Finding Beauty Between Poverty and Tourism

In Western countries, traveling is a privilege. Travel softens people’s psyche, allowing even the simplest of sights and gestures to hit travelers with an overwhelming sense of humility. Travel is a means of escape and rejuvenation, but sometimes it comes at the cost of the destination’s native population.

In her guest post on Kelsey Timmerman’s website, Callan Gaines attributed her experience in Guatemala to the beauty that was brought forth by the country’s poverty. She remarked how Americans lacked the villagers’ selflessness and gratitude, traits which stem from the villagers’ modest lifestyle. She was in awe at the ease with which she was moved by a smile or a hug. She reveled in community’s cozy atmosphere.

It is all too easy to romanticize poverty. However, sometimes it can inspire people to lend a hand and make a difference. Trips abroad humble and awaken visitors, especially when both travelers and host communities are respectful, creating a friendly environment.

Not all travel stories share Callan Gaines’ positive perspective, especially when that perspective comes from behind the curtain. Haiti’s Jalousie, a hillside slum in one of the capital’s districts, is going up in colors. Jalousie en Colors is a government project aiming to liven up the area by painting 1,000 houses in bright colors.

The underlying philosophy is that life will take a better turn when beauty is introduced. However, the money should not be going towards painting when there are more pressing issues facing Jalousie.

With a secondary fault line running underneath the hillside slum, Jalousie is at risk of enduring earthquakes and mudslides. In addition to these environmental hazards, residents need schools, electricity and a water supply. Instead of heeding these concerns, the Haitian government is changing Jalousie from an eye sore to a tourist backdrop. Despite claims that beautifying Jalousie is to lift the spirit of residents, only the houses facing the nearby hotels are painted.

Phase 2 of the project is underway, with an agenda to have 3,000 more houses painted and the reparation of a local soccer field. Concerns regarding the safety and infrastructure of Jalousie have been promptly dismissed.

In South America, preparation for the World Cup in Brazil has sparked distress across many of Brazil’s favelas. Residents face eviction threats as the government gathers momentum through their plans of urbanization. The government uses geological hazards as an excuse to justify their eviction intentions when the past few decades are a testament to the contrary. Residents cannot bear to leave behind the rich culture, history and diversity that has taken so long to come together, nor do they want to separate from families and neighbors.

The campaign to empty out favelas is still at full speed with the 2016 Olympics ahead. The government denies services to residents like garbage collection and lighting. There are rent increases and demolitions, and the evicted are dropped off in public housing. The gentrification of favelas crushes education, sanitation and infrastructure in order to sell an idealistic and exotic image of Brazil to the world.

Tourism is a large source of revenue. However, if poorly managed, tourism can severely damage a country. India and Nigeria are countries with failed tourism development strategies. Social injustice carves rifts between classes and weak policies can lead to irreparable destruction for the environment. The influx of foreigners and the government’s need to impress create a wave of low paying and exploitative jobs, used to keep up a welcoming illusion.

The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) Report on Tourism in the Developing World asserts that the host community, host government and foreign stakeholder must take responsible and respectful action in order to implement healthy tourism. Tourism should elicit positive feelings from both host and guest. The idea is that tourism promotes pride, peace, understanding and acceptance. It goes without saying that the idea needs to be a reality.

– Carmen Tu

Sources: ReliefWeb, USIP, The Guardian, Where Am I Wearing
Photo: UN