The last week of March I had the great pleasure to host Sarah Lewis, a fellow volunteer, before her voyage home to
In the opening chapters of his book “Rural Development; putting the Last First” Robert Chamber’s defines Rural Development Tourism as well as the biases that these “tourists” face when visiting project zones.
Using Chamber’s definition I am guilty on all fronts. I am a foreigner, I come from a capital city, I work for a voluntary agency, and like all other development tourists I want to find something out and I am short of time! Some of you may be shaking your head saying…well those conditions apply to most development workers and the answer is YES….we are all in some way pre-conditioned to be development tourists…the challenge is to be aware of our biases and to fight these tendencies.
Chamber’s outlines 6 biases that make contact with the poor difficult, in particular the poorest of the poor. During my trips to communities from Salaga and Atebubu I was reminded that I was actually falling prey to each of these biases. For those that are interested in helping the poor I think you will find what Dr. Chamber’s has to say very interesting.
The 6 biases include: spatial, project, person, dry season, diplomatic and professional biases. I will not cover all of the biases but here is a synopsis of 3 of these biases and how I committed them.
Spatial biases: “Most learning about rural conditions is mediated by vehicles”. My visits to MFP communities was governed by access to the community via motorbike. This dictated how far we could travel and what communities we visited as we wanted to ensure we could do the visits in one day, and not spend the night in the communities.
Dry season biases: “For the majority whose livelihoods depend on cultivation the most difficult time of the year is usually the wet season, especially before the first harvest. Food is short , food prices are high, work is hard and infections are prevalent”. “The rains are a bad time for rural travel because of the inconveniences or worse of floods, mud, broken bridges and getting stuck, … losing time, and enduring discomfort”. For the reasons above most visits to projects is limited to the dry season and thus “the poorest people are most seen at precisely those times when they are least deprived; and least seen when things are at their worst.” While my visit occurred on the tail end of the dry season, the rains played an important role in planning these visits. The first day of my visit we waited 6 hours until the rains ended before we could move and then had to change our route to ensure we stayed on roads that my hosts knew were well maintained. One particular road was impassible in the height of the rainy season and meant that project officers had to take an alternate road and travel 160km vs. 50km to visit this community.
Project Biases: Rural tourists are “pointed to those rural areas where it is known that something is being done – where money is being spent…a project is in hand”. By design, my field visits were to visit the results of a project and not just to learn about rural realities. Thus I was only in contact with rural dwellers that were either involved with or that directly benefited from the installation of the MFP. I did not have the chance to meet and learn from the portion of the population that was underserved and who could not afford the services of the MFP
As an outsider, I am sure I will continue to commit some of these biases. During my next trip to a rural community I hope to plan my visit so that I take the TIME required to see past the project, past the road, past the chief, and try to learn more about the poorest of the poor in the communities who may not be benefiting from the development projects active in their communities.