How to engage in Sustainable Service
Earn Skills and gain knowledge on how To serve ethically.
What is white saviorism?
The term “white savior” is extremely complex and intricate in its meanings, uses, and connotations. This module will walk you through the history, common uses, and criticisms against service on the basis of the white savior complex.
Completing this Module will help you:
Teju Cole, a writer, coined the term “White Savior Complex” after the Kony 2012 documentary was released as we comprised a series of seven tweets and an article for The Atlantic on the term. The White Savior Complex in Cole’s concept refers to the effects a western (often white) person who prioritizes an internal “big emotional experience” by doing small insufficient ignorant acts of charity or activism like “systematic oppression and corruption” that are too prevalent in many nations around the world and often created or instigated by the United States.
While Cole’s definition of the complex is largely focused systemically on the idea of white vs black and western vs African, he does acknowledge this “big emotional experience” is often achieved through small unknowledgeable acts of charity. When Americans try to fix issues that are systemically larger than anything their small act can change without the proper knowledge of the issue and without the understanding of what needs to be done to change it can often cause more harm than good.
One of the major criticism for international service is the white savior complex and the potential adverse effects that unskilled volunteers can put on a developing community. While there are many forms of international service as it pertains to the white savior complex, Bandyopadhyay makes the argument that whether the experience be for service, for religious awareness, or for modernity, they all utilize their postcolonialism and whiteness to create a power dynamic.
Another criticism is that people volunteer for the wrong reasons, and that the focus is always on the volunteer without consideration of the communities they are trying to help, and that the money they raise to go on these trips would better be spent by paying local workers to do the jobs. This then pushes the white savior agenda by into the “colonialist-like attitudes that Western volunteers are the only ones who can “save” the communities.” This common stereotype often leaves a negative impact on the community, even with the best of intentions.
Why is it important to be aware of this?
Being aware of the complex and the potential repercussions is extremely important for all humanitarians. One of the ways that this complex and the harmful potential effects can be avoided is through education on and about the topic as well as sustainable service.
Completing this Module will help you:
If service is done without proper intentions, preparation, or education it can lead to the detriment of the communities these volunteers are trying to help. This can come forward when improper education is taught to the community on things like health, for example. These communities do not know if what you are teaching them is right or wrong, nor do they necessarily understand the effects that your country has on their country or their life.
Most volunteers wanting to do service have good intentions. That does not mean the impact that they make is always positive. This is important to note and be aware of when doing service.
While there is no one perfect answer to combat the white savior complex because it involves much larger systemic issues than just international service, we know that ensuring volunteers are properly educated and that there is consistent work being put in to make service models more sustainable as new information is taught.
We mentioned that the term goes deeper than just international service. It can include local service too. You do not have to go all the way to Africa to be at the detriment of the white savior complex. This can occur when there is a power dynamic.
how can i engage in ethical service?
While you are completing these modules, you might be asking, “Is there a way to serve that is not a detriment, or playing into the white savior complex? Yes there is. By ensuring that you are educated on the topic, and that the organizations you are volunteering with have the proper measures in place.
Completing this module will help you:
It is extremely important to reflect on your intentions with serving. This could be asking questions like:
“Why do I want to serve?”
“Who am I currently serving, and why am I doing service with them?”
While serving, and continuing to serve, you should always be reflecting on what you are doing and how your service is effecting the population. You should be asking questions like:
“How are the people I am service receiving this service?”
“Why are these people in this position, and how can I be more sensitive to that?”
“Are there ways for me to make more changes for this population on a larger systemic level?”
When working with different organizations to serve, it is important to make sure those organizations have good intentions, and proper models in place to serve sustainably and ethically. It never hurts to ask those organizations questions and make them think about the work they are doing through a different lense.
How does youthlinc prepare ethical service opportunities?
Youthlinc’s partnership model is a defining factor in its sustainable service efforts. The intent of Youthlinc and the service year is to engage as many people in service as possible. While doing so, many volunteers will progress down a path of learning what it means to be a lifetime humanitarian and what an impact they can make. Many other non-profits rely on volunteers to achieve their missions. Without any volunteers, these populations would not be able to receive the aid needed. While this is often a common criticism in favor of the white savior complex, it is also a complicated reality. Service is important in our world and most people go into service with well intentions, it is our job as service organizations to educate volunteers on the proper avenues and outcomes of service.
Completing this course will help you:
Youthlinc partners with local NGO’s and Rotary clubs in-country to ensure our work will benefit the overall community in a positive way.
Before Youthlinc sends a team to a country, we send a staff member to conduct an initial evaluation to ensure safety and and a positive, mutually beneficial partnership.
Each year, Youthlinc evaluates the current relationship with the village and In-Country Coordinator to ensure a positive partnership.
IN-COUNTRY COORDINATOR AND VILLAGE
Youthlinc relies on In-Country Coordinators and village leaders to identify the projects and educational lessons that would be most helpful. They are the experts in their field and in their area. We rely on their expertise to best support their on-going projects to ensure all projects are managed correctly.
Youthinc works to make sure all projects are focused on teaching village members information and skills necessary to positively impact their quality of life, overseen by professionals in their fields, including doctors, nurses, business professionals, and teachers, etc.
WORK ALONGSIDE THE VILLAGERS
Youthlinc participants work alongside villagers to complete all projects so they invest their own time and labor. Youthlinc fully funds all projects to be completed by local professional labor or other experts and our volunteers help as is appropriate to the task.
Youthinc works to make sure all projects are focused on teaching village members village members how to complete these projects successfully on their own.
LEARN AND BE SENSITIVE TO CULTURAL DIFFERENCES
Youthlinc teaches participants to learn and value from different cultures. The teams will also be prepped to be culturally sensitive to differences before traveling abroad. We also go with the attitude of reciprocal learning. We know that we will gain as much value of the interactions we have as we are offering in return as guests in their communities.
BRINGING DONATIONS VS BUYING IN-COUNTRY
Youthlinc works to support the local economy by buying supplies and materials in-country, rather than bringing our own materials whenever possible. Chances are if the item isn’t available to purchase locally then it is not a sustainable choice.
Youthlinc pushes participants to consistently reflect on the service they are doing by asking many questions on who and how they are serving.
Youthlinc has monthly team meetings for participants to collaborate, learn from In country coordinators, and leadership on what projects they should learn about and help teach in-country.
At these meetings, they will also complete reflections, and cultural awareness lessons to be prepared while in-country.