1. This is a lovely and refreshing post, Alice. Thank you for your honesty and humility. As someone who has spent her career researching the cultural and socioeconomic imbalances of global development, I am admittedly ambivalent about encouraging a new generation of wide-eyed youth to travel to the Global South in order to “change the world.” In my

    Your post is one of the first I’ve seen on this site that I think really gets it right. I appreciate that you can be self-deprecating about the fact that you feel “changed” by your brief trip to Haiti – I don’t at all doubt that it was an extremely influential experience for you personally, but I also appreciate that you seem to understand that Haiti gave something to YOU, rather than the other way around. I also appreciate that you didn’t feel compelled to take pictures of yourself with “impoverished Haitian children” in order to show friends back home (or, god forbid, on Facebook) what a good Samaritan you’d been. In my opinion, if your first trip to a developing country leaves you with the sense that you’ve done nothing of lasting significance for the people you met, you’re probably right– and that’s the most mature, honest, self-aware perspective you could have about your trip.

    The end of your piece was what really moved me to comment here: ““Don’t come to Haiti to paint a wall. There are unemployed Haitians who can do that. Come with something unique to offer.” In the age of the commercialized mission trip where you can “book” a sexy volunteer week, that’s radical… We left Haiti without a project to show for our time because right then the unique thing we had to offer was open learning.” I couldn’t agree with you more. So many American group trips dedicated to “service learning” are really just about painting walls, and giving young people the erroneous and harmful impression that they have actually made a meaningful difference — while actually reinforcing old colonial dynamics of white privilege and impeding the growth of sustainable local institutions.

    On the other hand, you’re also right that there’s no shame in “open learning.” What can privileged Westerners teens or twentysomethings truly offer to a place like Haiti in a period of a month or less? Very little, I think. Those of us who seek to make a real difference in reducing global gender inequality or health disparities or anything else need to commit ourselves to learning much, MUCH more — in the classroom and in the “real world” — before we start planning programs or proposing interventions to improve the lives of people we hardly know. To promote ethically-justifiable change in another country, especially as young and relatively inexperienced people, I believe we need to deeply understand the local historical context (esp. vis-a-vis white Western presence), native cultural practices and beliefs, governmental functioning and the state of public institutions, gender norms, economic status, and realities of daily life for average people. That challenge alone can be a lifelong task. However, I believe you are well on your way to doing it, Alice, and I applaud you for having the courage to say that your main takeaway from this experience is to THINK HARDER.

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