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Scottish Government funds small charity's antidote to white saviour trips

Gift Thompson, a resident of the STEKA children’s home in Malawi, and STEKAskills’ youngest trustee, creates a white saviour pose in reverse along with STEKAskills chair, Emma Wood and students from Queen Margaret University who have helped develop a new approach to voluntourism.

We are SO DELIGHTED to have been awarded a grant from the Scottish Government to test our Dialogue groups - read our press release below for all the details !

STEKAskills, a small Scottish charity, is delighted to announce that it has been awarded almost £10,000 from the Scottish Government’s small grants programme for international development. The money will be used to test the feasibility of its new model of dignified voluntourism (which counters accusations of poverty tourism and white saviour complex sometimes aimed at this type of activity).

Voluntourism (trips to poor countries in the Global South to enable people from the Global North to ‘make a difference’ through volunteering) is a growing market. It is a form of tourism seen as an alternative and legitimate source of development aid for poverty reduction. However, voluntourism can be done badly. It can keep volunteers cocooned in an artificial experience, it can seek to accentuate poverty and misery in a way that doesn’t reflect the resilience and ambitions of people living in the Global South; or it can reinforce stereotypes of helping and helpless. Some of this is seen in research that shows young volunteers can return from an overseas experience with only a superficial grasp of the culture they have seen. And social media research shows some young people insensitively pose and take photos of people as “sights and souvenirs” rather than reflecting dignified exchanges.

STEKAskills has worked with experts from the Centre for Dialogue at Queen Margaret University and residents of the Malawian children’s home, STEKA (Step Kids Awareness) to develop a prototype which will offer young visitors from Scotland an alternative experience when they visit Malawi. Instead of only volunteering their time to activities such as building, the Scots pupils will make time to listen and engage in genuine dialogue with their Malawian peers from a variety of challenging backgrounds. The Scots pupils will pay to participate in high quality four hour Dialogue Groups designed, developed, facilitated and run by young residents of the STEKA care home. The dialogue groups focus on stories about their lives which the young Malawians want to tell their Scottish visitors. It will operate as a self sustaining social enterprise, providing quality work for the young Malawians with profits used in ways which the Malawian NGO knows will help other marginalised young people benefit from skills training and education at their vocational skills training centre.

This STEKA dialogue approach was piloted in Malawi at the STEKA children’s home for a visiting Scottish school last June. The Malawians’ stories brought to life some of the challenges they face (such as gender inequality and the impact of climate change) but also highlighted the positive aspects such as Malawian’s strong sense of community, resilience and shared approach to poverty. Both Malawians and Scots learned from the dialogue as can be seen here:

Gift Thompson, a resident of the STEKA children’s home in Malawi, and STEKAskills’ youngest trustee, who is currently studying at Queen Margaret University says:

"Designing and running the Dialogue Groups last June was a very different and very exciting experience for us. Instead of feeling awkward and not knowing what say to our visitors, or just making smalltalk, we were really able to take charge and interact with them as equals. We had amazing discussions and found out so much about what was the same and different about our cultures and experiences. It was so much better than just feeling dependent on our visitors for donations. What we want is work and education and the STEKA Dialogues give us both”.

STEKAskills chair, Emma Wood, also part of the team which has developed Queen Margaret University’s unique model of teenage dialogue, says:

“ We are so pleased that the Scottish Government is helping us test the feasibility of what we believe to be an innovative way of forging real solidarity and understanding between marginalised young people in Malawi and Scots school pupils. We will work hard over the next year to determine how we can make this more widely available to Scottish schools and how it can operate in Malawi as a social enterprise aimed at sustaining the STEKA Centre for Vocational Skills and Community Enterprise. “

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