The Controversy that is Voluntourism – A Ghana Perspective

Voluntourism. It’s a word I hadn't encountered until I was already signed up for a voluntourism project in Accra, Ghana.

Of the mind to do something good, I was now being bombarded with articles denouncing the practice of Westerners running off to shantytowns to “save” the locals. What was meant to be a meaningful experience was now overshadowed with the idea that I was doing something so intrinsically wrong, so ethnocentric.

I took a step back and had a hard think about whether or not I should even go. Eventually, as the travel and visa was already arranged and I needed to stop moving after nine months before my soul withered and died, I decided to continue on as planned.

There are dozens upon dozens of articles denouncing the idea of voluntourism; White Savior Barbie on Instagram manages to encapsulate all that is wrong with the practice in a humorous way, but I wondered if perhaps they were missing the point, or at least part of it. Determined to either make a success of my experience or gain better understanding through failure, off I went. And this is what I learned.

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My Volunteer Experience in Africa

I’m not sure what I had in mind when I signed up to volunteer in Ghana. Okay, that’s a bit of a lie. Somewhere during the process, the image of me cuddling snuggly, serenely cherubic infants may have floated past in a daydream. The reality quickly quashed that fantasy.

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Bee Keeping and Beer Making, an Odd Combination in Rwanda

We came for the bees at dawn.

To be honest, they didn't seem to care all that much. Perhaps we didn't look all that threatening of a foe, what with me all trembling and the pair of us huddled under the protection of a head scarf and mosquito netting with ominous holes here and there.

When I imagined bee keeping in Rwanda, I had rather stupidly pictured myself adorned in a cute white beekeepers’ uniform, posing and smiling smugly on Facebook. In the way it tends to go, the reality did not quite match the fantasy. In rural Rwanda, there are no cute beekeeping costumes. There are no prefabricated hives. No, no, no. This is some real authentic beekeeping. As in, the bees don't even know they're being kept. Because they aren’t.

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Climbing Kilimanjaro – The Experience of Making it Happen

I think the most surprising part about climbing Kilimanjaro is not that I managed to reach the summit – which I did, and have photographic proof! – but that I even attempted it in the first place.

To put it simply, I am lazy. For someone who seems to have a love of throwing herself off cliffs and out of planes, for crashing kayaks and falling down waterfalls, and for chasing dreams, I am really one of the laziest people I know. I have been known to take an elevator one floor up on occasion. Or always. I nearly passed out at one point trying to find the gorillas in Uganda after stuffing my face full of chocolate and then trying to walk up a modest hill. Yet I manage to get through these things because they require at most an hour or two of physical exertion.

Kilimanjaro is different. While most of it is not technical in any sense in the way that traditional mountains are, it is endless trekking. And I do mean endless, in the suck the will to live out of you kind of way.

Even my sister, who is amazingly fit and loves to run ultra marathons, found Kilimanjaro a new kind of tedious. The first few days are okay. They warm you up for what is to come. As you climb higher and higher and the air gets thinner and thinner it begins to feel more like you're swimming than walking. Coupled with the fact that the higher you get, the more impossible the terrain becomes with scree and loose rock mitigating any attempts you make to get higher.

Climbing Kilimanjaro means you traverse through five different ecosystems in just as many days. Just as you've conquered the rainforest, you’re in an alpine desert. Just as you're learning how to navigate that, you blink and it’s arctic snowcap.

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