“The heart is capable of sacrifice…

The month of February is a wonderful month in my world. This is my 8th year of being involved in the international VDay movement. My involvement over those years has gone from online activism and raising awareness to last year being part of the organisation of Arusha’s first VDay event. This year, I was production manager for our production of The Vagina Monologues and I could not be more proud of what this movement stands for.

The Vagina Monologues is an incredible play that tackles some of the most difficult and controversial topics. It’s funny, heartbreaking, confrontational, educational and empowering. As a cast, we laughed together, we cried together and we fell head over heels in love with each other through this movement.

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One of my favourite parts of this process is the bonds that are made and solidified throughout it. I love the conversations that happen as a result of this movement, the friends that stand beside you and support you, and the incredible new people you meet along the way.

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I’m always amazed by the generosity of people – and not just financial generosity. People are generous with their time – my entire cast and crew were volunteers who gave up nights and weekends to make this event happen. People are generous with their ideas and their expertise – all I had to do was ask and help was swiftly on the way. People are generous with their conversation – discussing the issues raised and understanding the reasons for my involvement and how much I care.

And people are generous with their hearts. The love I felt from my friends here and the support and love that came my way from the people I know care about me, my community, was incredible.

It is incredible.

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I could write for days about this movement but for now I will stay thankful for this continually amazing experience and my beautiful community.

“The heart is capable of sacrifice. So is the vagina. The heart is able to forgive and repair. It can change it’s shape to let us in. It can expand to let us out. So can the vagina. It can ache for us and stretch for us, die for us and bleed and bleed us into this difficult, wondrous world. So can the vagina…”

Eve Ensler, The Vagina Monologues

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Where words fail…


I don’t have the words for what I have seen happening in Aleppo. The scenes being broadcast from within the destroyed city have become imprinted on my mind and my heart is broken. 

The desperation of the people, the complete absence of humanity and mercy – it is almost impossible to make any sense of what is happening and I don’t think it ever will be possible. How did we let it come to this? How did blind eyes get turned for so very long? How did we give headline space to Donald Trump, Brexit, the Kardashians over this complete hell unfolding in what was once a thriving and beautiful Middle Eastern country? 

Every piece of news that emerges from Syria is shattering. Every bomb dropping, every mother killed trying to protect her child, every displaced or orphaned child, every starving and terrified family… It is too much. It is too far. 

What can we do from our little corners of the globe, so far and removed from the carnage? Doing nothing is no longer an option. We must stop brushing under the rugs all things that make us uncomfortable. We must erase the notion that out of sight can mean out of mind. 

We are here, together, and we are wasting our precious time killing one another for our differences rather than loving because of them. 

After Rwanda we said never again. After Srebrenica we said never again. After Darfur. I can only hope that after Aleppo we can truly say no more. For we cannot dare say we didn’t know it was happening. 

Words are hollow if not given shape with action, and so we must act. There are numerous charities that are on the front lines of this tragedy and all of whom need our help so desperately. If you are able to, please put your money where your heart is. Open doors. Watch. Research and learn. 

Stand with Aleppo in love. They have not been forgotten.

https://www.unicef.org/emergencies/syria/

https://www.whitehelmets.org/
http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/
http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/about-us/emergencies/syria-appeal

{with thanks and credit to Tyler Knott Gregson} 

On ‘White Saviour Barbie’ and why the conversation matters…

You may have seen the Instagram parody account ‘White Saviour Barbie’ – a  satirical account of a 20-year old service volunteer in Africa, documenting her journey to save children through self-sacrificing selfies. 

The creators of @barbiesaviour have purposefully remained anonymous while maintaining the account, not only to make fun of their own experiences as volunteers in East Africa, but also to be used as a “jumping off point” for real discussion and conversation about the actions and impact of voluntourism. 

Barbie Savior lampoons the “white savior complex,” a term used to describe white Westerners who travel abroad to swoop in and “save” impoverished people of color in developing countries. The account tackles “the attitude that Africa needs to be saved from itself, by Westerners,” which Barbie Saviour’s creators call “such a simplified way to view an entire continent” that “can be traced back to colonialism and slavery”.

