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oUR innovative ALTERNATIVE TO Voluntourism

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Our unique Critical Dialogue Groups have been judged to be world leading / internationally significant by the UK Government's audit of the quality of academic research. To hear Emma Wood and Gift Thompson talk about them please scroll down to the videos on this page. Voluntourism trips (where people from the Global North travel on holiday to 'poor' countries to 'make a difference') is a growing sector of tourism for Malawi (and much of the Global South). But current models of voluntourism typically involve young people from the Global North going as volunteer-tourists to Global South countries to distribute donations and do work that people there could be paid for (building walls or digging wells). Evidence shows that this approach ignores the fact that, given resources, local people know how to bring about their own change, and that it further marginalises already marginalised groups, denies local people a voice, reinforces stereotypes and aid-framed agendas instead of human rights. Voluntourists with this mindset are often called 'white saviours' and are seen as consuming an experience of saving poor people (e.g. communicating about their trip through selfies) instead of learning about inequality and standing in solidarity with their Global South peers to campaign for social change. There's growing criticism of this approach, but few alternative models - until now!

STEKAskills has partnered with Queen Margaret University (QMU), the young Malawian residents of the STEKA home and the visionary Malawian activists Godknows and Helen Maseko to raise awareness about the detrimental consequences of voluntourism. Instead, they use the unique model of Youth Dialogue to empower the Malawians, reduce their donor-dependency, provide them with high quality employment and generate sustainable income to support the STEKA Centre.

The Scottish Government funded the development of our prototype antidote to white saviour trips which take the form of pay-to-participate 'Dialogue Groups', co-designed and run by empowered young  Malawians for Scottish teenagers who are in the country visiting on organised school trips. Instead of watching their Scottish peers visit as voluntourists and distribute donations, the young Malawians take charge of the visits by running high quality Dialogue Groups, where they discuss topics they have identified as essential for their visitors get a real understanding of life in Malawi. 

The groups help teenagers communicate together more easily about important issues relevant to their lived experience, resilience, family values, the importance of community and the reality of the UN’s Global Goal 5 (Gender Equality) Goal 10 (Reduced Inequalities ) Goal 8 (Decent Work, and Economic Growth) and Goal 13 (Climate Action). They are designed to affect the Scottish teenagers’ attitudes to global citizenship and to effect a cultural shift in the way in which they see themselves in relation to people in the Global South. 'Adults' don't take part in the dialogues, only young people, so they can speak freely in a 'brave space'.


5 Scottish high schools have tested our approach, and with further development, the Dialogue Groups could inspire more young people. We've also planned a further 'Selfless Selfie' project to help teenagers to communicate more effectively about the profound nature of their learning on social media. We want them to become Citizen Journalists instead of posting selfies that reinforce stereotypes about the 'helpless' poor .  

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