How Slum Tourism Can Change Your Life

by Andrea Gross; photos by Irv Green

 

I'm standing in Stung Meanchy, Cambodia's largest garbage dump. The stench is overwhelming, the grit from burned ash covers every inch of my body, and I'm wondering if I made a mistake by forcing everyone in our group to come here.

After all, we'd seen plenty of poverty just driving around the streets of Phnom Penh. We'd even visited the killing fields, where we saw a stupa filled with skulls, a reminder of the more than 200,000 people who were murdered by the Khmer Rouge just thirty years ago. We knew the country was desperately poor, that the people were still too traumatized to rebuild their society.

Did we really need to tour a slum?

But I persisted. Why? Because friends of mine had started a project to rescue children from these slums. I’d seen their photos of Stung Meanchy, and I’d had a hard time believing the horror they depicted.

Now I realize that photographs can’t possibly convey the reality before me. They can’t reproduce the smell of rotting garbage and dead animals; they can’t convey feel of the gravelly particles that swirl around me, making their way, with every breath I take, into my nose, my mouth, my lungs.

Our bus driver hands me a mask. In theory, this will protect me from... from what? I'm afraid to ask. And as I look at the people around me — maskless in the putrid air — I'm embarrassed to put it on.

Men and women — most of whom look very old, although they're probably not — are sorting through the rubble in hopes of finding pieces of plastic or metal that they can sell. On a good day, they earn the equivalent of 50 cents. There aren't a lot of good days.

I take a few tentative steps and see a pile of discarded needles. I pray I won't step on one, pray that the barefoot children who are staring at me won't step on one either. But of course they will. If not today, tomorrow or the next day. This is, after all, the place where used hypodermics come to rest.

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Slumdog Millionaire – The story Hollywood left behind

by Shelly Seale

By now everyone has seen, or at least knows about, the movie Slumdog Millionaire and its astounding sweep of the Oscars, the Golden Globes, and millions of movie-watchers' hearts worldwide. For good reason – the film is affecting without being affected, has great multi-dimensional characters, and gives us phenomenal cinematography with brilliant India as its backdrop.

Now available for purchase in TheTrip Shop!This tale of life and love in the slums of Mumbai alternates between heartbreak and triumph. The story follows two brothers who live in an underworld of abject poverty, far removed from the country’s glitzy upper class or technology and business boom. Their lives become even more brutal after they are orphaned.

Following them throughout their childhood and into early adulthood – along with their friend Latika – we see them fight against exploiters, brothel owners, child abusers, and even each other, in their struggle to survive.

Slumdog Millionaire is a fictional movie ending with a bizarre twist of fate. However, the reality of the story is that for millions of children in India, the life portrayed in the movie is a a world away from the rags-to-riches ending of the film. Today there are 25 million Indian children living without parents, on the streets or in orphanages or other institutional homes – some good, and some bad or corrupt like the one portrayed in the movie. They live in orphanages, slums, railway stations or on the streets, where they are highly vulnerable to abuse, harassment, HIV/AIDS, and being trafficked into child labor if they're lucky - brothels if they're not.

Slumdog Millionaire shows us a side of India, and a way of life, that hundreds of thousands of children in Mumbai alone struggle to survive every day.

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