The first time I heard about slum tourism was after a bunch of people on social media called out The Local Wanderer, a Pakistani tour company, for using slums as a source of entertainment for the rich people. So naturally my preconceived opinion about this business was a little biased.
This Pakistani travel blogger is the pioneer of slum tourism in Pakistan. They think slums provide “entertainment”. A dose of poverty porn for then”curious”. They’re taking exploitation to whole another level by making profits off by poverty. Sickening! #shameless pic.twitter.com/VhaP9NN23L
— Tooba Syed (@Tooba_Sd) January 31, 2019
When I first talked to Sundus Amjad, I already had my mind made up about her initiative of pioneering slum tourism in Pakistan; what she was doing was wrong. But talking to Sundus gave me an entirely new perspective on the entire thing.
Sundus, currently based in Lahore, claims to be the first person to launch a slum tour company in Pakistan
View this post on Instagram
Contrary to popular belief, running a tour company in Pakistan is not an easy job, esp for a woman, taking into account it being a male dominated industry. It's so much more than the fancy mountain selfies, chai with a view stories & the check ins. So much goes behind making a trip perfect for your client, given the phones don't work in most of the scenic regions, the hotel staff is not trained to service clients, the lack of regulation in the hotel & entertainment industry of the region and a gazillion other things that account for a perfect vacation. Growing up, I was never interested in account management or client servicing because at times you hear stuff which is just not right and you do not deserve it. Tourism industry is a whole new level of client servicing. Being there with the client 24/7. Managing the long road trips and the mood swings because of the exertion that follow. No matter how hard you try, you can never prepare the client enough for it. For clients who are aware & open, it's a whole new level of adventure for them and for us as hosts. For the ones not used to it, the only time you get off to plan the next set of activities or the next day is when you've successfully put them to bed. Keeping your individuality & your emotions aside becomes a norm. Catching up on your sleep during lunch breaks while sitting doesn't seem that odd anymore. The mountains stop being your resting place. Always remember, when engaging a tour company for your trip, you pay for tour management & not the price of the person/persons making it happen. Alot of the times people come with a perception that you've bought the other person, which is not the case. We forget to operate like humans. The Local Wanderer is proud to be the pioneer of the concept of Live like a local, with the locals – Be Pakistan, where we don't take the client as an outsider but a part of the same family. Human engagement & interactions lie at the core of the planning & execution. We don't play the host. We play the friends from another city/country vacationing with you to show you our side of the world – Our culture, our history, our music, our food & our people. 1/2
Sundus gave up a lucrative career as a consultant to work at Pakistan Development Exchange, an NGO which sets up community centers in slumabadis of Lahore and Islamabad and connects the people of the communities with the resources they may need for a better life.
Those having a hard time paying school fee are connected to a relevant NGO which can help with their case and those who have food-related issues are connected to a relevant organization to help them out.
Sundus joined the NGO and started working with donors and fund raising. As Sundus learned the ropes in how to get donors to take an interest and contribute to their initiatives, she decided to start her own thing to help donors feel connected to the contribution they were making and thus, The Local Wanderer was born.
She lived in a katchi abadi for over a year before she started her initiative because Sundus wanted to have an exact idea of what people in these abadis require
What Sundus does is connect people which include foreigners, ex-pats and even Pakistanis who are not from slumabadis to families living in these areas so that they can experience what their lives are like and hence empathize on a different level.The families then spend time with one another, share meals and experiences.
But isn’t the word “slum tourism” rather offensive?
When asked whether she thinks the term ‘slum tourism’ itself is offensive since it seems to be glamorizing the families’ plight and letting outsiders gawk at their circumstances, Sundus maintained while the term may sound insensitive when heard without context, it was getting the word out there and helping begin a conversation. That’s what she says she’s most concerned with.
As someone who needs people to notice her and her efforts so she can make a difference, Sundus stated that she doesn’t mind the criticism she gets. The term, Sundus said, is considered controversial in a lot of circles across the globe but the prejudice exists because of historic connotations around it. The term also does the job; it makes people notice and take another look at her initiative.
Sundus works with Pakistan Development Exchange, their community centers have data on each and every household in the community in terms of their haves and have nots
They then pair them with a family that wants to spend some time in these slumabadis. The family partaking in this as a donor is bound to financially help the family they spend time with for at least two years to help them out of their circumstances.
To respect the privacy of the inhabitants of the slumabadis who partake in this program, Sundus says they do not take pictures while on tours or let anyone else know what they are doing.
Sundus herself is a big believer in doing good. Having to drop out of university when her father fell victim to target killing in Karachi over ten years ago, she fondly recalls her father’s own philanthropy, which she attributes to her own interest in the sector.
According to Sundus, she has found her calling in life and can’t wait to do more in this field. While some may not agree with what Sundus is doing, thinking it is exploitative of the low-income families in the program or represents a negative image of Pakistan, Sundus is confident in her mission. She is helping dozens of families better their circumstances and helping people empathize with one another.
You can follow Sundus’ journey here.
What do you think about Slum Tourism? Let us know in the comments below.
After Her Daughter Committed Suicide This 85 Year Old American Mother Has Built A School In Pakistan Honoring Her Memory
This German Photographer Is Documenting Falling In Love With Pakistan, One Stunning Picture At A Time
Cover Image Source: Sundus Afzal