I was at a dinner party last week when I was introduced to a friend of a friend who had just got back from having been in Africa for the last two months. I found the stories of his travels fascinating until he mentioned that he had spent some time working at an orphanage in Tanzania. As he continued, now with a growing audience, I found that I was unable to stop the two corners of my mouth from sinking, and my brow furrowing as if to protect my eyes from what he was saying.
I’ve always felt a visceral pang of disapproval whenever anyone has told me that they’ve volunteered in an African orphanage. I feel as though I have a reasonably scientific mind, and therefore visceral pangs of disapproval are the kinds of things that should be investigated and then dragged out into the open.
Although the industry itself does obviously have its problems, I still feel as though it is the volunteer that turns me into what the Victorians would have called ‘a hater’.
They often seem to strike me as people who are less troubled by the plight of orphans and more interested in Africa. There is of course nothing necessarily wrong with this, but I’ll get to that presently.
I feel as though they do their two-week stint, get a few selfies, and then think about how good it’s going to look on their CVs. This cynicism of course reeks of the visceral, but I will say that of all the people I’ve spoken to about working in orphanages, only a very small percentage have expressed any kind of interest in continuing to work with children living under similar circumstances in the UK.
Coming back to the motivations of the volunteers. It seems as though they are wasting good money. Many volunteers pay organizations vast sums of money so that they can personally come, help out, and leave feeling good about themselves.
What’s the problem with that I hear you say? The volunteers are missing the bigger picture. They are in a position where they can solve two problems at once, because the money that they’re willing to donate to the organization could have been used to employ a local resident, but instead they insist on doing the work themselves.
A common grievance shared by volunteers is that they’ve soon found that they are completely unqualified to look after children. We must remember that the most important thing is the child here, which means that the volunteers should be a little more prepared to take a back seat.
Maybe it’s just me though. Normally my feelings of distaste are simply manifestations of my own shortcomings. I often take an initial dislike to my more outgoing friends because they make me reflect on myself, and this could indeed be at the root of my problem. People are out there working for noble causes, and as a result I feel as though I’m somehow carrying on the legacy of Hitler. They inspire guilt in me, and in order to maintain equilibrium I discredit them.