I recently came back from a volunteering period in Guinea-Bissau and I’d like to create a discussion area with all of you, in order to share my impression and opinions, but most important to know yours.
At the last alumni Unite and talking with some of you I could see a spread out interest in topic such as volunteering and, more in general, sustainable development as an equal development. I can mention Silvia Francioso, Niccolò Tommasini, Robin Merl, Mariana Marçal and Hamish Lee just from my batch and I am sure there are so many others that can actively and positively enrich the conversation, especially people belonging to realities different from Europe.
What I care the most about this exchange is to reach together a good level of mindfulness on what we can do to help out at best.
My main activity was pedagogic manager and high school teacher in math and physics and one of the impressions I had is that to volunteer is not as straightforward as we can think, since there is a non-negligible risk to do more harm than good. The first difficulty is that, unavoidably, Europeans think like Europeans: all of us have common mental schemes which reflect the environment we were born and raised in. Outside Europe (and especially in Africa in my opinion), some of those schemes have no reason to exist. The danger is then to think you are in Europe when you are not. In more than one example volunteers and associations harmed more than they helped and no matter how keen your analysis is but a native will almost always know his land better than you do; so in my opinion it is fundamental to work with them rather than for them.
An even worse mistake is to not only remain fossilized in your mentality, but to think yours is better than theirs: this attitude led, at least in Guinea-Bissau, to actual neo-colonialist behaviors.
Europe influences Africa also passively: with Internet and television it is easier for them to look up to us that they see like the paradise and they want to fill the gap as soon as possible, with the risk to loose what they already have.
I like to think there is more than one path to choose for developing and a healthy way to help is to find together their own path. What do you think? What opinion did your experience give you? These were some inputs to discuss about, but you can give others and if the feedback is good we could also open a group for talking about more pragmatic projects.