The Problem With Little White Girls (and Boys): Why I Stopped Being A Voluntourist

In case you’re interested in hearing from a reformed Gurl - here’s Pippa Biddle’s experience. Worth a read.

White people aren’t told that the color of their skin is a problem very often. We sail through police check points, don’t garner sideways glances in affluent neighborhoods, and are generally understood to be predispositioned for success based on a physical characteristic (the color of our skin) we have little control over beyond sunscreen and tanning oil.

After six years of working in and traveling through a number of different countries where white people are in the numerical minority, I’ve come to realize that there is one place being white is not only a hindrance, but negative — most of the developing world.

In high school, I travelled to Tanzania as part of a school trip. There were 14 white girls, 1 black girl who, to her frustration, was called white by almost everyone we met in Tanzania, and a few teachers/chaperones. $3000 bought us a week at an orphanage, a half built library, and a few pickup soccer games, followed by a week long safari.

Our mission while at the orphanage was to build a library. Turns out that we, a group of highly educated private boarding school students were so bad at the most basic construction work that each night the men had to take down the structurally unsound bricks we had laid and rebuild the structure so that, when we woke up in the morning, we would be unaware of our failure. It is likely that this was a daily ritual. Us mixing cement and laying bricks for 6+ hours, them undoing our work after the sun set, re-laying the bricks, and then acting as if nothing had happened so that the cycle could continue.

Basically, we failed at the sole purpose of our being there. It would have been more cost effective, stimulative of the local economy, and efficient for the orphanage to take our money and hire locals to do the work, but there we were trying to build straight walls without a level.

That same summer, I started working in the Dominican Republic at a summer camp I helped organize for HIV+ children. Within days, it was obvious that my rudimentary Spanish set me so far apart from the local Dominican staff that I might as well have been an alien. Try caring for children who have a serious medical condition, and are not inclined to listen, in a language that you barely speak. It isn’t easy. Now, 6 years later, I am much better at spanish and am still highly involved with the camp programing, fundraising, and leadership. However, I have stopped attending having finally accepting that my presence is not the godsend I was coached by non-profits, documentaries, and service programs to believe it would be.

You see, the work we were doing in both the DR and Tanzania was good. The orphanage needed a library so that they could be accredited to a higher level as a school, and the camp in the DR needed funding and supplies so that it could provide HIV+ children with programs integral to their mental and physical health. It wasn’t the work that was bad. It was me being there.

It turns out that I, a little white girl, am good at a lot of things. I am good at raising money, training volunteers, collecting items, coordinating programs, and telling stories. I am flexible, creative, and able to think on my feet. On paper I am, by most people’s standards, highly qualified to do international aid. But I shouldn’t be.

I am not a teacher, a doctor, a carpenter, a scientist, an engineer, or any other professional that could provide concrete support and long-term solutions to communities in developing countries. I am a 5’ 4” white girl who can carry bags of moderately heavy stuff, horse around with kids, attempt to teach a class, tell the story of how I found myself (with accompanying powerpoint) to a few thousand people and not much else.

Some might say that that’s enough. That as long as I go to X country with an open mind and a good heart I’ll leave at least one child so uplifted and emboldened by my short stay that they will, for years, think of me every morning.

I don’t want a little girl in Ghana, or Sri Lanka, or Indonesia to think of me when she wakes up each morning. I don’t want her to thank me for her education or medical care or new clothes. Even if I am providing the funds to get the ball rolling, I want her to think about her teacher, community leader, or mother. I want her to have a hero who she can relate to — who looks like her, is part of her culture, speaks her language, and who she might bump into on the way to school one morning.

After my first trip to the Dominican Republic, I pledged to myself that we would, one day, have a camp run and executed by Dominicans. Now, about seven years later, the camp director, program leaders and all but a handful of counselors are Dominican. Each year we bring in a few Peace Corps Volunteers and highly-skilled volunteers from the USA who add value to our program, but they are not the ones in charge. I think we’re finally doing aid right, and I’m not there.

