This post was written by Kortney, a PED volunteer who traveled to Uganda for the first time in the Summer of 2014. Kortney's experience helped her to compare her thoughts to her realities, and now she's sharing those ideas with PED.
Kampala’s lush landscape seeped into car windows as we began our journey to the truth. Have colors and textures ever felt tangible to you? That’s the only way I can describe my first moments in Uganda.
See, we’ve been collectively fed misconceptions of what Africa was, and is. From a young age we’re taught that Africa is insular and one, when in fact, it is explicitly multitudes. Skewed historical accounts and media’s partial portrayal of an entire continent results in the perpetuation of a plethora of stereotypes.
How can we point to the bustling hip-hop scene in Kampala or the Walk to Work protests of 2011 when the only news we receive surrounds Ebola outbreaks and rebel militias?
But even with more evenly distributed news coverage, misconceptions aren’t preventable. We’re animals. When we enter into an unknown situation, misconceptions escape from the deepest chamber of our subconscious in an attempt to protect us.
The best we can do is acknowledge that, acknowledge the biases, and then full heartedly run towards them. Tangible experience negates heresay.
I want to share with you some misconceptions about traveling to Africa that I’ve had, that I’ve heard, and that I’ve hated:
You’ll be relaxing at night when a bug bites you. You’ll shrug it off. Then you’ll wake up in the morning to find yourself in the late stages of malaria with no access to a hospital and nothing to cling to but your 2% chance of survival.
The fear of malaria is so real, y’all. I think I bought bug spray with enough deet in it to have mosquitos rappelling off my skin. Allow yourself to be afraid, and then remember the reason why you chose to travel. Let that force be more powerful than fear.
[& take your malarone]
Africa is a continent that is vacuum-sealed from all technological advancements. The third world can’t have 4G.
Little did you know, countries across Africa are killing it in the tech game. From generating electricity by using compressed gas in Ghana to a government-backed innovation hub in Botswana, there’s no telling what’s next. The mobile telephone market in Africa is growing at a rate that’s three times the world’s average.
You are Bruce Wayne with a suit of voluntourism and Africa is the woman in the alley that’s getting mugged by the world. Africa needs you.
If anything, you need Africa.
I mean, think about it, chances are nobody from Africa has called on you for your expertise. What’s your reason for traveling? Does it start with an “I” statement? Mine did.
Acknowledge the privilege you have, but don’t sulk in guilt. Use your privilege with intention.
Traveling with PED allows you to see first-hand the communities they serve on an everyday basis. Even though the trips are short-term, PED has full-time staff on the ground in Uganda that works to build partnerships and develop community initiated self-sustainable projects.
Despite being framed as a service trip, the most valuable part of the volunteer program lies in it’s ability to create a platform for cross-cultural exchange. Sitting in on classes, traveling to the market, exploring other non-profits, speaking with students; this is where ideas grow.
Not only do you get to gain a more holistic portrayal of “Africa,” Africans get to gain a more holistic representation of the U.S.
It’s through these genuine interactions that we serve each other and humanity as a whole.