A new video produced by the Norwegian Students and Academics’ International Assistance Fund (SAIH), went viral last week with its cheeky parody on Western misperceptions of Africa, “voluntourism” and international development.
The video, made with funding from The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation is humorous and intentionally provocative, which is undoubtedly the reason it’s being shared.
The video takes the form of reality TV, a hybrid of Survivor and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? with a stereotypical Western blonde girl competing for the chance to “Save Africa.” Her challenge to feed, educate, and promote Africa involves slinging food at unsuspecting citizens while running through the streets of a village and taking selfies with small African children.
The final scene takes on a Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? look and feel, where the Western woman is asked how many countries there are in Africa and she says “one.” The game show host then congratulates her and says she gets to be a volunteer and go “Save Africa.” Finally a card comes up, reading “Stereotypes Harm Dignity.”
We get it. As Westerners, we are guilty of getting caught up in the idea of helping African children with problems we don’t truly understand. And this “help,” while well intentioned can be insulting, both to the people receiving the “help” and to the complexity of the issues themselves.
The problem with this campaign is that while the intention is good, the message and approach feels overly simplistic. It suggests in one damning shot that all Western “volontourism” is narcissistic and misguided, playing right into the stereotype it is trying to challenge.
And how is stereotyping Western ignorance adding to the conversation of cross cultural exchange, volunteerism and development? I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with the message. The final super of the video tells me to “Challenge Perceptions.” But based on what information? And how am I to do this?
I could argue that the woman in the video who thinks Africa is simply one country is precisely the kind of person that should go to Africa. Isn’t the best way to conquer stereotypes to actually have a cross-cultural exchange with the people you do not understand? And if “voluntourism” shouldn’t be part of the solution to deepen people’s understanding then how should people channel a desire to make a difference in parts of the world that do deserve our attention?
Key Take Away
Poking fun at stereotypes can be an effective way to engage people in your cause and motivate them to take action. But in doing so, you need to make sure you have both the information to deepen your audience’s understanding and compelling actions to help guide towards a good solution. Failing on both fronts only serves to reinforce the stereotypes you wish to overcome.