South America 2006: Peru and Ecuador

Solidarity Experiences Abroad

In 2006, I went on a trip to South America for one month where I visited the countries of Peru and Ecuador. The trip was organised by my alma mater, Brock University and is part of a social justice programme called Solidarity Experiences Abroad. Our objective was to learn something about South America through community work and interaction. It was the trip of a lifetime, I have such great memories from this event. I would go back to South America in a heartbeat.

About SEA

The trip was organised by Campus Ministries in collaboration with International Services. Here is a blurb from the official SEA website:

Take some time out of your summer schedule to make a difference in your own life and the lives of others. Solidarity Experiences Abroad is a Brock program that gives you a unique international opportunity to explore social justice through a series of volunteer placements and community development projects in developing countries. Students are encouraged to engage in a variety of volunteer opportunities and spiritual experiences and will also receive exposure to Latin American and/or African culture through cultural experiences, language classes, outings, lectures, testimonies and hands-on solidarity work alongside locals in shantytowns and institutions.

You can find more information here:

A note on poverty tourism

Some critics would say there is a fine line between a ‘social justice trip’ and so-called ‘poverty tourism’. At first, they can seem pretty similiar. However, I don’t think we engaged in poverty tourism. Where-ever we went, we connected with the people we met, got to know them and shared their culture. It is only natural that we wanted to take pictures of the people we met and the neighbourhoods we visited. However, I choose to share those pictures with the visitors to this website, so others can learn something too.

The following excerpt is from MacLean’s:

“Watch out for the dead rat,” says Marcelo Armstrong as he leads a group of 10 tourists through the dark, winding alleyways of Vila das Canoas, one of hundreds of shantytowns, or favelas, nestled in the hills surrounding Rio de Janeiro. The tourists, who hail from Israel, Ireland, Switzerland, Australia and Canada, step gingerly over what appears to be a recently crushed rat, swarming with flies. But few seem fazed by the scene, or the stench of rotting garbage that has been strewn on some of the streets in this favela of some 2,500 people. All have paid the equivalent of $35 for what many describe as the chance of a lifetime — to see poverty up close, and gain a greater understanding of the complexities of Brazilian society.

The question is whether poverty-tourism really is that despicable, or whether perhaps it is a win-win situation. The locals get a way to tap into the tourism industry; the tourists go home with unique and hopefully soul-changing experiences they would not have gotten otherwise. Does this denigrate the slumdwellers and make their home into a zoo? Or does it make people take pride in their home and give them the means to make it better?