Before you sign up for a volunteer trip anywhere in the world this summer, consider whether you possess the skill set necessary for that trip to be successful. If yes, awesome. If not, it might be a good idea to reconsider your trip. Sadly, taking part in international aid where you aren’t particularly helpful is not benign. It’s detrimental. It slows down positive growth and perpetuates the “white savior” complex that, for hundreds of years, has haunted both the countries we are trying to ‘save’ and our (more recently) own psyches. Be smart about traveling and strive to be informed and culturally aware. It’s only through an understanding of the problems communities are facing, and the continued development of skills within that community, that long-term solutions will be created.

Originally published on pippabiddle.com

The Four Cutest Ways to Photograph Yourself Hugging Third-World Children

Ed. note: if you haven’t read this yet, you need to. Thanks for the messages about this!

image

So, you’re going abroad to an underdeveloped country. Good for you! Everyone is already impressed with your bravery and selflessness, but it’s important to make sure your help and goodwill have the most lasting effects – on social media! If Oprah and Angelina have taught us anything, it’s that giving solely for the sake of giving is a missed photo op and a waste of everyone’s time. The following photo tips may not give your host family easier access to clean drinking water, or provide them protection against parasitic worms and merciless warlords, but they will ensure that everyone you know sees that you are basically a living saint.
 

1. Cradling the child to your bosom.

The classic shot. Instantly invokes images of the Blessed Virgin Mary and that sad dust bowl mom. For added poignancy, stare off into the distance. Suggested caption: Any lyric from “The Greatest Love of All” by Whitney Houston.
 

2. While playing sports with all of the village children.

Women playing sports is already adorable, so this one is a no-brainer. Add a dusty, remote shanty town as a backdrop, and you’re golden. Suggested caption: “Who needs a personal trainer when you have these little cuties to kick your butt? Just kidding, Todd, I’ll be back in a few weeks, get those kettlebells ready!”
 

3. While wearing traditional native garb.

Really emphasize your newfound reverence for this developing country’s unique culture by incorporating it into your look. Be careful about camera angles though; dashikis do NOT cinch at the waist! Suggested caption: “I let my little host sister give me a makeover, and this is the most naturally beautiful I’ve ever felt in my life!”
 

4. The Family Portrait.

This quintessential shot of you and your host family (with you crouched down with their children, obviously) will show everyone how fully accepted, appreciated, and adored you are by the very people you came to help. Suggested caption: “They ended up teaching me more than I could ever teach them.” Or any lyric from Wicked’s “For Good.”
 
The most important thing to remember about your trip is that one person can’t really make a difference in the world, but she CAN look beautiful and benevolent while trying. You will forever cherish the posts you made on your timeline, so invest in a nice camera and get posting for all your family, friends, and vague acquaintances to see! After all, if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does its Klout score go up? And if NPR never sends you your tote bag, was it even worth it to donate?

Source: Reductress

http://bit.ly/1f3ux60

For years, companies have been making millions off the Maasai name. Now the tribe wants its cut

"…estimates six companies have each made more than $100 million in annual sales during the last decade using the Maasai name. In 2003, Jaguar Land Rover sold limited-edition versions of its Freelander called Maasai and Maasai Mara. Louis Vuitton’s (MC:FP) 2012 spring-summer men’s collection included scarves and shirts inspired by the Maasai shuka. The shoe company Masai Barefoot Technology (MBT) says on its website that the distinctive curved soles of its sneakers were inspired by “the wonderfully agile Masai [sic] people walking barefoot.” Bedding by Calvin Klein (PVH), shirts and trousers by Ralph Lauren (RL), and cushions by Diane von Furstenberg have all been sold using the tribe’s name. “Most of the value of the Maasai brand is not in the handicrafts the tribe produces,” Layton says. “It’s in the cultural value of an iconic brand.”