Global Health

Global Health

Many of us have seen the common instagram post of someone holding an African child in their arms, informing the world of their service trip to a developing nation. While these pictures don’t directly harm anyone, they can affect others perceptions of what a service trip/volunteering is. By framing these trips as a fun expedition to another land rather than a precise and calculated usage of time, knowledge, and resources,  social media and advertising companies can make service trips highly appealing to those who can afford them, creating an influx of individuals who have the resources to pay a costly airfare and program cost, but who often lack any real world skills or knowledge that the receiving nation so desperately needs. Because of the commonality of such individuals, receiving nations may have altered perceptions of volunteers, and be less open to  accepting help from individuals with actual expertise.

My question to you all: How can volunteers account for the pre-existing (and rather apparent)  power/class imbalance present between a volunteer and who they are aiding? In other words, volunteers often come from high SES and privilege, but they often interact with those of a much much lower SES and privilege. How can someone communicate with who they are aiding in a way that displays empathy and understanding when they have never really faced a similar situation?

16 thoughts on “Global Health

  1. I believe that the most important thing is to treat the individuals you are helping as people. People deserving of dignity, respect, and honor. Once you see them as people and not as “underprivileged others,” you are able to unlock a whole new perspective. It does not matter whether you are from a high SES or a low SES, I believe that everyone can be impacted by their experience and feel empathetic once you are able to step into the shoes of the individuals around you. Many times, these trips are more impactful towards the volunteers than those who are being serviced. One you have this mindset, you will being to see the change in you.

  2. In my opinion I don’t believe that someone can display understanding when they have not encountered a situation in which the individuals they are aiding for. I do feel like they can show empathy and treat them as the humans they are, nothing less. Just because they are in a situation where they may not be financially stable doesn’t mean they don’t deserve that right. Knowing how to show and give that empathy is important. Taking pictures with them and putting them on social media to show people that you are doing a “good” dead is not the way to go. Looking at those pictures makes it seem like it is being done for all the wrong reasons. That may not be the intention, but it comes off as such. We would never fully understand what they are going through unless we have gone through it. It is okay if we have not experienced that type of situation, but we must act as though we haven’t because being real/honest would be more respected than acting like we do understand their pain.

  3. In my opinion, it will be very hard for someone to display understanding for a situation they have never faces. It may even be impossible! I say this because they may try fit into that structure, but there will always be something missing, there will always be that grey area that cannot be filled because they do not have the full understanding and have not experienced that situation. This mindset do not just apply to the global health field, it can be applied to multiple things in general. One can not just gain personal knowledge for for a situation they have not personally been in themselves.

  4. I agree with you all, that it is true that volunteers of a higher SES background will not be able to completely understand what it is like to be in the position of the people they are helping. I think they can still act with empathy and treat those in a lower SES position like real people, who are so much more than this one identity. Also, I think it is important to truly listen to those you are helping and make an attempt to learn about the challenges they face.
    When it comes to social media, I think it is important to post for the right reasons and depict those in the community you are helping as people. All to often, it seems like the people who are volunteered for are used to make the volunteer look good. I think a better way to use social media would be to spread awareness for the issue and empower the people you are helping.

  5. I feel that learning to be empathetic for someone whose circumstances you’ll never get to experience is a very difficult task. If one never had to worry about getting food on the plate or finding treatment for a certain disease then how can one know what it’s like? My suggestion would be for the person to undergo things such as fasting or not being able to use technology for a day, etc. This way people would get an idea of how it is like to be a person in these areas. That’s probably the best thing they could do.

  6. To give you a direct answer, there is no type of simulation or practice that can get you to understand what it is like to live in the situation that an African child could be living. In my eyes going to the country and volunteering is the way to understand what they’re lifestyle is like. When people double-tap a picture on instagram because someone is holding a young African child in their arms is not painting the “wrong” message. The fact that someone would want to go their and volunteer would be to learn about their culture and struggles so they can figure out the most optimal way to help once they arrived. In terms of being empathetic, being there for someone and living through there struggle with them for a month or so is a good way to empathize.

  7. Like Di stated in her post above, the most important thing to do when volunteering is to treat those you are working with as your equals. This was one of the largest takeaways I had from the Alternative Spring Break Trip I went on this spring. When out group arrived at the camp we went to volunteer at, it was stressed that we are not to act as saviors who are above those we would be working with. This is a strong statement. Even though volunteers and the services they can provide can be immensely helpful, it is crucial for those volunteers to remember to treat everyone with respect. The volunteers need to remember where they come from, and how people from different places around the world and of different cultures may perceive their actions.

