeting people, seeing how life rolls on, getting a feel for how the armed gangs work (and how quickly things can turn ugly for no good reason), feeling some of the solidarity that exists and some of the blind-eye-turning.
That experience and others in the same vein in Colombia and other countries have changed me, made me less smug, less preachy, and more capable of feeling and recognizing the individuality and human worth (and endurance) of people in situations and places that are radically different to the circumstances in which I grew up.
I wrote a book about the months I spent in Colombia, and I'm working on a new one now about other places.

lifeinrocinha said...

I never said the imbalace of weath is ok. But it is what it is and there is not much I can do about it living in a favela, becase my voice has no value to the asfalto world. sad but true..

Unknown said...

While its true that the fact of looking at poverty will not solve it I believe that the desire to change it will fist enter through the eyes. All social workers and researchers develop their desire to change and help the situation in a first instance with an imagine they saw in the papers, a raw picture of some kid begging for money, etc... In my opinion empathy starts with an image.

BUT the author has its point. You can feel empathic with the people in suffering, people with very low standards of living. I think it's part of the human condition to feel empathic towards someone. Though, there is a huge line between taking an action and just feeling sorry. Just a very small percentage that witness tragedy will get their hands messy to change the situation. The others just snap their cameras and frown their faces in sign of discontent and then turn go home and forget of what they just saw. Nevertheless there is that small percent that will do something!

The point of the article I like the most is the author points out that the foreign, the tourist, just looks at the poverty, the hunger, the misery. There is so much more beyond this qualifiers. Just because people is poor it means that they don't have the right to smile, have fun, play, make friends, enjoy. They do. Their lack of money do not inhibit their ability to smile.

aditi said...

Having read your book and done research on slums I am very interested in your blog which brings forward issues which need to be brought into the public domain.

I have myself been on a slum tour in India. But I was already aware of the nature of informal settlements and slums and for me it was a way to explore the slum with someone who knew the residents so that I would be able to converse with them myself. So in that sense the tour was very useful for me and my research. However, I do want to add that I think although for the majority of tourists it is a case of gawking and taking pictures, for some it is a real eye opener. I went on the slum tour and persuaded my parents to join me. They were very reluctant and needed a lot of persuasion. They had their usual prejudices of slums (which are primarily generated in the media). But I wanted them to see that their presumptions were wrong. I wanted them to know what I knew about the culture of the slum (especially in India). However much I told them about the positive things to learn from slums they would not believe me.

This is where the slum tour came in. Through the tour they felt safe and were able to really see the way people live and work. Along with my conversations with the residents they could see that actually real innovation was taking place here (I am talking about Dharavi, Mumbai, here).

So what I am trying to say is that in a way these slum tours are good for bringing in outsiders for them to see for real the potential in such places. And with this tour I was assured some of my money was going into the community too...