Does the ‘saviour’ stereotype matter?

There are a crop of articles that talk about the ‘saviour stereotype’, particularly the idea of the ‘white saviour’ or ‘western saviour.’ Such articles argue that travellers, ordinarily those from the west, use volunteering as a photo opportunity, or as an egocentric pursuit.

I suppose the argument is, is there truly such a thing as an altruistic act? This debate reminds me of the discussion between Joey and Phoebe in Friends…Joey argues that people only do good things because they feel rewarding, therefore making charitable deeds selfish.

Is everything we do influenced by a need for validation, acknowledgement and approval? We live in an age of social media and technological advancement where people take photos of everything. We want validation for our meals, haircuts, outfits and friendships, so why would our ‘good deeds’ be any different?

It seems silly to single out volunteers when social media is oversaturated with sharing of all kinds. My days spent volunteering involved 6am wake-ups, wheelbarrows of poo, mozzie bites and bruises but I still took a photo with the elephants. Does this mean that the good work I partook in here was selfishly motivated? Personally, I don’t think so.

When the photograph is exploitative i.e. a picture with a tiger at the Tiger Temple or photos taken of locals without their permission or awareness, then yes, but if the photo is taken with children you teach or animals you help, well this is all part of the memory-making process.

Some people volunteer for a day, a week or months at a time. Some people will volunteer only once, and others will return to the cause over their lifetime. That doesn’t negate the fact that they made a difference, even if a small one. I would rather people take pictures of themselves helping animals rather than exploiting them or educating children rather than sexualising them.

Do some people care more about the picture than the deed? Yes, definitely. But for most, the picture is just part of the journey, capturing, not defining, a moment in time.

All my love

K

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