I don’t understand a lot of things. What on earth has happened in the last few years in the Covid period. Ukraine, Somalia, Yemen, Syria and all the other wars. Why one refugee is worth more than another. What kids like about watching YouTube videos of adults playing video games;) But these are things I can’t really do anything about….
Now I think/hope I can do something about something else I really don’t understand. Why do people still sign up for volunteer programs abroad that are really not ok?
I just wrote an article for Experience Africa about 5 no-go’s for volunteering abroad. Click here to read the article! But I find that I’m not done writing yet. So I’ll continue writing here, maybe you can help me understand this or I can get you thinking too.
One reason I feel I’m not done yet are the wonderful conversations I’ve had with a bunch of wonderful young people over the past few months. People who are ‘woke’, intelligent, want to do the right thing and yet ended up in terrible voluntourism projects. Working in an orphanage, without any explanation. Tours of the hospital while having no medical backgrounds. Even up to the operating room while surgery was being done! Teaching without any training and so on.
So how is it that these smart people end up with such projects anyway?
Isn’t there a lot of information available about the harmful aspects of volunteering abroad? Don’t they look it up? Or does one go to the website of such an organization and see the great videos and reviews and then forget that orphanage tourism is not ok? Want to know more about the negatives of voluntourism, click here.
Ask random Facebook groups for advice?
I also see people in various Facebook groups asking for suitable organizations to volunteer with. Just the other day, someone wrote about her daughter who would like to become a veterinarian and now wants to volunteer with animals in Africa. I and others responded with advice that might not be so nice to hear. Among other things, I told her that projects where you are allowed to come into contact with the animals as a volunteer are not sustainable. I also referred her to expert in this field and my colleague at Experience Africa; Dilo van Commenee. But they also recommended projects where you could have super much contact with the animals. Other moms who told how their kids loved playing with the Cheetah babies and reading in the grassy field with wild animals around them.
I get it, young animals are adorable! So are children.
Impact is a word that sounds good, but oh what is it really
And then there are so many organizations that tailor the work to what the volunteers want, because it makes good money. And ah… Impact is just a word that sounds good… And when you see all those nice movies of happy children and happy volunteers on the websites, we conveniently forget about the privacy laws that protect western children….
In this day and age, you must be living under a rock if you have never heard of the negative aspects of volunteering abroad…
So when you know it’s not good for the animals and children…. Are we selfish enough to do it ourselves? Or do we think of ourselves as different and making a difference? What is that anyway?
Children in Africa are happy with little
Even when people realize on the spot that they have ended up with a bad organization, they often still do not realize that they are part of the system. Because even though the realization is there… They still talk about how happy the people and children in Africa are, they very often judge and compare with home, still post selfies with African children on social media and do not look critically at their own actions. When you think that these things in themselves are not so bad… Read this blog series.
It’s pretty hard not to be a white savior
Don’t get me wrong, I know how hard this is. To avoid white savior behavior, you have to constantly look at yourself critically and be aware of your privileges. In doing so, you have to get around your ego. Because how nice it is not to save people and animals. To hear how good you are and to feel very fulfilled? And organizations that mainly want to make money from the fact that you come, feed you with the idea that you are doing super.
And still with all the knowledge I have, I do not understand when there is so much information available, why people feel that only when you do something tangible you are useful.
The Ghanacoach was also doing some good i
Why do we always “have” to feel useful? And when are you being useful?
So we ‘have’ to paint or build. Something the locals can probably do better than you and lose when you volunteer. Or we really want to make a difference in the lives of ‘poor children in the third world’. Because the parents themselves give no love and the teachers are by definition bad teachers. It is a miracle that so many children have grown up without loving volunteers around them. Who leave after a few weeks or months….
Even though I really don’t understand why the above all still happens, I do know how it can and should be better. Not because my ego is huge and I think I am better. But because I was a white savior myself and volunteered irresponsibly as an organization. And when I learned what was and was going wrong I have evolved and learned. And I too often have to hold a mirror up to myself and fortunately I have people around me who help me do that.
I have 2 things for you if you are interested in volunteering in Africa:
Volunteering with Banko Women center
Work behind the scenes to empower women in Banko, Ghana through fundraising, content creating, PR and product development.
At this project, you will have the opportunity to experience life in Ghana, learn a lot, and have the chance to explore this beautiful lland!
When you choose to join us, you will receive thorough preparation and only pay for accommodation and your meals. Not for volunteering!
The best preparation you could wish for your volunteer experience
This online training is designed for people who, despite the negative publicity surrounding volunteering abroad, want to work on a project in Africa. But you realize that as a volunteer you are a link in the chain and you do not want to accidentally do more harm than good.
You want to learn, experience, live and have fun. But you also want the people you are going to work with to have fun with you and you actually want to make a contribution!
So that both you and the people on the volunteer project can look back with pride on a wonderful and meaningful time.