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Volunteerism Should Focus on Learning, Not Helping

Guest Article: Adam Huska, Opinion Columnist for the Daily Illini, Faculty-Led Winter Course Abroad participant to South Africa 


The major misconception we have is that as Americans, we are the bearer and managers of abundant resources, and it is therefore our responsibility to reach out to help those “in need” or “less fortunate.” The helping mentality is degrading, especially when it consists of donating money over the phone or because your favorite celebrity is endorsing it.

There were numerous things that came to mind the day before I left home for a land that history textbooks and inauthentic movies had represented. I was apprehensive, objective, willful. There’s something about Africa that always felt distant to me. Yes, there’s the obvious hemispheric change, but there was always something emotionally distant about the continent to me. Africa had always been a stigmatization of widespread poverty, an uncontrollable HIV/AIDS epidemic and a jigsaw of distinct, fundamentally different African countries.

Like the same way with approaching anything new or different, I started optimistic because I didn’t want to be pessimistic, but I was well aware of everything I didn’t know as well. Although I felt confident in leaving for South Africa with just 8 weeks of instruction on the country’s culture and history, I also knew that there was a difference between learning about culture and being cultured, and between learning about history and being a part of history.

The problem is this false and ignorant representation of unfamiliar territory. The problem is how my Westernized thinking interferes with my ability to fairly represent things that are foreign to me. This opportunity to visit South Africa wasn’t necessarily about experiencing something life changing or even participating in something special. It was just as much a trip to test my tolerance and non-partisanship, as it was to test my will to learn and grow…

To continue reading this article, visit the Daily Illini webpage:

To participate on a program like Adam’s this summer, check out our Faculty-Led Courses Abroad and apply by Feb 11th

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