Student News

Tanzania # 16 — Service or Tourism?

March 19, 2014

Dave Kim ’14 wrestles with the push and pull between service and tourism:

The variety of animals we sighted during the trip to the Serengeti already serves as a reason why the little sidetrack we made in our stay in Tanzania will be a memorable moment. Indeed, witnessing an elephant walking right past our safari van was one of the highlights of my trip.

Photo Credit: D. Miller, 2013

Photo Credit: D. Miller, 2013

But something is off. Perhaps it sounds awkward, that after all those previous posts talking about how the interaction between the students and JBFC girls was influential and life changing, we then proceeded to go to the safari. In essence, what we have been doing during yesterday and today—riding a van and exploring different regions, enjoying picnic lunches, taking photos of different animals (with occasional group pictures)—is characterized as tourism. And how in earth is this related with our purpose of learning more about rural poverty in Tanzania?

 That is why the discussion we had this afternoon about tourism was so important; it prompted us to think about what this trip was all about. The discussion initially began with the question, “What impact does tourism make in Tanzania?” The responses varied. Some argued that the vocational opportunities the industry provides would affect Tanzania positively; others pointed out that in terms of environmental and cultural perspectives, tourism is a negative factor.

 But the bulk of the conversation was about whether what we were doing in JBFC counted as tourism. There were several attempts to differentiate between a tour and a service trip. Many students pointed out that the group is making an influence in students’ lives, and that our thought provoking discussions, encouraged by the experiences we were having in JBFC, will motivate us to make an impact on others’ lives when we grow up. And yet, as Mr. Miller cleverly pointed out, our group was talking in a hotel in the middle of Serengeti, with a swimming pool in our view and sodas in our hands. The bitter irony continued to grow in my mind as we talked about changing lives while relaxing in comfortable chairs and sipping soft drinks.

 Before we reached Serengeti, there were some concerns about why we had to go to the safari, when we just began to establish connections with the students in Kitongo. But in retrospect, I believe it was great that we got to experience the Serengeti (and this is not just because I enjoyed my little break and animal sighting). Maybe despite our desperate attempts to make a difference in peoples’ lives in rural Tanzania, we are not free from the blame that ultimately, we are a group of tourists. The discussion from today has indeed aroused that uncomfortable awareness. Yet this won’t hinder us from continuously thinking about poverty and interacting with the local community to have a better understanding about the complicated circumstances. In fact, this awareness may even push us to work harder, because we don’t just want to be tourists, who visit different regions for their own pleasure. What is important isn’t the characterization of us in this trip, but is the implication of our actions.