While there’s nothing wrong with volunteering where aid is needed, it’s important to critique the context of every situation and acknowledge the history of other regions (colonialism, slavery, White Man’s Burden). Volunteers need to make sure their actions help communities in tangible, responsible ways — and aren’t just driven by a desire to feel good about themselves.

That’s at the heart of what the Barbie Savior account mocks. These volunteers go out of their way to post selfies with kids they don’t know:

They volunteer to do work they aren’t qualified for: 

Although the creators don’t think they were ever quite as bad as @barbiesavior, they have said in interviews that the account came out of their own realisations from their experiences and actions in their years of being ‘White Saviour’ volunteers. 

Having seen and been a part of that very same thing during my experience of ‘voluntourism’ I can definitely not claim innocence! It is easy to see why young volunteers fall into this trap. You start to buy into the illusion that what you do in your 6 to 8 weeks on a project is actully making a difference or a long-term impact. Barbie Savior pushes against that. She’s an amusing way to add to the larger conversation about volunteer culture, and how to more effectively and appropriately deal with those feelings. 

Very rarely do volunteers look at what they are doing and realise that much of their behaviour is self-serving and, in some cases, harmful to the communities in which they are working. I live and work in East Africa as a (fully qualified, experienced) teacher  within a region-wide group of British International Schools. Within the town I live, on a monthly basis, I see groups of volunteers arriving then leaving, working on various short-term projects and behaving in much the same way as the @barbiesavior satirises. 

However, on the flip-side of this is the impact on the communities – and this is where the conversation that @barbiesavior generates is crucial. Are the volunteers actually providing any benefits to the destination countries? More often than not, the answer is unquestionably no.  Rather than benefiting local communities, voluntourism can have negative impacts, as revealed in a number of studies. These range from volunteers taking local jobs to child trafficking, where young children are stolen from their families and placed into ‘orphanages’ to fuel the demand for volunteer placements. These kidnapped children are then subjected to deliberately poor living conditions to elicit higher donations from visiting westerners.  Even within more carefully selected projects, there can be negative impacts – take school and orphanage projects for example. The long-term impact on the children that short-term unqualified volunteers work with can lead to attachment issues, inconsistency in care, and lack of good education due to being taught by unqualified teachers. Children themselves start to believe in the ‘white saviours’ – leading them to believe they are only worth handouts and starting the cycle all over again for another generation. Then there are the building projects, where volunteers come out to build a school, in spite of the fact that they have never set foot on a building site before that trip. Meanwhile, construction workers and local tradesmen within the towns and villages they are working are left without work and pay when they could be doing the work. Often projects build structures that are difficult to maintain in the long-run due to no consideration for availability of resources  or consultation with the local community on the long-term plans for the structure. 

“I spoke to one girl who went to Tanzania to build a school,” says Mark Watson, the Executive Director of Tourism Concern, a charity campaigning on ethical tourism issues. “She told me the volunteers always gossiped about how lazy the locals were because they slept for most of the morning. It was only at the end of the placement that they discovered that every day, after they finished building a wall, the locals had to come and rebuild it again properly. So the whole thing was a completely pointless exercise.”

While volunteering is absolutely not always a bad thing, it is important for people to think about how they could do it in a sustainable way and for people to be held accountable for their actions. Volunteers going overseas should ask themselves the question, ‘would I be allowed to do this work in my own country?’ If the answer is ‘no’, then don’t expect it to be any different elsewhere.  Volunteering abroad can be beneficial to all concerned if it is done right.  A carefully placed, thoroughly screened, well-prepared, skilled volunteer can – and does – have a positive impact. While @barbiesavior is a wonderfully amusing parody –  the discussion and conversation it provides is so very important.  

You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end, each of us must work for our own improvement and, at the same time, share a general responsibility for all humanity, our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful. 

— Marie Curie