The white “Saviour” complex is based on the idea that a “white messianic” character saves a lower- or working-class, usually urban or isolated, non-white character from a sad fate. Typically, the voluntourism industry lends itself over to this concept, with many websites portraying young white volunteers assisting non-white deprived communities. This supports the belief that the privileged Westerner, has the power, authority and ability to help “civilise” the non-western subject. Although voluntourism does provide some benefit through the intercultural exchange, the critiques should be considered in order for voluntourism organisations to provide responsible volunteer programs.
As a volunteering organisation who actively promotes its programs to the international and local market, it is time that voluntourism organisations (including KTVP) start to face the disgruntling truths about the voluntourism industry, particularly in relation to the white saviour complex. The following are 3 truths about the white Saviour complex:
Truth 1 – 80% of all international volunteers are White, Western and from privileged backgrounds. The high popularity ascribed to whiteness results in intimate, but power encumbered relationships among western volunteers and the host community
Truth 2 – Whiteness, especially in South Africa, is perceived by marginalised communities as a symbol power, success and status.
Truth 3 – The Social Identity Theory proposes that interactions among advantaged and disadvantaged populations can negatively impact the capability of the disadvantaged population to behave together to enhance their own conditions
Voluntourism is great, but be more mindful when choosing an organisation or volunteer program. Start thinking more critically about the needs of the community and the volunteer work. Lastly, whatever you do, choose a program that is guided by measurable and achievable objectives.