What is to be Gained From Poverty Tourism?

Posted on June 10, 2014

I read with a mixture of amusement and bemusement that the England footballers in Brazil are to go on a tourist trip to see the Favela’s (Slums) this week.

I can’t imagine what is going to be gained from that…Is  it some sort of publicity stunt to show that young lads on 100k + a week really do appreciate their good fortune?

Or is it going to be like visit to the local zoo, watching bare footed kids scavenging through waste in search of something they can eat without getting typhoid. Perhaps it is a bit of both?

These little acts of morality are a bit crass really, because if we were talking about morals a World Cup wouldn’t be being held in Brazil, such is their governments treatment of its poor people. £2 Billion spent on a World Cup whilst 11.5 million people live in slums is not going down well in what, remember, is probably the most football mad country on the planet.

Poverty Tourism is all the rage nowadays apparently, wealthy westerners can’t get enough of it and I must admit I indulged in a bit of it in Mumbai when I went to watch England play cricket there a few years back.

It was not that I got on a mini-bus or anything but I have to hold my hands up and say that I couldn’t wait to go and see the commuters hanging off the trains at Mumbai station or fifteen kids strapped to a motorbike driven by their mothers.

There is an old joke in India that if you are driving at night and you see what you think is a motorbike, you need to pull over, as  it is more likely to be two motorbikes, one without a headlight, riding side by side with the two riders carrying a wardrobe.

Anyway, It was only when I was looking down from the balcony of my five star hotel at people asleep on the pavements that I felt an overwhelming sense guilt, realising that the little I perceived to have, was in fact, a fortune by global comparison.

Statistics show that half of the population in our little planet (3 billion) live in poverty and by poverty, I mean a daily living allowance of $2.50 to get by on; 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty, $1.25 a day, probably by making the Primark summer collection.

Apparently the average world wage is $18,000 which is obviously boosted by people like Bill Gates who earned a meagre £11.5 billion dollars in 2013, making footballers seem like mere peasants.

The average wage in Britain is roughly double that of the rest of the world and £40k will put you in a bracket with the richest 6.2% of people in the on the planet at a salary 13 times the global average…Think of that when you are eating your Frosties.

Personally, I think it is because we don’t generally understand poverty that we are fascinated by it and when I was in Mumbai, I tried to get to grips with it by attempting to understand whether poverty meant unhappiness and misery to people who, in reality, didn’t know any different.

As the old saying goes “If I had never had so many riches, I could live with being poor.”

As I walked through a shanty area on the way back to my hotel from a lovely day at the cricket, something struck me about the people on the camp that will stay with me until the day I drop dead.

Amongst the bonfires and encampments there were families sat around entertaining each other as kids with home made cricket equipment shrilled and laughed into the darkening evening…There wasn’t a sign of poverty induced misery that I could see.

When they spotted me, they all ran up to me and circled me, hoping for a gift as the parents looked on in curiosity as to whether this western man with a burnt head had somehow got lost.

I gave one of them my England cricket shirt and they all ran after him into the night, their laughter only drowned out by the passing trains and the constant beeping of car horns that appears to be an Asian obsession. There was not an iPad or mobile phone in sight.

The next day, I was travelling in a taxi with my horn obsessed driver for the day and I commented to him about how happy the children seemed to be in the little community they were living. As he feverishly pointed at all the huge advertising hoardings and the colossal HSBC building in front of us, he said something I will never forget.

“You know what makes people miserable…Not having all these things that ten years ago never existed in their world…They are told by advertisers they must have all this technology stuff so they work like dogs to get it…There is no more time for fun…for families.”


My Drive to the Mumbai Cricket Ground with the HSBC Building ahead of us

We are told that these emerging nations are so much better now they have grappled with uber-capitalism but not according to this guy and though it was just the opinion of one man in a population of 1.2 billion, it was a very striking point that he made.

As the England footballers wander through the streets of the Favelas, I would guess that curiosity will be a two way thing and they will be as much “Monkey’s in a cage” as the people they are visiting but, when they go back to their trophy wives and Bentley’s I wonder whether it will have a lasting effect on what they regard as the difference between wealth and happiness.

Footballers get a lot of bad press because of their wealth, but it is not really their fault they are paid so much money for being huge benefactors of the once beautiful game that is now dominated by global corporations who hype it up to extraordinary levels; they are just cattle really…Albeit very wealthy cattle.

What did almost make me laugh and cry at the same time yesterday. was someone on the radio (The Jeremy Vine show I think) who claimed that the England players should not be subjected to such poverty trauma before the vital game versus Italy, as it may effect their performance on the pitch.

As far as desperate excuses for failure go, that is just about as good as it gets!


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