African Children are not Photo Props
Before I launched Lil Ms. Awkward, I wrote anecdotes on my experience abroad. This is a post I wrote in 2017 while interning in Windhoek, Namibia.
Day 11: African Children are Not Photo Props
This post is going to be a bit shorter. Last week, a group of us went on a tour of the Katataru region of Windhoek. Our guesthouse is actually located in this same region, so it was both pertinent and important that we went on this tour. We had the opportunity to visit Wanadaheda, a place where all tribes are situated. Hence, its name Wa (Ovamba), Na (Nama), Da (Damara), and He (Hererero). Namibian culture is absolutely beautiful. Despite oppressive factors like apartheid, people in the Katutara region have overcome by making something out of nothing.
Okay, now that I’ve explained that let’s set the scene. In addition to my fellow OYO interns, there is a group of German girls; as well as a large group from a university in Wales. On our trip, we had the opportunity to visit a small primary school in Katutura. There, we were introduced to a lovely headmaster who, with the help of her family, provides education and food for over 300 hundred students. One of her daughters is the school’s nursery teacher. She told us that she has around 50 babies that she takes care of during the week. It was an extremely enlightening experience. The kids were currently learning about different types of bread. They’re all taught both Afrikaans and English languages. Each class is over 100 kids. Seeing the dedication and the commitment in these teachers’ eyes was incredible.
You get the picture. It was a surreal experience that most of us took in. Other people had a separate agenda. First, I’d like to say that I am not shaming these people for doing this as I don’t believe most of them knew the problematic nature of what they were doing. Yet, I will also not attempt to apologize for their behavior. The group of UK students stepped out of the van and proceeded to pick up children left and right. They didn’t ask questions, they just decided to proceed. Now mind you, these kids were absolutely adorable. And I will admit it was cute at first. The kids naturally drew towards them. They played patty cake and pretended they were airplanes. Then the phones came out, and an eerie feeling in the pit of my stomach began to arise. “Picture?” they began to ask the kids. It was like watching a photo shoot set up. They found the best lighting and placed the kids in the best poses while plastering fake smiles across their faces in the attempt to garner more likes. One of the girls was adamant in saying “One of the little boys just couldn’t stop taking photos, he absolutely loved it.” I’d disagree.
My group was shocked and overwhelmed. The whole ordeal seemed out of touch and disrespectful, which is why I felt the need to write this post. African children are not photo props! They are human beings. They have lives. They are not there to make you feel good. If you visit a school or an orphanage, your first thought should not be, “Wow those kids make me feel so blessed that I have this and that...” Mindsets like these are the root of the problem. Your first reaction shouldn't be to ask these kids for a selfie. The better reaction is to listen and learn. Because the purpose of your photo is not for awareness, it's to make you feel like a savior.
And sorry to break it to you- you're no savior.
I was obviously very upset when I created this post in 2017. Moments like this remind to continue to educate myself and keep in the know. I highly suggest reading this article on the dangers of short term volunteer work in underdeveloped countries: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/opinion-sullivan-volunteering-abroad_n_5a7de894e4b044b3821d1627 .