Last week I was discussing with one of our volunteer course participants why white saviors are destructive. I’m sure we will write an article about that subject in the nearby future. But another question came up in the discussion. How do you get volunteers and travelers to stop being white saviors? How do you show them what’s going on? As a white savior, you receive a lot of gratitude, admiration, this feeling of doing good, and confirmation from friends and family. If lots of people are telling you that you are doing so great, why stop?

The term white savior, sometimes combined with savior complex to write white savior complex, refers to a white person who provides help to non-white people in a self-serving manner. The role is considered a modern-day version of what is expressed in the poem “The White Man’s Burden” by Rudyard Kipling.


Allow me to show you what white savior behavior can look like

I’m going to show you three types of person that we all know. After reading this blog feel free to let me know if you still want to receive gratitude, admiration and so on.

The white savior that is the center of attention

Do you know the person that is always dominating every party that you go to? The one who takes all the attention. The one that will ask how you are, but doesn’t seem to be too interested in the answer? Do I need to go on? Or you have someone in mind already?

Would you like to be this person? This person who only seems to think about their own needs?

Of course not! Volunteers and travelers also don’t aspire to be that person, at least I can’t imagine that… And yet so many travelers display behavior like the person above.

time to share the donations

We love to post pictures with lots of African children on social media, making sure that we look good in the picture. We like to share every donation in person while smiling for the camera and receiving the ‘thank you’s’. I know at first glance this doesn’t seem so bad. But there are so many reasons why this white savior behavior is not fine. Not in the least because we make the receiving people feel like how we feel in the party as described above.

The know-it-all behavior

I think we all have a family member who always seems to know everything better. Even on subjects where the family member has no expertise. They always seem to have read something about it somewhere. Very annoying! And then all the unsolicited advice that the person offers. There’s just no stopping with this person!!

I’m sure you know who I’m talking about;) and I’m also sure you don’t want to be this person!

But what happens often when we come to volunteer or when traveling in Africa?

We draw fast conclusions. We see something happen and judge. When people are late, we assume that it’s because of African time. And we always know what to do and how to improve things.
The big question is… Did anybody ask you to improve anything??

white savior organising a daytrip without consulting local leaders

The ‘I will fix you’ white savior

Do you know that co-worker that also has a headache when you have one. The one that always has a story to beat yours. The one who tries to comfort you when you are down with a story that happened to him or to his neighbor or an aunt. The one who always knows when you will be feeling better, what you should do or what you should feel.

This person is so annoying, right?

But when we travel to an Africa country we suddenly change into mechanics, psychologists, nurses and teachers. We have advice for anyone who is polite enough to listen. And we know how to fix entire communities without listening to local leaders.

All pictures used in this article feature me. Yes.. I used to be the typical white savior. I’m not writing to point fingers. With Experience Africa we want to raise awareness and eliminate the bad side effects that seem to come with traveling.

Feel free to share our message and let me ask you. Do you still want to receive gratitude and admiration?

volunteering abroad
Read more on how to volunteer abroad in a sustainable way!3 tips on how to do good