Saturday, January 10, 2015

Why Volunteer for Voluntary Work?

The New York Times reports that an estimated 100 million Americans go overseas to volunteer each year, and African countries are the most popular destinations for these trips.

Mwangi, a Kenyan activist wants to know: “Why?”

“There’s nothing wrong with service, and helping others by going abroad. I think it’s a very noble idea. The question is why are you doing it? Why go abroad when you can stop at the local homeless shelter?” Mwangi says, pointing especially to the experiences of black Americans in their own country. “My concern is that while you guys are out trying to save the word, you’re neglecting what’s going on at home.

One student tells Mwangi she wanted to volunteer abroad as an advocate for women’s rights in India, Africa, and the Middle East.
“So as a woman of color, why would you travel all the way to India to talk about women when you have race issues in your country that affect your people, people who look like you, and young black men? If you speak about it here, they’ll hear you more, because you’re local,” Mwangi says bluntly, before apologizing for putting her on the spot. Mwangi believes that students should spend time volunteering and advocating for change in their own communities before going international. 

One uncomfortable revelation was that it’s likely foreign volunteers in African countries benefit personally more than the communities they are trying to help thanks to the resume - and university application-enhancing powers of such an apparent altruistic endeavour.

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