"The Dutch" Working & Living Abroad #2: Juliette Kwee - Smokey Tours


  • Juliette Kwee


  • The Philippines, Manila

Which initiative?

  • Smokey Tours


  • Smokey Tours offers Slum Tours, Bicycle Tours, Market Tours & several other tours for visiting travelers & local Filipinos.

Something special?

  • Slum tour: slums are a whole other world. A world which at first glance seems so different to what the majority of the visitors are used to. We see people working hard peeling garlic, scavenging for recyclable goods and making food out of leftovers from garbage bins. Life is tough, it's dirty but it's not a depressing place. People are smiling and getting on with life. Visit one of Manila's poorest areas where people try to live and work and call home. Understand the issues that the residents face, and discover resilience in its truest form.
  • Cemetery tour: discover why some people choose to live inside a cemetery and learn about the beliefs and superstitions of Filipino's.
  • Education & skills development: Smokey Tours educates impoverished people to become professional tour leaders.Tour leaders of Smokey Tours improve their English, learn tour leading and leadership skills. 

Read more

And last but not least...a little insight in 'Why'

In January 2011, Juliette Kwee organized a photo tour for Bahay at Yaman ni San Martin de Porres. This ‘photo walk’ portrayed the way children live in the area of Tondo, specifically Smokey Mountain. 20 local photographers volunteered and donated their photographs. Juliette discovered the talents of the residents of Smokey Mountain: they tell stories about their neighbourhood with passion, pride and dignity.

The idea of a special tour was born. Juliette started recruiting and coaching potential tour leaders. To professionally develop the tours Juliette reached out to international likeminded organizations that were already offering slum tours in Brazil and India.

The Smokey Mountain tour became Smokey Tours’ signature tour (hence the name of the organization). Since the very beginning all the profit made with the Smokey Tours is donated to local NGO's. Smokey Tours now offers several different tours and keeps seeking improvement and growth opportunities.

Connecting Two Worlds (source Voluntourism.ph)

The Dutch psychologist Juliette Kwee, who has been living in the Philippines since 2008 and not new to volunteer activities, felt something stir within her during her first visit to Smokey Mountain, a poverty stricken area located in Tondo, Manila. Kwee could not help but notice the difference between Smokey Mountain and its neighboring area, Makati City. Kwee shares, “I went to Smokey Mountain and I was so touched by the community. But I also sometimes go to this posh park in Makati and I was shocked. It’s only half an hour from each other. I started thinking, ‘how can we connect this two worlds?’”

Kwee knew she has to use a tool that will appeal to Filipinos from all walks of life. She concluded: “What do Filipinos like? Filipinos like taking photos. We organized a photowalk and called some photographers to take photos of the children and to show the resiliency of the community.” The photos, which were put up in an exhibition, sent a powerful message that one could be happy without material things as long there is love, food, and the opportunity for education.

Kwee says that the special tour took shape when she worked with the Smokey Mountain residents and area officers. “I met some tanods at that time and I was amazed at how they could talk about where they’re from and what they’re doing with pride. “Why is there not a slum tour here?” she shares. Kwee sought the help of Chris Way, the co-founder of India-based Reality Tours & Travel, which won the Community Award at the World Travel and Tourism Council's (WTTC) 2015 Tourism for Tomorrow Awards Ceremony in Madrid, Spain. “I want to train people who can take their own initiative. To be empowered and to take responsibility. People are smart enough to make their own decisions,” Kwee says.

Smokey Tours has expanded its list of activities. Aside from the slum tour, tourists can now explore Manila while cycling, go to cemeteries and other local spots, and experience Old Manila. As a testament to the organization’s excellence, “Smokey Tours” has been ranked number one on TripAdvisor.

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