  8. I agree with the previous comments. I don’t feel that there is a way for volunteers to truly understand when they have not had the experience themselves. I think that it is important for volunteers to be empathetic to the experiences of the people they are aiding. A huge part of volunteering internationally, or anywhere, is learning about the community in which they are aiding. They learning about the community to have a better understanding of what’s going on in the community, and how they can contribute to the community. In lecture, she talked about when she was trying to encourage after school programs for the kids in Africa, her plan was immediately rejected. The community was not safe after 4 or 5 pm, so the school had to make sure the kids were no longer in the area. Although she had great intentions for the children at the school, the unfortunate circumstances in the community would not allow for her plan to put in place. There was really no way she could have prepared for that; it was situation when she had to learn from the people, or community, she was aiding. There are other things that volunteers could look into before going to the location they are aiding, but other things can be learned from the people.

  9. I think that honest communication between the person from a higher SES and the person with the lower SES will be beneficial to everyone involved. I also think that it will be helpful for both parties to understand that they both come from different backgrounds and, as a result, will have different understandings of the world. The person with a higher SES will most likely benefit from asking the other person questions to fully understand their purpose of being there. This will also probably help with the higher SES person with understanding what they can do to make the biggest difference while they are in this different country.

  10. I think that people often support in monetary ways, but if they are moved to get involved, it is not always just for self-gratification, but often to learn the charity they are supporting.  If you don’t allow people to get involved, the resource might take their funds elsewhere.  I think the charity needs to be more selective in the type of help they are asking for.  Organizations that are getting volunteers might require some training of the volunteers which would include their ability to be sensitive to the situation and imbalance. Volunteers also need to treat the community they are serving in and the people in it with respect.  This can range from not wasting resources like eating all the food on their plate to working hard on providing help.  If the volunteer candidate cannot understand this, then the charity will need to have someone from their team to step in and reassign the volunteer to some other way of helping the charity.

  11. I too agree that empathy for those from a lower SES status is necessary in carrying out meaningful work in lesser developed countries to address the inherent power imbalance. Ultimately, for all volunteers, the main focus should be on helping the people there first of all. And these volunteers should have some form of training or qualification, or at least be able to provide a lasting change that continues after they leave. By running a temporary building service trip, one runs the risk of putting local workers out of service, and increasing reliance on the volunteers.

  12. I agree that there should be more selectivity in determining who can volunteer abroad for these charity organizations. If a high SES individual volunteers to do work abroad in lower SES communities, they should either prove that they have experience and skills in dealing with these types of communities or they should be trained by the charity organization. I think that more emphasis should be placed on the volunteer’s reason for volunteering and what kind of passion for the work he or she displays. Additionally, it should be expressed that empathy and sensitivity for low SES communities are a major emphasis.

  13. I definitely agree that there’s a huge disparity between the volunteers and the people and community that they are helping. I believe that the best way to combat a shallow motive for volunteering is to be very thorough in the selection process; many people want to go on these trips, and it’s very important to choose people who view it as a way of helping and giving back, rather than a sort of glorified vacation. On top of that, the volunteers chosen should receive training on how to provide sustainable help and be culturally sensitive. A widespread problem seems to be that volunteers go to foreign countries and try to impose their own values and opinions on the community, rather than making the effort to get to know the way of thinking in that community.

  14. I think the best way to treat those who are receiving aid from whatever organization or volunteers that are offering it is by treating them with respect that every human deserves. We are all human beings and the only difference that these low SES individuals have is that they live in an environment where it is hard for them to obtain proper medical treatment. If someone wants to come and help them, they should come in with a spirit of kindness and respect and should not approach the situation with a top-down approach. Rather, they should approach it as a bottom-up by understanding the community that they providing their help for and making sure that they are not causing more harm and good.

  15. I feel that there will always be differences between people of higher and lower SES. Just because there are differences this does not mean that people have to be treated differently. It may be hard to interact with and understand the struggles of people who are not like you but in a simple way of saying it “practice makes perfect.” If people just continuously work with those who are of different or lower SES than them, it will become easier for them to understand and communicate with them. It is all about having patience, being caring and loving because everyone in the world may not be as lucky as the other. This does not mean that others should be treated differently, it will just take more work and time to understand those who are of a different class.

  16. One thing that surprised me was that even though she tried to get as much information and research as possible, she was still in a way not prepared. She was not prepared for reality, outside of her research. I think it is important for volunteers and workers to have a certain sympathy as well as empathy for those in the community there are going into. I think they have to learn the community and learn about the people, but I also feel that they have to get out and experience to fully understand what is going on. Piece of paper and research will only tell you so much about a community, the rest comes from person experience. They also come with the utmost respect and keep it. The unexpected may happen during their journey, but they still must remain respectful and open to learning new things. Lastly, the volunteer(s) charity must not be about what they can receive and learn for themselves; but more so about how they can help the community and the people in it. With this in mind it will help things go a lot smoother.

Leave a Reply