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A Rucksack Filled with Reality

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Yes, we may have flipped through a copy of Us Weekly, Star, and In Touch with Brangelina on the cover during their tour de force through Africa in the months leading up to the birth of their child. And we may have scoffed, but also secretly hoped that the exposure might actually lead to important humanitarian work. And though all is generally airbrushed and calculated and produced when the stars go abroad, the idea of seeing such places and thinking about what can be done by viewing it all firsthand is quite appealing. And, as it turns out, that’s exactly what’s happening these days. Tourists are channeling their inner reporter (an Ed Bradley-type) and booking flights to India or Brazil to take a walking tour of the favelas and slums to see twenty-first century poverty first-hand.


Is this practice objectifying? Perhaps. Is it morally sound? Maybe. Is it worth investigating? Definitely. After all, in this age of Fox News, Jack Abramoff’s golf trips and Maria Bartiromo’s questionable Citigroup travels, simply sitting home and accepting national media portrayals of foreign plights is no longer the best option. We want to see for ourselves.


Some places to start:


-Global Exchange


This organization has offered Reality Tours since 1989 in Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Travelers are linked with activists, indigenous communities, and organizations to learn about struggles for peace, justice, fair trade and women’s rights. Tours also provide Westerners with opportunities to act as “citizen ambassadors” in countries where misinformation about Americans fuels hate and war.


-Volunteer Adventures


This organization is an offshoot of Bridge-Linguatec Language Services, a company with study abroad programs based on intensive immersion in the language and culture of countries located abroad. Volunteer Adventures connects local community associations, non-profit groups and conservation forces in Asia, Africa, Central and South America with international volunteers.


-Reality Tours and Travels


The tour and travel agency based in Mumbai, India, specializes in guided tours of India’s biggest slum, Dharavi. The company Web site states that 8 percent of after-tax profits from the slum tours go to local NGOs working to aid the slum’s impoverished residents.


-Favela Tour


Tour two Brazilian favelas in Rio de Janeiro: Rocinha and Vila Canoas. The tours, led by Marcelo Armstrong, cover a history of the favelas including architecture, public services, and ties to carnival. The company Web site states that a portion of the proceeds benefits the Para Ti community school in Vila Canoas.

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