Saturday, March 22, 2008

Intriguing or Offensive?

Today's Hamilton Spectator had an article on something called "poorism". It's basically the development of tourism in the world's poorest slums.
I've been on a couple trips to areas like this to do work with local churches, which I see as quite different from what this article describes. Still, there is an element of voyeurism or at least satisfying our curiosity involved even with our honourable motives.
My belief is that short term experiences in areas like these are usually of minimal benefit to the people there. But they can be transformative for those who go. IS this exploitative? Is the tourism approach disgusting or innovative?
In a few weeks I'm going to Haiti as part of a team with MMI. We'll bve accompanying and assisting a dentist providing care for local people who otherwise have no access to this kind of help. I'll be sure to update with a lot more reflections when I get back.
I'm curious how some of my friends who are more experienced in seeing the world will respond to this article.


Lynnita said...

I've been enjoying your blog a lot. Thanks for sharing these questions and reflections.

You've raised questions about short term experiences that are on my mind these days. I'd agree with you that short term experiences are usually of minimal benefit to people there (and of course, poorly thought-through ones can be detrimental).

I mostly agree that the short-term experience is transformative for the person going. However, a friend directed me to an article that has me wondering just how deep and lasting that transformation generally is:

chris wignall said...

Thanks Lynnita!
That was good reading. I agree with the premise of the article that short term trips may be a poor investment when they don't provide anything to the locals that they couldn't provide for themselves (which permits emergency interventions and some medical projects), or which doesn't initiate or advance longer term relational involvement. My former church, ForestView: Church Without walls in Oakville, Ontario, set an example for me in developing a lasting and significant interaction with a community in Bastion Populaire, Guayaquil, Ecuador.
I've heard the criticisms about short trips being a poor use of finances, but perhaps the real comparison isn't between missions and other donations, but between missions and vacations...
It also seems to me that the evaluation standards used in the study (financial giving, maintained relationships) may not be the true outcomes most desired. What about the development of deeper sensitivity to global issues or sense of perspective on the wealth in which we are immersed?
I really hope we see a few more comments from others here!

chris wignall said...

I got this comment via email from Brian Piecuch, international director of Medical Ministry International:

I also wanted to comment on the Blog entry and story about “poorism”. I had never heard of “slum tours” before, although I do know that the poor have long “intruded” on the cruise ship and Club Med crowd peddling their trinkets, etc, at exotic, though poor destinations.

I am glad you are going to Haiti. You’ll have a chance to pick Tim DeYoung’s brain about the pros and cons of short-term missions. I agree that when poorly organized they have little lasting benefit to the local population, and can even do harm. However, when done well, short-term missions have a tremendous, positive impact on the people served, especially when linked with plans for permanent, self-sustaining medical centers. My prayer is that you will come back from Haiti not only having witnessed the transformative benefit a short-term project has for the participants, but also see the huge, lasting impact to those served.


Brian Piecuch
International Director/MMI