Questions to Ponder – Day 15 (Finding my Voice)

CIMG0409In 2008, shortly after my brother died unexpectedly, l went to a township in Africa as part of a “medical team”. There were many positive aspects of this trip, like connecting with people, learning about a world outside of my own, and overcoming my grief and the anxiety that had often kept me from traveling. Yet I couldn’t help but wonder if we were doing this more for ourselves than the people we were supposedly helping. In the end I wasn’t sure. We could only provide basic care to the hundreds of people who lined up to see us each day. And by basic I mean handing out Tylenol and vitamins and taking blood pressures with no long-term plan in place.

CIMG0419After 11 days we packed up our suitcases and went home, leaving our friends to wait for the next group of medical tourists to arrive.

A few years later I heard the  township severed its relationship with the group I went with for philosophical differences. Looking back, I can understand why.

I had many touching encounters with the people from that township that made it a valuable experience for me. Yet I am haunted by the gnawing feeling that somehow we missed the point. It wasn’t supposed to be about us.

20 thoughts on “Questions to Ponder – Day 15 (Finding my Voice)

  1. I had some of the same feelings about some of the experiences I had in Africa and wound up severing my ties with the group. In part because I felt like the woman who controlled everything was in large part doing it for her own aggrandizement (she was from that village and her family still lived there). It was a great experience in many ways, and I keep in touch with some of the African people, but in the end I was uncomfortable being associated with that person.
    Many of the challenges faced are ones that we do not understand fully and do not yield to band-aid type solutions.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think that happens a lot. We westerners, especially in churches, go to places thinking we’re saving the world, but we go as tourists not as aide. Don’t get me wrong, I think there are some groups that do a lot of good – but that’s because they remember why they are there.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes if I ever did decide to go back I would want to make sure it was with a medical team that had a very clear goal in mind and could actually provide meaningful care.


  3. It’s good to read westerners making so much sense and not being arrogant – props to you and your commenters for that. This is the best book on the subject I’ve read so far, the trouble with africa by robert calderisi.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am glad to see someone else write what I have felt in similar volunteer situations! I did BP screenings and intake assessments for the homeless and uninsured during annual Healthy Cities Fair and Veteran Stand Down events. I always felt like I gained more, while knowing they most likely would not have services later. It made me realize that some organizations do these events to promote them within the community.


  5. Hi Amy,
    I know a lot of your readers–Ellen Hawley, Ninakmani, A Journey With You…
    I cam by to thank you for visiting my site this morning. (Still Thursday in California.) I’m glad you liked my post “How to Build The Perfect Blog…”
    Nice meeting you.
    Janice, Reflections


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