28 Jun Navigating Privilege and Perspective with Ecosphere
Written by Becca King, India: Himalayan Adventure
Travelling as a Westerner means encountering complex issues of power and privilege daily, carrying coded wealth and imperialism everywhere you go. Ethical choices are not always easy to spot, especially when navigating across cultures. For me, participating in a trip through Operation Groundswell meant embracing this challenge head on, and exploring the ideas of cultural exchange, privilege, and ethics with each step on the ground. Though many of our experiences facilitated this exploration, none so thoroughly shook and rebuilt my perspective as our time with Ecosphere.
Ecosphere is part tourism organization, part development agency, and it is built on the principle of ethical travel. Basically, the organization exists to facilitate tourism that benefits both the host and the traveller. This means organizing homestays, educating guests on Spitian etiquette, and involving tourists in large scale community projects (in our case, building a greenhouse). With the income and assistance from Ecosphere, families are able to build their lives as they choose.
Prior to working with Ecosphere, I had very little knowledge of Spitian culture. I understood that they had very few resources available, and coming from a resource-rich nation, I felt an urge to share what we have. I still act upon and encourage this drive to share, but I realized after reflecting on our time in Spiti how much this story oversimplifies the situation. In our temporary home of Demul, villagers grow barley and greens, care for livestock that provides them with wool and fuel, and build homes from clay and brush, although none of this was counted in my measures of success. Sharing resources can change lives, but when a society has found sustainable, locally-sourced ways to build, grow food, recycle waste, etc., can we still say that they’re as far behind the West as our GDPs are different?
It seems that past ideas have been based on one major, faulty assumption: more resources is better, and the Western lifestyle is the successful lifestyle. New ideas should reroute the drive to share, gutting this assumption and replacing it with a better one: happier, healthier populations are better, and each culture has a part of the resources and ideas necessary to make it happen. Maybe then our capacity to share will flourish, enabling connections between needs and solutions worldwide.