U.S. Air Force under Creative Commons license
I despise seeing posts on social media from the privileged rich teens of Peachtree City hugging Latinx or African children in third world countries, along with a caption saying that they are “so blessed” to have had the opportunity to change these poor children’s lives.
People from this small, wealthy, Christian town do not realize that these mission trips are not as helpful in the long run as they are made out to be. In fact, they can even be the opposite.
How many times have you heard someone that went on a mission trip talk about how that trip made them open their eyes and see how awful those poor children have it living in places so sad and unfortunate? How often have you heard them talk about how thankful they are that they would never be in a situation so awful?
Mission trips should not be an “eye-opening experience” that makes one recognize his own wealth and privilege. Promoting this type of behavior will only continue to add on to the “white savior” complex.
White saviors are white people, typically westerners, that go on mission trips or personal travels to third world countries and “help out” non-white communities in a way to make themselves look good. This attitude develops within nearly every privileged white person that goes over to “help” in these countries, even if unintentionally.
They end up belittling and disempowering the members of these communities because they are seen as the rich, white, and powerful westerner that selflessly gives to the poor, developing, and “dependent” people of color. This white savior complex only contributes to a terrible cycle of dependency that will only lead to further problems in these communities.
Their ways of giving aid to these places often do not truly help and instead are seen as “self-serving.” Many volunteers just come back praising themselves, talking about how much they made a difference and how much they helped destitute children through their “god-like” and “selfless” actions.
It is not right for these volunteers to be boasting this way because it distracts people from working for the true betterment of the communities. Hearing these type of comments really shows that the person was only doing it as a résumé-filler or as a way to make them feel better about themselves.
They should be looking at exactly what change they provided to that community. If someone wants to provide an actual beneficial change to these communities, then check out the websites International Travelers and The Doctor’s Channel. These sites have exceptional alternatives that have a much higher chance of leaving these communities with a lasting, positive change instead of a short-term and nearly meaningless one. What will actually help is providing these children and communities with advanced medical treatment and sustainable homes rather than giving them some plastic bead necklaces and a bible.
Think about the people you know. Did they just go over there, hug a few black or brown orphans, give them some handmade friendship bracelets, sing happy little Christian songs, build a few wooden churches, and then leave? Is that really the lasting, effective change that these third world countries desperately need?
Instead of giggling with children of third world countries behind a funny Snapchat filter and reading them a few bible verses, these people should be focusing on making real, valuable change in their lives. If you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to help struggling communities, you should at least do it in a long-term influential way.
One of the best ways to do so is by making sure that the organization you are going with is respected in that community and has its best intentions at heart. These war-torn, criminalized, or starving places need these issues to be substantively worked on, not to be shown as a prop on an Instagram post.