Recently, I came across an article about volunteer tourism, The Problem with Volunteer Tourism, and thought I would share my thoughts in a series of posts. First, a video to watch and reflect on (I have posted before, but it’s worth doing it again).

The description from the TED talk: “Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice — and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.”

She says,

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
“If I had not grown up in Nigeria, and if all I knew about Africa were from popular images, I too would think that Africa was a place of beautiful landscapes, beautiful animals and incomprehensible people, fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty and AIDS, unable to speak for themselves and waiting to be saved by a kind, white foreigner.”

Good intentions of those who want to “help” are not enough because they perpetuate the single story. It robs people of their dignity, she says. It is important then, to hear more stories that help us see the Other.

What if my roommate knew about the female lawyer who recently went to court in Nigeria to challenge a ridiculous law that required women to get their husband’s consent before renewing their passports? What if my roommate knew about Nollywood, full of innovative people making films despite great technical odds, films so popular that they really are the best example of Nigerians consuming what they produce? What if my roommate knew about my wonderfully ambitious hair braider, who has just started her own business selling hair extensions? Or about the millions of other Nigerians who start businesses and sometimes fail, but continue to nurse ambition?

Please watch the whole video:

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One thought on “On Volunteer Tourism, Part I: The Danger of a Single Story

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