We arrive in Colombo. It’s not at all like the TV detective series. The culture seems to have many vestiges of colonialism - the architecture and cricket - but certainly not the Highway Code. In fact using a car horn doesn’t seem to mean ‘Beware’ but simply ‘Hello I ’ve got a car’. Air conditioning is a good invention.
Visit tea plantation. Just like the pictures on the packets. Woman with sack on her back, gathering leaves on a hillside. Except this woman has a lovely smile. Her friends begin to giggle. Now they’ve all lost it. They work all day in all weathers for 80p a day and live in boiling sheds. But that’s not my fault is it? Ask if they ever stop for a tea break. Joke lost in the mist - was told about system of shifts. Feel like I ’ve added to their exploitation.
Meet Father Harry. Has network for tourists to stay with real people, thus benefiting both. Certainly gets you off the beaten track. More for your Rough Guide traveller I suspect. Surely big luxury hotels can help the economy too? Apparently not always. They might not employ local staff or even use local food. And if it’s a chain often the money goes straight out of the country. Mentally review details of my recent holidays. Everyone charges along the mountain roads in aging Japanese vans that wouldn’t pass their MOT in Britain let alone be allowed to carry 15 people, two goats and the contents of a fruit shop. It ’s amazing how they never seem to crash.
Saw a crash. Well a crowd of people gathered round the edge of a precipice. In the under-growth far below you could just see the four wheels of the upturned combi. Life is certainly cheaper here. We ask our driver to slow down a bit. He doesn’t. See the remains of another funeral. A soldier killed in the fighting with the Tamil Tigers. Was told what it’s all about. Complicated. But that week alone a thousand were killed in the fighting to the north. Shown round Golf Club that provides employment for local people. It’s all kept beautifully. But you can get snakes and someone said something about eagles, but that might be a golf thing. There are plans for a huge hotel on the site with yet more opportunities for local people. I don ’t get the feeling any of them are members though. But it seems before you can make something fair you have to make it less unfair.
Visit project working with shantytown on the beach. Overshadowed by nice hotel. Converse with bright-eyed kids in the international language of face pulling. Need to use the loo. But frankly the toilet seems to be all around us. Some of the people here are so poor they sell their children for sex with westerners. Now the hotel seems a lot more sinister. Talk to people from charity who care for abused children. Observation: the people we meet who are fighting poverty and exploitation are both very busy and strangely at peace. I think they ’re channelling their anger.
See success story - small factory that makes animal jigsaws for export. Got started with Tearfund loan. Some of the labour is delegated out to families to do in their homes locally. What is it ‘if you give a man a fish you will feed him for a day, but if you give him a jigsaw of a fish then he’ll sand, paint and varnish it - thus saving him from having to leave his family and work as a servant in the Middle East for six months at a time.’ There is a feeling of pride about the place. Photo opportunity of me sawing wood. Nearly cut fingers off.
Arrive home. World apart. Radiators are a good invention. What am I left with? Sunburn, a video hopefully, and a slightly uneasy feeling. I’d forgotten the fascination of visiting other parts of the world. But apparently your money doesn’t always go where you think it does. Make note to research any travel companies I use in the future. And what to do about those who go abroad to deliberately exploit children? Well that ’s a bit like the cockroach that escaped from my case when I got home. Killing it takes a long determined effort.
Why Tearfund is campaigning on ethical tourism.
The British people spend a whopping £17 billion a year on overseas holidays
The majority go to France and Spain, but more and more of us are choosing the increasingly affordable long-haul trips to countries in Africa, Latin
America and Asia. Kenya and Sri Lanka, for example, are now heavily dependent on tourism for jobs, foreign exchange earnings and support for local business.
However, increases in tourism can have devastating environmental and social effects. New resorts can mean destruction of forests or reserves, over-use of water for things such as golf courses and sewage pollution in rivers and seas. Drug and alcohol abuse often rises in tourist areas and families are split up in search of work. Sometimes local people are banished from beaches simply because they make them look untidy.
Perhaps the most unjust part of tourism in developing countries is that the money will often bypass the poor altogether. Tourists spend their money in western owned hotels, eating western food, drinking western beer and barely venturing beyond the well-worn tourist track.
Tearfund ’s campaign on tourism is trying to redress the balance. As tourists,we should think more about our behaviour when on holiday.We should also hold tour operators to account for the way they operate in developing countries. Tour companies have the power to contribute to the development of the communities in which they operate. They should use it!
For details on Tearfund’s ethical tourism campaign call 0845 355 8355 or visit www.tearfund.org/acting Can you help with the next phase of Tearfund’s campaign to make holidays benefit the poor? We are continuing our research into how ethical UK-based tour operators really are. Whether you are going to a developing country, or with a package operator to Europe, you can help.