There are countless images and ideas you can conjure in your head when you hear that word, stories of war and genocide, starvation and disease, suffering beyond what western minds can even imagine.
Most of us don’t want to imagine it, we open our morning paper and read about the violence in the Congo, or get an email from World Vision telling us about the thousands of displaced people in Sudan that need our help. We read these things and feel a brief sense of depression, some regret that we can’t really help that much, and wonder which African country will be ‘troubled’ next. And then we flip the page, finish our coffee, and get on with our day. That is what most of us think about when we hear the word ‘Africa.’
I’ve been to Africa, I was only there for two weeks, which seems like next to nothing, but it was long enough to change my life.
When I hear the word ‘Africa’ I think of the Zulu drums that pounded through my soul while the dancers kicked and whirled, and the small hands that clung around my neck as we piggy-backed the children around the half-finished playground under the hot sun.
I’ve heard people say that volunteer trips to the Global South are useless, and the impoverished countries would be far better off just receiving the money that young people like myself have raised for the chance to volunteer abroad. I disagree.
A large sum of money donated through a computer screen doesn’t mean anything, it’s easily forgotten and lost, teaching no lessons along the way.
Money doesn’t do what volunteering can, it doesn’t give you the sound of the kids laughing or the smell of the African dirt or the sight of the school that you just helped to build. Money doesn’t give you that feeling that you just did what you were put on this earth to do, volunteering does.
Africa doesn’t need endless amounts of money flowing in from big companies and guilty adults who will think they’ve done their part. It needs more people to go there and see what a beautiful country it is, to see that beneath the wars and hunger there is something left that shines through in the fierce determination in the children’s eyes as they kick around a flat soccer ball. Hope.
From the first moment I saw it stretched out brown and dusty below me from the airplane to my last night there under the endless night sky holding stars I’d never seen before, I fell in love with Africa. Those two weeks I spent there were the most important two weeks of my life so far because they showed me what I could never have seen from my safe and predictable life as a university student in Canada.
Through the rising and setting of the big red sun, from the earnest handshakes of the locals, to the elephant brushing his trunk against my hand, Africa taught me many lessons, and the most valuable one was hope. That is what I think of when I hear the word ‘Africa’.
About the Author
My name is Etta Degnan, and I am a second year student at the University of Victoria in Canada. I am passionate about outdoor adventuring and travelling, and I can’t wait for the chance to go back to Africa. I hope it comes soon.
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