This short guide will provide some recommendations for travel to conflict regions and offer a list of organizations that specialize in this field.
In recent years, traveling in order to gain an understanding of issues at the grassroots level has become a more common way to learn about conflict, build contacts and concrete skills A number of universities offer interactive and experiential learning programs which take students to conflict regions in order to engage directly with policy makers, community leaders, and citizens. Many NGOs and private organizations specialize in similar trips. Travel to learn other perspectives, engage with other cultures, and gain a personal knowledge of a conflict has become a popular way to learn.
Many of the organizations that take interested students or travelers to conflict regions have the goals of advancing human rights through awareness and firsthand experience of issues, believe that bringing people together and teaching them to communicate will create change, and that engaging with others will promote dialogue, learning and hopefully lead to more action to stop conflicts. While these are all positive potentials of travel, there is also the possibility of harm. Organizations that specialize in this field of experiential learning in conflict zones have to be aware that their impact has the potential to be negative for the community or country they are visiting. For example, some communities may be overrun by “conflict tourists” seeking to understand their conflict without providing any real benefit or impact to conflict affected areas. Short-term visits that are short-term in nature can put a significant burden on host communities. Such programming has to be careful to strike a balance between creating a positive learning experience for outsiders while not harming the host community.
There are a number of organizations that are working to educate people through travel to areas of conflict or post-conflict. While they differ in political, religious, or policy focuses, each offer a direct and personal learning experience. Here are a few key organizations working in tourism and conflict (please feel free to suggest additional ones):
Compassionate Listening Project- teaches heart-based skills to create powerful cultures of peace in our families, communities, in the workplace, and in the world. The curriculum for Compassionate Listening grew out of many years of reconciliation work on the ground in Israel and Palestine. CLP now offers trainings and workshops worldwide for everyday peace-building, as well as an Advanced Training and Facilitator Certification program. The Compassionate Listening Project takes delegations to Israel & Palestine.
Global Youth Connect (GYC)- advances human rights and creates a more just world by empowering young activists from around the globe through a combination of cross cultural human rights learning workshops, volunteer service, and sustained human rights activism aligned with grassroots NGOs, policy makers, and other stakeholders.. Global Youth Connect organizes annual winter and summer delegations to Bosnia and Rwanda.
Interfaith Peace-Builders fosters a network of informed and active individuals who understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the United States’ political, military, and economic role in it. To build and nurture such a network, IFP leads delegations of people from diverse backgrounds to Israel/Palestine. These delegations emphasize listening to and learning from those immersed in the reality of the conflict, and advancing the work of Israelis and Palestinians committed to nonviolent struggle and peace with justice.
International Peace Parks Expeditions (IPPE)- applies experiential learning within international peace parks to foster an interdisciplinary approach to leadership and collaboration, build a network dedicated to the advancement of peace parks, and support community participation in local development. In 2011, IPPE offered a three week accredited academic expeditions to Parque Internacional La Amistad in Costa Rica/Panama and the proposed Balkans Peace Park in Albania/Kosovo/Montenegro.
Political Tours- is a revolutionary concept for travelers passionate about politics and current affairs. They offer group tours and tailor-made itineraries in destinations around the globe. They don’t take sides in any of the disputes we might touch on. Great emphasis is placed on trying to understand issues at a grassroots level. Participants come face-to-face with local communities. Current tours include Turkey, DPRK, Kosovo, Georgia, Ethiopia, Bosnia, and Northern Ireland.
Reality Tours – envisions a people centered globalization that values the rights of workers and the health of the planet; that prioritizes international collaboration as central to ensuring peace; and that aims to create a local, green economy designed to embrace the diversity of our communities. Travelers are linked with activists and organizations from around the globe who are working toward positive change. Reality Tours are offered over 20 countries
Witness for Peace (WFP)- is a politically independent, nationwide grassroots organization of people committed to nonviolence and led by faith and conscience. WFP’s mission is to support peace, justice and sustainable economies in the Americas by changing U.S. policies and corporate practices which contribute to poverty and oppression in Latin America and the Caribbean. Join Witness for Peace on a life-changing trip to Latin America. Witness for Peace takes delegations to Colombia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Honduras.