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Thoughts on covering poverty when posting about trips to the developing world

Internationally Known

Thoughts on covering poverty when posting about trips to the developing world

I just finished several posts about a trip my spouse and I took to Rwanda last year.  We went with a group that did some volunteer work at a boarding school/orphanage.  It was an important trip to us, so it was a pleasure to re-live the trip as I posted my stories.  However, I kept running into issues of how I cover our experiences.  I have tons of pictures outlining just how poor the average person is.  Women carrying water, men pushing bicycles overburdened with material, or barefoot kids in threadbare clothes, for example.  I wanted my readers to be aware of the issues countries like Rwanda face, without being preachy about it.  I made a consious decision not to include photos of people in my posts; it seemed vaguely disrespectful. But, that choice may have reduced the effectiveness of the piece (I am OK with that).

Here is my question to the community; how have you dealt with these issues in the past?  It is almost impossible to be a traveler and not spend time in a country where the majority of people are poorer than you.  How do you cover that in the sense of telling accurate stories, that serve the community by outlining these important issues, while at the same time being respectful to the people of the region you are visiting.

Of course, I am not expecting an answer; there isn't one.  I am posting this discussion because I am genuinely interested in other traveler's opinions.

3 Replies
Internationally Known

Re: Thoughts on covering poverty when posting about trips to the developing world

I appreciate your thoughts here. I think honest photographs, taken with the agreement of the people in them (not secretly or exploitatively), are suitable for use in a site like this. While most of the things we see here reflect joyful moments in travel, we are also aware that life is a serious challenge for many, and I commend your service in Rwanda. In just a few days the nation will mark the end of its 25-year anniversary remembrance of the genocide, with a view to forging a much better future, for which you have been a small part.


And too, people who live in difficult situations many times have greater appreciation for what we might consider small things. I just returned from a trip to Guatemala, and while a number of the pictures I used were of people I was traveling with, others reflect the excitement of a woman who received a new sewing machine, a family with a new stove or bed, a goat with a new home. 

Stately Explorer

Re: Thoughts on covering poverty when posting about trips to the developing world

Thank you for sharing. 

As a traveler I think I would most be interested in learning by category. What does a daily snapshot for these people look as far as basic amenities go? Water, food, heating/ac, even showers. 

I think the best way you could look at it is a day to day comparison. I wake up every morning and shower, then have a hearty breakfast and begin work while I drink a beverage of choice. All in the comfort of my home office with AC/heat and everything I could need within a few minutes drive. The contrast of what your average person does could be hugely impactful while not coming across as preachy. Is there school? Public Transport? Do people go to the local bar to see one another or is the walk to get water their social time? How do the men and women interact and what is expected of them.

I hope this helps!

Nationally Recognized

Re: Thoughts on covering poverty when posting about trips to the developing world

Think about removing the differentness of race and nation; consider how you would cover this in America. There are many places in e.g. Kentucky, West Virginia, and Mississippi where entire communities live in generational poverty with standards of living many Americans would find appalling: what thoughts & photos would you post if you were to take a similar trip there?


In either case, the most important thing is for the story to be the community's own story, not the story of the rich outsiders who stopped by for a few days to help. Intrinsic, not extrinsic.