Local Girl in Village Garden  in Tannese Community moving from a reliance from subsistence farming to community based tourism


The Secret to reducing poverty, and adversity.


Is there a secret to reducing poverty, and hardship? Its a difficult problem and if humans have learnt anything over many years of trying, we haven’t found it yet. Often quoted, Nelson Mandela’s speech in January 2005, made in London in support of the “Campaign to Make Poverty History” is none the less powerful :

….. Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.

And overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. ……

In the end, it will only be overcome if we have the will and desire to achieve it.


Hardship - If you’re there, its hard to look away.


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For anyone that is involved within developing communities, especially those that are on the 'road less travelled', it is difficult not to see and appreciate the hardship that exists. It's only when we observe first hand the lives that other people live that we recognise the things in our own lives that we take for granted. Living in hardship is a better description than living in poverty because the latter has attracted such a wide range of definitions that it is difficult to assign such a blurred term to exact situations. Hardship we understand.

So what does living in hardship look like? Mostly, it involves living in uncertainty, often without any hope that the future will be better . Going to bed at night and not knowing where tomorrow’s food is going to come from; whether or not the family’s makeshift shelter will last another day; or simply if there will be sufficient water over the next week to sustain the village. Faced with a constant struggle to obtain the basic necessities of life, the poor have little opportunity to think about or plan for tomorrow.

Added to this is the lack of any resilience to unforeseen circumstances or external occurrences. The poor rely on manual work to get them by and any sickness or injury, no matter how minor, can spiral families into destitution. Further, poor communities are vulnerable to extreme natural events such as cyclones, earthquakes, El Nino events, and flooding.

In Vanuatu most of Ni-Vanuatu survive by subsistence farming, and life in recent years has been hard on communities at village level. The events of ‘Cyclone Pam’, along with ‘El Nino’ effects created a tipping point for many communities already on the edge of poverty. Subsequent cyclones have had less topical, but none the less devastating effects on local regions including cyclone Cook in April 2017, followed by the more notable Cyclone Donna in May, and Cyclone Hola in March 2018.


Viewing Destitution - Its easy to put it at arms length.


Mostly, people living in developed countries compartmentalise what they see and their “reality” is assimilated from a blended series of attention grabbers put out by media and news outlets. With advances in technology, the vision of poverty around the world is broadcast almost on a daily basis with the majority of people becoming passive observers, desensitised over time by the outpouring from media.

Conversely, tourists from affluent countries are choosing to travel to less developed nations, in part attracted by juxtaposed cultures and a way of life vastly different to their own. In some cases it is a win-win situation where visitors gain social and cultural insights into a “different world”, while host communities have the ability to earn income while being able to narrate aspects of their customs and traditions. Ultimately, the relationship between visitors and host communities is a continuum with two polar extremes :

  • In its most positive form, interaction between tourist and host leads to continuing interest, association, and assistance. Here, the cultural distance is overcome, empathy developed, and socialisation becomes an important characteristic that provides each party with tangible, or intangible benefit.
  • Negativity is also a feature, especially where the cultural or social distance between tourist and host is so great that little interaction occurs. Tourists are so immersed within their “own reality” bubble that their touristic surroundings are viewed in the same way that television is watched; with great interest but little empathy. It is easy to put the reality of what is observed at arm's length. Its most disconnected form is manifested in slum and ghetto tourism, where the fascination of how the “other” lives combined with a personal detachment from the experiences encountered provides heightened entertainment.

The Value of Tourist - Host Interaction.


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Travellers seeking authentic travel experiences will unquestionably venture into areas that have remained depressed and without significant human development over many decades. Mostly, such communities have become “in vogue” travel destinations because in the past they were considered to offer little or no value to colonising countries, and simply forgotten. Today, the authentic experiences that travellers obtain are unique, valued and often remain with visitors forever. Host communities, living a traditional life are largely friendly and proud of who they are.

That is not to say that host communities don't wish for a better life for their families, especially their children. There is the potential for communities to climb out of the poverty trap through the development of local tourism ventures. Local communities have so much to offer travellers in respect of genuine cultural experiences, visiting ‘real’ attractions, and getting to know that which is untouched and unexplored.


An Inability to Connect.


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It would seem a simple solution to bring tourists and host communities together, but reality is rather different. Without sympathetic mechanisms in place, little discussion is able to take place between each. Further, the understanding of the world of that tourists live in, by indigenous peoples is minuscule and subject to much interpretation. Put simply, local communities have little or no knowledge of the expectations of tourists in regard to accommodation, meals, and touristic experiences. They are guided solely by what they know …. their own way of life. Should visiting travellers have greater consideration to the context and environment that they seek to experience ….. probably …… but often they don’t.

For community-based tourism to succeed there is a prerequisite for each group to gain knowledge and understanding about the “wants and needs” of the other. Further, for isolated communities that have little in the way of resources, there is also a need for help to obtain suitable touristic assets and amenities.


The Concept of “Tourism Toolbox”


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Unfortunately, most poverty reduction plans are fairly large in scale and ambition, and the internet is littered with papers concerning such programs as the UNWTP ST-EP program amongst many others. A focus on building small scale village initiatives is given little credence or support.

The concept of ’Tourism Toolbox' provides a pathway for communities to attain human development on their own terms, where they are able to maintain and control their own cultural identity. The saying about providing those in need with either a “fish” or a “fishing rod”, has never been more true. The use of Tourism Toolboxes strongly advocates the principle of providing sustainable ‘fishing rods”. The concept surrounds imparting knowledge to local communities so that they are more able to provide hospitality and tourism facilities to visitors. It has an inherent belief that as communities obtain greater understanding surrounding the touristic endeavour, their buy-in, community ownership, and contribution to the development of suitable tourism schemes increases over time. By its nature, it must occur organically and is nurtured initially through mentoring programs.

“Tourism Toolboxes” are only considered once communities have shown a capability to progress with their tourism initiatives. “Toolboxes” consist of one-off asset developments that are financed by social loans which included within the communities business plan. Once a Toolbox is repaid, the community becomes eligible for consideration for subsequent Toolboxes.

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Consequences of Tourism Toolbox implementation.


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Over time the community becomes more capable, their collective earnings increase and some resilience is created around them. After cyclone Pam hit Tanna Island in Vanuatu, tourism recovered the quickest and provided invaluable support for communities in their recovery. Moving from a reliance on the informal economy surrounding subsistence farming towards an inclusion into the formal economy, a greater robustness can be planned for and community resilience against natural disasters created.

Moving forward, tourism is seen as a long-term economic base for the community where young adults can aspire to a future in their custom homeland rather than pursuing a better life away from their island. Further, the incentive for TVET training increases and the increased knowledge amongst the community enhances the offerings that they are able to offer. Ultimately, the process becomes self-sustaining and through their own endeavours communities lift themselves out of poverty.

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