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Want to help Africa? Travel there! | Kelly Virginia Phelan | TEDxUQ

have you ever heard Africa referred to
as the Dark Continent it’s so you
probably think that’s a racial reference
Africa which is true but that’s actually
the second meaning the term was
originally used in the 15th and 16th
centuries when major empires such as
England and Spain were sending out
explorers in search of new territories
exploration began at the sea and moved
inland so maps would have very detailed
coastlines but very often the regions
further away from the coast we’re not
actually explored until much later
so cartographers would shade in these
areas to signify the fact that there was
a lack of information about them they
were unlimited unenlightened and
therefore dark I have lived worked and
traveled throughout 17 different African
countries on my first trip I spent three
months in Sierra Leone a country you
have probably heard about from news
stories and movies about blood diamonds
and Civil War my longest stint was in
Botswana arguably one of the safest and
most peaceful countries in Africa
despite being surrounded by former
apartheid States but SWANA has never
dealt with any real racial discord
they’ve never had a war so the Army is
more comfortable coming to your house to
capture and remove the lion that has
wandered into your backyard
this is Africa these things happen the
army is more comfortable with animal
removal than they are shooting guns and
chances are if you own a diamond it may
actually be from Botswana as they are
the second
largest producer in the world despite
Sierra Leone and Botswana having very
different histories economies and social
structures they share one common problem
which is pervasive throughout the entire
continent infrastructure when I think of
the expression a dark continent this is
what I think of this is a map produced
by NASA it is a compilation of photos
taken of every time zone at the same
time of night so we’re able to see what
the earth looks like from space and
specifically how we are using one of our
most valuable resources electricity as
you can see the US Europe India China
very bright even here in Australia
pretty bright but Africa is remarkably
dark I was a Fulbright Scholar at the
University of Botswana and midway
through my fellowship I applied for an
extension so I could stay longer and
continue my work for weeks prior to
being scheduled to leave I found out I
received the second fellowship and I
remember the exact moment in time that I
decided to turn it down I was standing
in a dark grocery store in Hobart on a
which is the capital of Botswana we had
been experiencing inconsistent
electricity for months every few days or
weeks the electricity would suddenly
come on sometimes for a few minutes
sometimes for a few hours but just as
suddenly it would disappear again with
no indication as to when it may return
in addition to these massive blackouts
we were under very severe water
rationing because the dam was at less
than 10% capacity I had not taken a real
shower or eaten any cooked food in
several days I was standing there in the
grocery store looking at a jar of
pickled onions now this is not something
that’s normally on my grocery list
but my stomach was growling there were
very limited supplies on the shelves and
I knew that I needed to purchase
something that I could take home and eat
that I did not need to cook tears were
in my eyes when I was looking at this
jar of pickled onions and it was at that
moment that I decided to turn down the
second Fulbright now I’m an academic
which means my career is highly
dependent upon my research output and
grant money that I receive so to turn
down a research grant is very unusual
don’t get me wrong I loved every minute
of my time in Botswana and I always look
forward to going back there because it’s
kind of like going home again but the
challenges of daily life their long-term
were really wearing me down and I was
afraid that if I stayed another 12 or 18
months that I would really become
disenchanted with the experience and so
I decided to leave now as I said I am an
academic and my specialty is tourism and
in my opinion at least as a tourism
scholar I can think of no better place
to be than Africa Africa has some of the
richest and most diverse natural
resources on the planet have you ever
read the book or watched the movie
gorillas in the mist
if not please go home and do so you will
not regret it you could walk in Dian
Fossey split steps I did there are fewer
than 800 mountain gorillas alive in the
world today and you can only see them by
trekking through the mountains of Uganda
Rwanda or the Democratic Republic of
Congo maybe you’d like to climb the
highest freestanding mountain in the
world in which case head to Mount
Kilimanjaro in Tanzania nearly 25,000
people attempt the summit each year
and two out of three of them are
successful so the odds are in your favor
if you’re up to the challenge of course
you could always emulate my personal
hero dr. david livingstone he is
believed to have been the first European
to have seen the waterfall which marks
the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe
he subsequently named it Victoria Falls
in honor of Queen Victoria
unfortunately when most people think of
Africa they don’t think of these and the
many other amazing tourism opportunities
instead they worry about the safety and
security of the region they think back
to old news stories about illegal animal
poaching child soldiers and famine and
rather than thinking of Africa as a
great place to visit they think of it as
a charity case and this is actually what
motivates many people to go there they
want to go there to gawk and pity
pro-poor tourism is a tourism approach
designed to stimulate tourism while
simultaneously reducing poverty while
the economic benefit is the primary
objective improving the lifestyles of
communities through non financial means
such as education and health care is
also at the forefront however pro-poor
tourism is not a cure-all quite the
opposite it often has unintended and
negative consequences one of the most
prominent types of pro-poor tourism is
volunteer tourism or voluntourism
voluntourism is an emerging trend in
which tourists travel somewhere to
conduct community service voluntourism
is a multi-billion dollar industry
dominated primarily by young people who
are paying oftentimes thousands of
dollars to participate and voluntourism
is highly
regulated agencies place volunteers in
positions without training them the vast
majority of money these volunteers pay
does not go directly back to the
communities in which they are serving
and very often the jobs which volunteers
are doing actually rob community members
of potential employment opportunities
one of the most popular types of
voluntourism is working in an orphanage
most Western countries have found
alternatives to the traditional
orphanage system which is why that’s so
appealing we simply don’t have them
