Footprinter Report #1: Imagining the Future
Its happened before. You spend so much time preparing to go on a journey or work on a project, whether its travelling, university or a new job, that you forget why you wanted to go in the first place. You forget to think about why the idea came to you in the first place. How much of it is just following the expected path? How much of it is genuine curiosity? How much of it is a trend? How much is it for yourself? How much is it for others?
It happened to me when I volunteered abroad in Senegal during my first year of university, it happened to me when I went to Hong Kong to do my exchange year and it happened when I started my first office job. You find yourself in a new place that you have no personal history with, no prior connection and all of a sudden you are there. Each time I got there and thought: why am I here again?
It seems a little crazy doesnt it? When you say it out loud: I am going to South Africa to volunteer on an HIV research and education programme for six months. Just like that. I met a South African who wanted to work with disadvantaged kids in the UK once. Things can flip like that.
It took me a 7 week volunteer trip to Senegal to learn about the colonial, egotistical and profiteering implications of volunteering abroad. Some of us, including myself a few years ago, dont stop to ask why we need to go abroad to volunteer in the first place. I realized once I got there that I wasnt qualified for any of the work that I was doing, other locals could have been doing the job better than myself and that in general then, the trip was benefiting myself more than anyone else even if just in the fact that the cost of the flights could have paid someone local a salary to do the same work I was doing.
When I came back from Senegal, I started volunteering with schools in disadvantaged areas in Glasgow with the thought in mind that offering help to others, going to unfamiliar places and expanding your own and others peoples horizons should be a way of living all the time and everywhere. I started living with a volunteering and travelling perspective wherever I went and it greatly enriched me ever since.
Now, I see things are a little different: The world we live in today is full of people going all over the world anyway, so why not volunteer while youre at it? Why not do good while youre doing well? Volunteering is great as long as the project isnt poorly organized, doesnt rob locals of jobs and isnt a façade for a company to make profit off the dreams of young school-leavers. But a surprising amount of volunteer projects tick all three of those boxes. People who like to travel and do nice things are constantly trapped between the two conflicting mantras of globalist humanism and neo-colonialist paternalism.
So with that in mind, Im going to South Africa now, with the help of, my family, savings from my internship and Hazels Footprints Trust in order to keep learning and contributing. Its my first time out of full time education for my whole life. I finished university a few months ago and I see this, not as a chance to start a career in one place, but to continue moving, to continue growing and to continue working on something that I believe will benefit others.
Yes, as usual Im a little afraid of the sudden change of life from living in a different culture, from having to consciously take more safety precautions here and there, of the tough conditions that I will see people living in on a daily basis. But Im also conscious that I will greatly benefit from this, I will learn how to work on a successful research project that aims to build effective HIV prevention policies with a local University and local NGOs.
Its happened before. Ive volunteered in a few places, abroad and at home. This time will be in a new context, because now anything could happen, this could become a long-term job, it could kick-off a new path of working in development, it could be the beginning of a strong connection with South Africa. I always think, when Im about to go: its a lot easier than you think, surprisingly easy, to just uproot and go live on the other side of the world for a while.
I have no idea how things will turn out. Ive been told to keep an open mind as things change on a daily basis. Right now Im sitting in Oxford in the office after work, in a country that is partly responsible for the turmoil that exists in so many parts of South Africa. In three weeks Ill be there. For now Im just speculating, imagining the future.