7 learnings that we have brought from Mediafrica

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Next week we are flying to Budapest where we will gather to evaluate and think about next steps of Mediafrica, a project we have been working together with 15 different African & European organizations. As this event is getting closer, we decided to write about the impact that it has had on us. Because both roles we played within the project, trainers and film-makers, brought us meaningful learnings

The project is coordinated by Solidarités Jeunesses and gathers organizations involved in International Voluntary Service (IVS). One of the main objectives of Mediafrica is to promote volunteering in African countries and also, to attract volunteers free of stereotypes, not searching to do voluntourism and not reinforcing the model characterized by Barbie Savior. For this purpose, the project included various trainings addressed to the organizations aimed to improve their communication skills, so they can better communicate their job and and the role they expect of the volunteers.

This training brought us to France, Tanzania and Uganda and were coordinated by a group of 4 trainers, which was a great challenge. Because we had to unify v¡criteria and visions, educational approach and ways of work. Everything within and intercultural environment where resources and needs of each organizations were different. We are satisfied of making it work,as said in the evaluation firms by the participants, and we are also happy because we acquired new methodologies and different approaches that we already have used in our local contexts, in Galicia.

Here it is our first learning [1].

Another objective of Mediafrica is to raise awareness. A research undertaken by CIVS showed that the number of volunteers going to African countries has decreased in comparison with other destinations. And that’s something intimately related with the image of Africa in the Europeans society. As an example, when coming back from Uganda someone asked us:  Are you coming from Africa? How did you manage with wars? Africa is the place for wars, soldier kids, hunger, epidemics… in news and movies. And the ones travelling there are constructing artificial narratives with the white saviour playing the leading role, and far from reality. So that, traditional media together with social media are depicting the image of Africa as a dangerous and exotic place, where our trip could be adventure, romanticism and charity.

In Mediafrica we worked to deconstruct these images with a global communication campaign centered in a webdoc: Round Trip Volunteering. This webdoc is composed by different productions some of them made by the participante organizations and others by professional, some of which were filmed by us. Some of the learnings titling this post were gained during this production process:

  • Stereotypes go both ways [2]. We did a group exercise where on should draw a painting and the team should guess the word behind this painting. Iddo, from Zaveco, in Zanzibar, draw one person with snorkel and fin set. “diver, sea. aquatic life…” we all guessed. The word was “European”, Intercultural learning I would say. In Zanzibar, people with snorkeling are european (foreigners are “european”, indeed). A well equipped tourist. Some month before, I was strolling in Paris with Ben, from Tanzania, told me that the first time he was in Europe, he was very surprised of finding homeless people in the streets, when back at home he told it to his friends: “Homeless? In Europe? Are you kidding us? That’s impossible…” answered them. In this way are stereotypes built, a way of simplifying complexity, of understanding the unknown by labelling it. And as said, stereotypes go both ways.
  • Where do the volunteers working in African countries mostly come from? For example, those collaborating with UPA (Uganda Pioneers Association)? Finland? Germany? They’re mostly from Uganda, obviously. As in any other place in the world, the biggest number of volunteers and staff are local people. Otherwise, there’s some kind of colonialism behind the organization. And this, that might sound pretty obvious, we recognize it was surprising to us when seen so clearly [3]. Also, hearing the history of Uvikiuta and walking with Hoyse while she showed the ecovillage they built taught us that we have a lot of things to learn about community and associative live. We also visited and filmed Kikkoba School, a self managed community school where volunteers are only hosted if there’s an specific need of them, so they can support for this purpose. A project based on the so called circular economy built on the grounds of honesty and communitary needs. Here we found a volunteer model absolutely opposite to the white saviour role; A combination of local and international volunteers supporting the community demands [4].
  • We also learned that volunteers are moving in many different directions [5]. Because international volunteering is about interculturality and cooperation. That’s why Frank, from Tanzania, is currently volunteering in France. That’s the purpose also of the Caravan Peace, which every summer gathers a big number of volunteers from Kenya, Spain, Japan... to work on different local projects around Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Listening to them, we also saw that despite the distance, despite having different cultures, volunteers share the same fears [6]. Henry, a Togolese volunteering in Belgium, wants to show the image of an African young guy active and committed to the others as he collaborates at home with Astovot to change his own reality. Julia doesn’t want to represent the white ethnocentric role”. No one wants to represent a stereotype, no one wants to be patronized, and international voluntary service is a tool to change these perceptions.

Because our understanding of the world is built through the images we get of the unknown, of the inexperienced. That’s why it is so important to think about these images and write our own narrations, with diverse roles and complex scenarios, otherwise we are under the danger of a single story [7]. Because reality is much more rich and complex that what can be shown on a screen or written in a few lines. Participating in an international voluntary program is an opportunity to break these stereotypes, to become an active agent of change and to support those initiatives that from the local, struggle to change the global.