around us so as a result visiting and
working in tour in orphanages has
exploded in recent years a couple of
years ago I had to go to Congo for work
and Congo is one of those destinations
that’s a little bit difficult to arrange
your own travel as an independent
traveler so I decided to use a travel
agent I told him what I needed and
wanted to do and then asked him for
other suggestions because after all he
is the expert he sent me back a proposed
itinerary which included a visit to an
orphanage now throughout the years I
have visited probably dozens of African
orphanages and when I lived in put SWANA
I volunteered for one regularly so I
simply did not feel a need to see
another one and I told my travel agent
this I call him up via Skype and let him
know this and his reaction was priceless
he was absolutely dumbfounded what do
you mean all tourists go to the
orphanage the orphans are expecting you
now I know I’m popular but I did not
know that the orphans in Congo were
expecting me to come visit I’m not
joking this was his response now but
wait and by the way despite room
moving the orphanage from my itinerary
now orphanage tourism can only be
successful if there are children there
to see and ultimately without a doubt
there are legitimate orphanages however
research shows that upwards of eighty
percent of children living in orphanages
in Africa have at least one living
parent orphanage directors entice
parents to hand over their children with
promises of a better life now these
children oftentimes do receive education
but only until they are too old to tug
at the heartstrings of visitors once
they become too mature
they are often kicked to the curb and
replaced by younger orphans 1.2 billion
people travel internationally every year
yet only 58 million of them go to Africa
that means that fewer than 5% of
international tourist arrivals go to
Africa worldwide one in ten jobs is in
the tourism industry but in Africa that
figure is one in 20 now the tourism
industry in Africa is growing and at a
rapid pace of about 8 percent per year
but even still Africa represents a very
small piece of the tourism pie
which is all the more reason for us to
support it particularly given that
tourism is such a powerful means of
advancing infrastructure development in
Africa Rwanda has roughly 200 mountain
gorillas 200 there are more people
involved in this event today than there
are mountain gorillas in the entire
country of Rwanda yet they have taken
this very small resource and transformed
it into a two hundred million dollar a
industry in 2005 the Rwandan government
created a tourism revenue sharing scheme
to date they have managed to fund more
than 300 community-based initiatives as
a result they have also built roads
schools hospitals bridges sanitation
facilities and other critical
infrastructure there are countless ways
to illustrate the need for
infrastructure in Africa but I should
note Africa is not sitting back waiting
for charity to come solve its problems
there are two experiences that will
always remain with me that really
showcase Africa’s willingness to adapt
and its desire to make progress despite
very limited resources you know how you
walk into a meeting room or university
classroom and you see a sign that says
do not remove desks or chairs from this
room well in Africa there are never
enough desks or chairs so they have this
tendency to migrate with the students
they’ll actually show up early claim a
desk and chair and carry it with them
from classroom to classroom because they
know if they don’t chances are good they
will be sitting on the floor but
classrooms are also at a shortage I
remember years ago when I was a uni
student studying back in the States
every once in a while if we were lucky
if the weather was good and the tutor
was happy we would have class held
outside and this was awesome it was a
real treat to be outside instead of
stuck indoors
I think this only happened actually
twice during my bachelor’s degree well
in Africa outdoor classrooms are not an
option they are often an imperative this
is one of the classrooms I taught in
over there and this is the nicest one
outside that I taught in as you can see
no PowerPoint projections not even an
fashion blackboard while university
administrators are looking for creative
ways to meet the needs of their students
the students are also taking their
destinies in their own hands what would
you do if you need it to study and there
was no electricity on at home you take
your textbooks you go outside and you
sit underneath one of the streetlights
I watched my students do this a couple
of times and then I thought to myself if
they’re doing this why am I sitting at
home alone in the dark so I took one of
my books and went outside with them to
read well students students talk as
students do and so word got around that
I happened to be out and the next thing
I knew I had students coming over asking
me questions about concepts I had
actually covered in class within the
last few days and I always laugh when I
think of this because I think of my
colleagues think of your professors I
think of my colleagues and and I can’t
imagine any of them sitting on a street
corner under a streetlight at eight
o’clock on a Tuesday night having
consultation sessions with students but
then again I mean you can’t go home to
cook dinner or take a shower or watch TV
so hey why not you might as well go out
to help your students if you want to
help Africa go there visit be a tourist
and when you go be a responsible tourist
look for locally owned tourism
operations by supporting local
businesses you’re having a greater
economic impact and every dollar you
spend has a ripple effect you don’t
realize this but the money you pay to go
on safari helps a community pave a dirt
road which in turn means that vaccines
can be delivered faster you don’t think
that going on vacation can save lives
but indirectly yes it can and when you
come home please tell your friends about
it encourage them to go to Africa and
see it for themselves and remind them
there is more to see there than animals
this is after all the birthplace of
human civilization I love Africa and
will always consider it my second home
which is why I want so badly for it to
be a success but outsiders coming in to
save it is not the answer for Africa to
thrive it has to do so on its own terms
I speak four languages and of all the
many words that I know my favorite word
is Pula which is a setswana word you’ve
probably guessed that Setswana
is the national language of Botswana and
Puma means blessings now the official
currency of Botswana is called the
Botswana Pula because after all money is
a blessing Pula is also the word we use
for rain because in a very dry country
like Botswana rain is most definitely a
blessing and so I would like to wish you
all pull up on your future trip to
Africa I have no doubt when you get
there you will see value in being a part of bringing the dark continent to light
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