Let’s Go Save Africa When I was younger, I remember telling my mum that I wanted to go and volunteer in some country like Cambodia or Haiti. Either that or I wanted to go work at the Osu Children’s Home. Ask me the first thing about those three places, then and now and I’m not going to be able to tell you. So why did I want to go and volunteer, if I know nothing, about these places? You could say that I felt some sort of complex concerning the people in those countries. In all honesty, I will say that it’s probably because I wanted to make my college application more attractive. I felt that by going there for 2 months or less, and paying to do so by the way, I could give them something that they were incapable of doing themselves. But I wonder who is to blame for that. Is it my fault that I felt this way towards them because all my life I had seen people come to Ghana and do the same thing? Heck I see Ghanaians do this every day when it comes to their National Service and they are posted to some village in the northern Region to teach. I see it all the time in TV series that I watch where there is some chick that falls in love with the stereotypical cringe-worthy doctor who is “curing starving African children of communicable diseases.” And their Skype calls always have to take place inside a tent because there are miraculously no huts or houses in the “rural areas.” Now I was reading a book once and all was fine and dandy until the girl started talking about a volunteer journalism trip she had to take to an African country. Kindly note that said country was never mentioned, just Africa. From that point onwards I bore*. And her boyfriend kept going on and on about how he was scared for her safety. The only reason I finished the book was so I could see what exactly it said about her “exceptional” articles from Africa. The irony of this blog post is not lost on me. The patronizing African volunteer. Lol. Earlier this week I came across this website through a blog post called “Humanitarians of Tinder.” Now Tinder is an online dating website. This website looks for people on Tinder who have display pictures of them in a foreign country (preferably a third world country) surrounded by the natives. You can find pictures like this:
Now the highlight of some volunteers is taking a picture with the indigenous children. The hungrier and darker they look the better. It helps you the volunteer look like a saint anyway. Now the lighting has to be perfect, you want everybody on your Facebook timeline to know you have a big heart and that you care. And this attitude of the volunteer being better than the people they are helping is something present in schools. Schools are encouraging people to do volunteer work in “3rd world countries” when these students don’t care about the people in those countries. By sending teenagers to countries they are not really interested in, the volunteers might see it as them doing a service to the people rather than getting the opportunity to lend a helping hand. The volunteer might come in thinking that that briefing that they got about that area on paper is enough to help them understand the problems of the area and solve them. But it’s not. No paper can prepare you for the full reality on the ground. There are two steps to understand the reality on the ground:
- Shut up and
- Listen to the people
I was having prep this week when I came across the BandAid 30 song for Ebola “Do they know it’s Christmas”. I was furious for two reasons. Firstly some of my favourite musicians were in that song and that just made me lose respect for them. And secondly a simple song filled with people feeling self-satisfied and smiling just helps enforce the images that so many people try to break. For those that haven’t seen it, this is the video:
Two African songs have come up targeting the virus and are aimed at educating the public. The first one was “Ebola in Town” which was released in May. The second was ‘Africa Stop Ebola’ which was released last month by Malian, Congolese, Ivorian and Guinean musicians They are done in French and English so that the people can understand what exactly the disease about. The only thing that your song does is to tug on the heart strings of people that are feeling guilty so after donating, they feel that they have worked to save “helpless African children.” With lyrics like this, what exactly do you expect?
“And the Christmas bells that ring there Are the clanging chimes of doom”
Bob Geldof I don’t need you to tell me that it’s Christmas. I am very aware of that fact. I own a calendar that tells me exactly what date it is if you care to know. You the volunteer go to that country to offer a service not to “save them”. You need that humbling interaction more than they need you. This post is not mean to condemn people that do this because I was also at fault at some point. All I want to say is that think critically before you go and volunteer as to why you are going there. If your head is filed with pre-conceptions and you feel as if they cannot survive without you, please do the people a favor and do not go at all.