After each expedition, we send out a Reflection Report to our volunteers asking them to give us feedback on what they learned and how they feel the projects were received on a local level. Megan from Michigan, who just completed an expedition in Uganda, wrote the following in regards to what she learned while in service with GOA:
I learned that I had a very misconstrued perception of what Africa needs. I understand now that the people of Africa are the ones who know what they need for their communities, not “do-gooders” who swoop in and try to do a “good deed” without researching the needs of the people. Something that struck me is that the people who live in poverty do not perceive themselves as being poor until others point it out to them. For them, having no shoes, walking 2 miles to school, and making 2,000 shillings a week is nothing more than the typical way of life. I now understand that in order to absolve poverty, communities must learn to be self-sufficient and self-sustaining. Giving away free handouts does nothing but put a band-aid over the real problem. Through the process of education, those of us who are lucky enough to have the resources can help someone without them change their life while maintaining their dignity. The proverb that comes to mind is “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” Watching our projects take form in Uganda inspired me. I learned from GOA that education is key, and that by spreading awareness, a difference can be made in the world.
Well put, Megan!
Her words really resonate with me, especially the part where she writes of “good deeds.” The concept of being a”do-gooder” is one we teach to all of our volunteers, and is especially one in which we do our best to steer away from. In the world of philanthropy and community development, there’s far too many “do-gooders” wheeling around professing to have the answers, who insist on implementing their own policy and programs that seem to only waste and exploit, and who are ultimately full of good intention but lack a sound model or clear objective to carry out anything of real lasting worth.
As friends of the global village, we must spend a lot more time understanding people and their dreams. We try so hard to help people in this world, but sadly, we often insist on doing things “our way,” which limits local say and ownership. It’s important, we feel, to therefore have locals run the show and come up with homegrown solutions to poverty alleviation and community empowerment. It is indeed the role of locals to understand and carry out programs to benefit their long-term objectives as a community; therefore, our only role is to be partners to make sure they have the resources and support to accomplish their unique objectives.
This is why GOA works to establish chapters or partner affiliates of our organization in each country and area where we work. This allows us to bring the headquarters of any project deep into the village. This promotes local ownership, oversight, homegrown solutions, and is therefore more sustainable than needing to rely on foreign volunteers to be perpetually involved.
Join us as we continue to expand our alliance of global citizens. Join us as we open our hearts and ears to listen and to learn. We need to quit trying to be the saviors of the developing world and instead be better listeners and supporters of local ideas.