Op-Ed: Reaction to "Africa doesn't need a saviour, America needs a saviour"
“Africa doesn’t need a saviour, America needs a saviour”.
It’s a powerful message, and it’s probably not a sentiment any of us have heard, but it’s exactly the thought that Boniface Mwangi , a Kenyan activist shared with US students and that was broadcast in the New York Times.
His message is simple: before you try to solve problems in Africa, solve problems at home first. It’s a sensible message, and it’s one that I find hard to disagree with. Why don’t we start looking to solve the problems in our own country before flying thousands of miles around the globe?
Take the example of the first young girl to speak in this video: a school girl who claims that she wants to help advocate for women’s rights in India or the Middle East, places that she believe deserve the most attention. But Mwangi’s response is even better as he tells her to solve women’s rights problems in America first. It’s not an arrogant man saying that African’s don’t need help, no one is denying that there are problems there, but he suggests that people are more receptive to help when the person helping them is similar to them, and someone who is going to be there for more than a few short weeks. World problems can’t be solved in a matter of weeks or we would have done it by now. Whilst it’s admirable that young people want to go and help others, surely we should be suggesting that they start at home, somewhere they can build long term links, and not just volunteer for a short-term period.
Approximately one million Americans volunteer abroad every year, a phenomenon that he suggests help the volunteers more than those in need of help. When speaking with students from Duke University, we hear conversations centred around the “faux sense of heroism” felt by volunteers, and a “sense of glorification” in volunteering abroad, a phenomenon that one student says isn’t replicated when people volunteer at home. It’s easy to say that this feeling isn’t fair, and isn’t right, but it’s harder to change our perceptions. Take issues like race and gender pay gaps: these aren’t just problems experienced in different cultures; these are problems that we experience in the UK and the US, as well as the rest of the developed world. These are the problems we should start with: let’s fix ourselves before we feel like we can fix the rest of the world.
Start local, then go international, and let’s change the perception of volunteering at home. Just because you didn’t get on a plane and didn’t take a gap year to do, doesn’t mean that it wasn’t an incredible thing to do. He says that as an African American man he has to prove himself every day: let’s change that.
Lauren is a soon-to-be London lawyer and a current Masters student studying in Rennes, France for a Masters in French law (specializing in European Union Law). She’s a blogger (www.thelifestylediaries.com) and has worked for Her Campus Media as President of the University of Exeter chapter and the Manager of UK Expansion in the past. When she’s not working she loves reading, watching old films, walking with her dog in the English countryside and enjoying all that London has to offer. An avid traveler, and someone who wants to experience as many cultures as she can, Lauren visited Sri Lanka last year and is looking to visit Bali, Italy and Canada this year
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