ne-revez-pas asked: Hello, I saw you comment on a post about how missionaries in developing countries are ruining the cultures/societies of their people, and it really intrigued me. You see, I am about to go on a trip to Nairobi this coming June with the organization Me To We. Me To We is not religious and I'm not a religious person. But, while there I will help build a school and learn about Maasai culture. Do you feel that service trips without the intention of converting/teaching people are still alienating?
I am radically against service trips where people go to “build schools” (or other facilities) in a developing countries, and I find them to be incredibly disempowering and paternalistic at their core. It all boils down to stroking the (usually white) egos of the volunteers to make them feel like “good people” and does NO longterm good for the community.
I just wish people thought more critically about international development and saw through the smoke screen of “aid” that many of these “development” organizations put up as part of the white savior industrial complex. Like it just seems so obvious to me that an organization that goes through all of the logistical and human effort needed to bring “volunteers” to build schools in ~*aFriCa*~ has values that are fundamentally not aligned with those of their communities. They do not have the best interest of locals at heart, at all.
If they cared about the community, they would be building out local capabilities and talents rather than trying to make a quick buck from western volunteers. They wouldn’t be bringing in untrained (usually) white people from the West without any language skills or understanding of local cultural intricacies to a community that is most at need. Rather than siphoning resources toward making white people “feel good” about themselves and aligning their values with white supremacy and white savior-dom, instead they would be working to give that exact same business to local carpenters and construction workers. Or, worst case, they would bring in people using those same dollars to train community members so that they develop these critical skillsets for themselves and their community at large. Why not actually work in solidarity with a community and build together to improve and develop local capabilities in the longterm? Why must we instead center the white gaze and destructive paternalism, which is disempowering and harmful and only has one longterm impact: making the Western volunteers “feel good” about themselves for “saving the Africans”
It makes me sick.
I also think it’s just so indicative of the deepset narcissism that lies in white supremacy and Western global hegemony that somehow we think that we can “build a school” better than people who are actually from that community. You know the ones who intimately know their needs and those of their communities, far better than the volunteers swooping in for 2 weeks to “save” them. How sick is it that we presume that “expanding our global horizons” can come at any cost, including undermining the fabric of a community, breeding dependency, and pulling resources away from actually building out the longterm capabilities of the people in these communities? I discussed these topics at length with someone who worked in international NGOs for 7 years in Africa and who left incredibly jaded because she saw how the values of so many of these organization was focused on “more NGO, now” rather than doing the more important work of creating communities where the presence of NGOs fades progressively with time as these communities are empowered.
The structure of the white savior industrial complex is one of disempowerment, damage and harm. Participating in it furthers this destruction and hurts these communities in the long run.
The vast majority of these international aid and development NGOs do not have our best interests at heart, and are simply there to make white people (and other Westerners) feel better for the “good deed” they did once in ~the third world~
This post is very important, and while it mentions this, it needs to be stressed that in many cases these charity construction projects are harmful to local economies. Many countries which are destitute are destitute because they are labor-rich and capital-poor, often times because local and national political structures horde capital at the top (and no, this is nothing like WIRD countries having income inequality, and the equation of the two is disguising.)
When you come in and build a school for free, what you’re doing is depriving the people’s largest resource, labor, from being able to turn a profit, and thus, you’re preventing poor people from getting work. If you really care about people AND build schools (where they cannot afford to build their own), then organize a community locally and provide the capital to build that school AND THEN MAINTAIN IT, rather than doing it yourself. That way they can tailor their institutions to their needs, provide work for their workers, and you provide a constant source of employment for teachers, education for children, and a healthier economy. There are also movements to help develop local technologies that can then be produced locally to free up the time of women, who usually bear the brunt of time-intensive tasks which pay poorly.