I’ve been reading articles like this and this and thinking a lot about my experience volunteering in Ghana. About the difference between doing nothing and doing something but not enough or the wrong thing. Did I feed into harmful ‘white savior’ roles? Did I add to trauma of orphaned children by coming and going so quickly? I don’t doubt that I was a pathetic excuse for a teacher. Imagine if tourists from Venezuela could pay for service trips and teach in inner city Chicago. What purpose would that serve?
I’m also thinking about the times when a teacher failed to show (at least twice a week) and I could be there to help answer students questions or come up with impromptu creative assignments. I was just providing a temporary, bandaid solution. There were such enormous problems with the school (only a third of the children could read, they were beaten frequently, teachers would habitually fail to show or teach) and the feebleness of my gesture is kind of insulting. These service trips, at their worst, can sort of act as an ego boost to us rich westerners. A quaint third-world vacation to make you feel good. It made me feel sick, worrying that that was what I was there for. I was very overwhelmed at times by wondering what my motivations were.
I don’t flatter myself by believing I made any sort of significant or lasting difference. But I don’t believe that’s the point. It was a humbling, overwhelming, beautiful, bizarre, and very educational experience. It gave me the chance to immerse myself in an utterly foreign culture without any sort of qualifications— I was simply there to learn, experience, and observe. I had known I was interested in social justice, global health disparities and all the rest, but experiencing them was essential for reaffirming my decision to pursue it further.
I don’t know. I could be full of shit. I’m very, very open to the possibility I have this all wrong. I’m just trying to think it through.