Navigating ethical travel to areas affected by war, conflict aftermath, or poverty is becoming increasingly significant. As more people embark on visits to these regions, their online posts often stir up mixed responses. The intent behind these journeys – volunteering, providing aid, or raising awareness – is commendable. However, ethical issues arise when these actions inadvertently fall into ‘poverty tourism’.
Here’s the top 5 tips derived from first-hand experiences to help ensure your travel to disaster zones is ethical and respectful.
Read time: 4 min About the author:Gedas Kondrackis (leader of AY Institute) has taken part in numerous expeditions to (post-)conflict, (post-)disaster, and poverty-stricken areas. He’s seen and done a fair share of (unethical) mistakes during these travels.
5. Ethical Travel is about Being Humble
Humility is key when traveling to conflict, disaster, and poverty-stricken zones. Hence, embrace a learning mindset and remember, every culture possesses its unique wisdom and values. Just because you come from a different background doesn’t make it superior.
Tip: engage in respectful exchanges, rather than imposing your lifestyle or beliefs. This will foster deeper connections, making your travel more useful and ethical.
Just because you come from a different background doesn’t make it superior.
Embrace a learning mindset. Photo by Dainius Sciuka (made in Johannesburg)
4. Is Photographing People OK?
Ethical travel dictates a simple rule: ask for permission before taking someone’s picture. When circumstances don’t permit asking, show the photograph to the person involved and seek their consent. If that’s not possible, the next point is critical.
Ask for permission before taking someone’s picture.
3. Avoid Poverty Tourism: Photographing War Aftermath or Poverty
Avoid turning your ethical travel into ‘poverty tourism’, a practice of visiting impoverished or disaster-stricken areas to observe conditions up close.
The guiding principle here is that your photographs should offer more insight than just showcasing you in these places. Aim to provide context and information about who’s in the picture, what’s happening, and why. This approach encourages awareness over exploitation.
Provide context and information about who’s in the picture, what’s happening, and why.
2. Ethical Travel & Children in Conflict or Poverty Zones
Interacting with children in these zones is a sensitive topic. When you see children who’ve lost everything, the desire to give them something is natural. But is it okay?
If you decide to give something, it’s best to give it to the adults nearby – teachers, caretakers, parents. They know best what the children need. Moreover, if the children receive gifts from them, their authority is enhanced, not that of the foreigners who appeared one day and left the next.
If only children are present, ensure you distribute your offerings equally among them. Asking them to line up can be a solution. This way, you impart a sense of discipline and avoid any conflicts or fights that might erupt due to unequal distribution.
Active Youth team having activities with kids in a rural Senegalese school.
1. How to Respond to Requests
During your travel to disaster zones, you may often encounter locals asking for money or help. Here’s how to handle such situations ethically:
Don’t Overpromise: The golden rule is not to promise what you can’t deliver. Promising aid that you can’t follow through on can cause disappointment and could even worsen the situation.
Involve the Locals: When faced with requests for help, encourage locals to share what they want to achieve in their area and how they envision your involvement. This dialogue fosters self-reliance and ensures that your efforts (if any) align with their needs.
Remember the saying, “Don’t give a man a fish; teach him to fish.” It applies here, too. If you have the chance, seek to equip the local community with skills and resources. E.g., take part in English or geography classes at the local school, or give a workshop on something that helps you in life. This way you can contribute to sustainable development.
Visit the local school, take part in English or geography classes, or give a workshop.
Refrain from giving money: While you may feel like you’re offering help, it could potentially foster a long-term reliance on handouts.
If you believe your financial aid is necessary for someone’s immediate survival, consider a different approach. Request the individual to show you around the neighborhood, for instance. This way, your contribution seems more like a payment for a service, reducing the perception of it as a mere handout. Striking this balance can be critical for maintaining the dignity and independence of the locals.
Giving money could potentially foster a long-term reliance on handouts.
Ethical Travel Summed Up
To conclude, ethical travel in war, post-conflict, and poverty-stricken zones requires a careful balance of intent, action, and respect. Done right, it can effectively raise awareness and drive positive change. Done wrong, it can devolve into exploitative behavior, causing more harm than good.
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