On Volunteering in Africa

I did this thing, call it whimsical or rebellious: I volunteered in Africa. Lord knows I fought for it, too. Despite it being his idea, once he realized the costs associated, my father nearly disowned me for how much I took out of savings to get there. I got there in the end, and it was wonderful and beautiful–but I haven’t fully absorbed the trip just yet.

It shouldn’t take a lot of convincing to tell you that the entire concept of volunteering in third world countries is imperialistic.  I went with a wonderful organization that mostly has its organizational stuff together, but that doesn’t change the nature of being there. I know for a fact that we can send a ton of money to Africa, and that won’t help them as much as economic activity will. I also know that the AIDS epidemic will take generations to heal from, even after the virus has been figured out and eradicated. 

And don’t even remind me that I could have sent someone else or something else more useful for the amount of money I spent. Like I said, part of it was rebellion.

But here’s the deal: it was terrible. The work was wonderful. I was teaching at the village’s two schools (primary and secondary) as well as tutoring individuals and essentially my entire homestay. I was working alongside really awesome Zanzibari students and I saw a huge change in the month that I was there. 

However, I developed a lung disorder that has yet to be cleared up. I had to live with literally the bitchiest girl I’ve ever met. Not to mention, nearly half of the trip was in a sorority or fraternity. People got frustrated when they were told the best thing they could do was teach English despite our idea that we were going to teach HIV/AIDS information I was the only white person who helped out in my homestay. Boys never did their laundry. I could go on. Long story short? They were resume building.

They were there to put it on their resume. I’m not going to pretend that I wasn’t planning to do that as well, but it was far from my motive. My motive was an odd mixture of interest in secular (versus missionary) aid work abroad, a deep desire to find out what made people recount Africa with the most amazing, and to get back out in the world. In addition I’d been playing with the thought of teaching, and what better place to practice something than in an overwhelming environment.

But here I am. Most of what I learned about myself is that I don’t handle bitchy roommates well. I also can’t stand when people pretend to know things when they don’t, and I’m damn good at teaching. These are all lessons I probably would’ve gotten by the end of my time at University anyway. 

I’m sure this will come up again, soon.


3 thoughts on “On Volunteering in Africa

  1. Im heading off to Africa for 6 months to volunteer.
    Not sure exactly where as I still have 8 months to decide but i am looking at Sierra Leone or Ghana.
    Will also travel a bit around as this is not my first visit to Africa.
    At least you learnt something about yourself 🙂
    Were you teaching in Zanzibar?

    1. Hey!

      Ghana is much more calm than Sierra Leone, so that’s definitely up to you. I bet you’re going with a smaller group or being placed by yourself? If I ever do it again that’s what I’d go with.
      And yes, travel travel travel. Ethiopian people (and food) are truly amazing. Kenya is beyond gorgeous.
      I was teaching! I was teaching English and math mostly. I taught in preschool and high school, mentored middle school and my homestay had a mixture of all three. The hardest part was probably the fact that the full time teachers at the school vehemently hated us.


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