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Project Modzi

How to take a selfless selfie to empower equality and unity


People often say “a picture is worth a thousand words” to describe how a photograph can communicate a complex idea or issue in a way that words simply fail to achieve. This concept is the premise behind project Modzi. This project encourages teenagers to use photography to bring new insight and perspectives to important topics and issues affecting the Malawian community. Project Modzi is about a new kind of selfie – one that looks beyond oneself. Modzi means one in the Malawian language Chichewa and resonates with the philosophy that people must come together as ‘one’ to campaign for change. 


Mod·zi\Mode-zhē\ n 1. One 2. All together 

What is project Modzi all about?

Project Modzi is a workshop and initiative that encourages teenagers to tell their own story, from their own eyes, in their own words. The project aims to help and guide teenagers to share their experiences and stories by teaching them how to take meaningful, respectful and empowering photographs of objects while volunteering in Malawi. This will help them to communicate what they learn and experience in a meaningful way that develops solidarity with their Malawian peers and helps fight the visual stereotypes that currently dominates on social media platforms.


Selfies shared on social media are often viewed by society in a negative light as an indicator of narcissism, social dependence and attention-seeking. However, Project Modzi aims to support and inform teenagers how to take selfless photos that shine the light on someone else. Someone that may not get the attention they deserve. We believe that the power of social media, together with meaningful photographs, can be used to connect, share experiences and express feelings. Project Modzi encourages teenagers to stop taking selfies and to start taking selfless pictures of objects. Why do you ask? Let’s take a closer look at the white saviour complex.

“Too often, volunteering abroad becomes that “big emotional experience” we’re looking for. It satisfies our sentimental needs, and so we find little reason to stop and reflect whether it actually meets the needs of the people we’re supposedly helping”

- Amanda Machado

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The origin of the white saviour complex (Brumat & Wood)

Even though harm is not intended, many volunteers end up sharing photographs and stories from their trips to undeveloped countries that portray themselves as the hero and local residents as helpless and passive. This message is regularly being reinforced through social media by images that depict Western ‘saviours’ as the heroes and the children as the impoverished. The white saviour complex can be seen to dominate the way in which some young people represent their trips to developing countries in the Global South. Despite the volunteers’ best intentions, many cannot articulate what they learn from their experience and consequently, often reinforces aid-framed values though social media by, for example, posting selfies with African babies. Such actions only feed into the stereotypical imagery instead of breaking it down, which is what the white saviour complex is founded on.

Did You Know?

The white saviour complex is founded on the belief that poorer parts of the Global South need saving, and that they can only be saved through contributions from the Global North.



Volunteers may travel to other countries with the best intention of helping people but often fails to understand the complexity of their problems. We have all heard the term “voice for the voiceless”, but voiceless people are made that way as a result of negative stereotyping. Many marginalised groups are, in fact, not helpless or voiceless, they are simply in need of ears to listen and platforms to amplify and support their solutions. Project Modzi strives to encourage teenagers going on school trips to Malawi to promote dignity, respect and nuanced information to their followers on social media by getting involved.

The Modzi Guidebook for Teenage Voyagers

It can be challenging to present experiences and stories in a brief social media post without exploiting other people. Project Modzi’s Guidebook serves as an alternative model that aims to reinforce unity, solidarity and understanding without aid framed values in mind while breaking down the visual stereotypes. The guide will inform and educate teenagers before, during and after their trip to help them communicate and document their experiences in a meaningful way while avoiding portraying themselves as white saviours. Let’s shift the conversation back to the real need, the important stories and Malawi as the warm heart of Africa by focusing on solidarity, respect and true generosity.


Modzi’s Guidebook for young volunteer travellers provides teenagers with practical advice, recommendations and examples to help interested, and young volunteers find ways to give back to the Malawian community by learning how to take meaningful pictures and supporting sustainable tourism practices. This Guidebook provides a thought-out way to prepare, train, and develop ethical photography skills that will help them to share meaningful stories during their trip to Malawi. The Guidebook creates an avenue for individuals and groups to learn, reflect, adapt, discuss, practice and apply the alternative MODZI way of taking, sharing and reflecting on photographs. This Guidebook is aimed at those who want to honourably match their preparations with the task at hand to benefit both themselves and their Malawian hosts. Are you ready to be inspired and challenged at the same time? Then follow the Modzi path to picture taking to show respect, unity, solidarity, and empowerment while travelling. Let’s turn a selfish fad into a selfless act and fight the visual stereotypes - together!

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