Yvonne Roberts says a course designed for executives to
experience sleeping rough is a new cultural low.
We now have reproductive tourists who trawl the world in search
of potential womb carriers and orphans to adopt, and we’re already
familiar with the big earning thrill-seekers who spend a fortune to
feel their adrenalin pumping by, say, inching along a tightrope
across a raging torrent when the rest of us would probably rather
spend our annual holidays at rest on a beach – preferably not in
the pouring rain. But now an Amsterdam company has come up with yet
another twist for the jaded vacationer who believes he or she has
seen and done it all.
On offer is a four-night package, a bargain (at least for the
travel company) at a thousand pounds. This comprises three nights
on the streets with the homeless (dress: understated; regretfully,
special diets cannot be catered for) followed by a visit to a
five-star hotel and some sumptuous cuisine. Yes, you too can now be
a down and out dilettante.
Of course, in the British context, there are continents of
social deprivation to explore. Why stop at the homeless? Why not a
long weekend with a child on her third move in care? Or an
overnight in a residential home for the elderly mentally ill (no
extra charge for a taste of the chemical cosh). Or, for
“travellers” who really likes to live on the edge, why not seven
days surviving on £100 (no foreign currency please) with a
couple of distressed under fives on a sink estate?
The poor and vulnerable and over-burdened are, of course,
accustomed to visitors from another planet. At times, it has proved
a worthwhile exercise, changing attitudes and resources. For
instance, Henry Mayhew in London in the 19th century and George
Orwell en route to Wigan almost a 100 years later, both illuminated
via savage prose what had been too easily ignored before.
More recently, Jane Tewson, co-founder of Charity Projects, the
force behind the phenomenally successful Red Nose Day, who has now
moved on to build a new charity in Australia, talked passionately
of introducing those with influence and power and money to others
who have nothing but who, with constructive support, can help
themselves to do so much more. “We’re not giving to people,” she
would say again and again: “We’re working with them…”
Transformational tourism is not quite what the Amsterdam venture
is about – at least not in the way that social policy activists
have in mind.
No, the brief foray into the land of the less, according to the
Amsterdam spokesman, is not intended to increase knowledge;
expedite change or even encourage empathy.
These brief visits into the straits of misfortune are designed
for companies as an alternative to more traditional outward
bound-type courses. They are to encourage the successful executive
to re-evaluate his personal survival skills and inject fresh
appreciation into the joys that a credit card and an expense
account can bring.
Nowadays, we stand aghast at stories of how the middle classes
used to wander through Bedlam, treating the lunatics as spectator
Is this version of the 21st century traveller really any