The Guardian did a fairly even-keeled story a while ago about Seattle-based Water 1st taking people on trips to Ethiopia to see their work against poverty and disease. The British newspaper noted many non-profit aid organizations are now doing these kind of trips:
So is this the future for development agencies? To show people and not just tell people how hard life is for the poorest of the world’s population? And will this become the ultimate way for the discerning donor to decide if an agency deserves his or her support?
Matt Musspratt, a development expert based in Accra, Ghana, says that Water 1st may have the best of intentions but the problem with what some call ‘poverty tourism’ is that it supports a charity mindset and a narrative of African helplessness that is itself harmful to the people they are trying to help.
Says Musspratt in his blog Of English schoolboys, Seattle moms, Esther Duflo, and Greg Mortenson:
At first glance there seems to be much cross-cultural and global-awareness value to such a trip…. But more problematic than poverty tourism per se is the prism through which NGOs like Water 1st insist their visitors gaze: The prism of Africa as charity case.
I know the folks at Water 1st and I know they are very committed to creating sustainable change. See this post a while back about founder Marla Smith-Nilson.
The question here, I guess, is how best to educate and inform Americans about the needs in poor countries. Clearly, given the levels of ignorance out there about how much we spend (and what we spend it on) in foreign aid, there’s a desperate need for such education.