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Poverty-Spot Tourism: An invitation from South India

Street Scene Outside of SPEED Trust Office

In 2007 I traveled to India on business related to the human resources and information technology industry.  While I was there I took the opportunity to meet with the founder of the SPEED Trust which stands for: Slum People’s Education and Economic Development.

The founder, Philippe Mallet, is an unassuming French man who has lived for over 10 years among the people he works with each day.

Philippe Mallet Holding Small Child

Vocational Education for Young Women

This non-profit has been continually improving the quality of life for many destitute people, mainly women and children, that live in the Gandhi Nagar area of Chennai. Donors have, among many programs, supported the purchase of sewing machines for vocational education and small gasoline-powered vehicles that are used for transportation through the crowded streets of Chennai.

SPEED Trust Vehicle Driver

The Trust trains women drivers who then have a lease-to-own option.  This framework has worked especially well in providing for both incentives, and a reliable source of income.

Computer Classroom

Through primary education for the young and vocational education for the adults coupled with micro-lending and infrastructure improvement programs the SPEED Trust has made genuine progress.

In addition to the driver-education programs the Trust has been providing sewing classes and handicraft construction classes.  Some of their most colorful products are pictured below.

Handicraft Weavers at Work

In addition, Philippe established a for-profit arm for selling the products that are produced as part of the handicraft programs the Trust sponsors.  The for-profit arm has developed a showroom, world-class back-office shipping capabilities, and a local talented staff that aptly demonstrates that the Fair Trade model can work.

This is BalaDarshan (see the website here:  http://www.baladarshan.com/en/index.php).[i]

Now the SPEED Trust has formed an alliance with two additional organizations working with the destitute and disabled in Chennai: 1) the GRRC and, 2) LEED Trust to provide for a new form of tourism.  They have jointly formed Human Trip India a consortium of local, reliable organizations, acting in several fields, to welcome participants from abroad. The aim of this program is not only to promote these organizations, but also to offer volunteering opportunities.  These life-changing trips are provided within an organized and professional framework where the volunteers learn of the culture, traditions, and ways of life in the urban center of a major city in South India.

Street Scene of Gandhi Nagar

The idea behind the initiative is to raise funds in order to support the activities of these organizations working for the most disadvantaged in society.

They will be offering packages covering accommodations, food, transportation and volunteer assignments.   Chennai-based coordination will be provided by Mr. Albert. He can be reached at humantripindia@gmail.com.  Coordination of US participants will be provided by Helene Delannoy.  She can be reached at:  delannoy.helene@gmail.com.  Helene will also be providing more information on the details of the tours at her blog: http://helenedelannoy.blogspot.com/.

Beware, this kind of tourism is not for those that like the 3 B’s – babes, bars, and beaches.  But, as one who has walked in the shoes of these poverty-spot tourists, I can confirm that it will be a life-changing event.

[i] For an overview of their accomplishments in French view the 3-part film that has been produced by Fabio Campo and Claudine Tissier on their ‘Small Things’ blog:  http://www.celestissima.org/smallthings/speed-trust/.