I don’t get the hate.
If you’ve never been to “Africa” (don’t forget to refer to the continent, never a specific country), you may never have encountered the volunteer pecking order that serves little more purpose than reinforcing guilt and perpetuating stereotypes.
Graham North works on the island of Zanzibar, and his disgust for volunteers who aren’t as “real” as him is quite evident on his Squidoo page.
Seriously, what’s wrong with coming to Africa because you hate the cold? What’s wrong with getting here and enjoying the low cost of living? What’s wrong with volunteering to pad your résumé? What’s wrong with visiting Africa because you want to travel?
I think we can all agree that volunteering is inherently selfish. Helping people makes us feel good. I guess some people also get a kick out of proving that they’re more “hard core” than the rest. Graham isn’t the first to be contemptuous of weekend volunteers, or those unwilling to make long term commitments to living in un-air conditioned malaria zones where the water is often unsafe. I’m sure he won’t be the last. But what gives him the right to judge?
These kids come over, spend a few weeks working with orphans or teaching ICTs or delivering babies. Or they just spend a few months getting wasted at local bars. They go home, and maybe their worldview has expanded a little bit. There’s nothing inherently wrong with not being “hard core” about your volunteerism. These people are still coming over and pouring dollars (or Euros) into local economies that desperately need the cash. These people are still going home with stories that humanize this too-often misrepresented continent. These people are still doing their best.
P.S. I’m going to spend the rest of my life in West Africa, and I hate the kids who come up and ask me for candy. Just sayin’.
I’m not knocking on Graham personally. I’ve been thinking about posting on this subject for a few weeks now, and his Squidoo page was simply the tipping point.