As I write this, I’m sitting on a plane headed to Seattle, where I’ll catch another plane to Amsterdam, where I’ll catch another plane to Rwanda, where I’ll catch one last flight which will, mercifully, bring me to my final destination. Assuming none of these planes explodes in a fireball or crashes into the sea, 25 hours from now I will plant my feet in the red dirt of Uganda for the very first time. And by feet, I mean shoes, because why would I be barefoot?
I will be in Uganda for a week with a teeny tiny organization you’ve probably never heard of. Just kidding. I’ll be in Uganda for a week with World Vision – one of the biggest humanitarian aid organizations on the planet. Now, I know some of you are already sitting there like, “Wait. Whaaaaaat???”, because you’re remembering the last time I went on one of these “influencer trips” with World Vision and how it didn’t really end on a high note. In fact, we had a little DTR after that trip, in which I concluded that I wasn’t a huge fan of what I’d seen and that perhaps World Vision and I weren’t right for each other. It was not a love story. We ended up parting ways on friendly-ish terms and I assumed that was the end of our relationship, forever and ever, amen.
Organizations like World Vision take a pretty big risk when they invite journalists, bloggers, lifestyle gurus, and Instagram models to come and see their work first hand. Granted, they don’t usually invite snarky, cynical, ex-missionaries to check out their shit, but still, it’s kinda risky. There is always the possibility that an influencer will have a negative experience in the field (like I did) and share a less than enthusiastic opinion of the organization (like I did) with their somewhat sizable audience (like I did).
I was completely honest with you guys after my first World Vision trip when one of the programs I saw in Guatemala didn’t fully align with my own values as a proponent of sensible, accountable, and meaningful humanitarian aid work. To be clear, it wasn’t all bad – I just wasn’t super on board with what I’d been asked to support, and I was quite open about that. The post I wrote about my experience made waves through the upper ranks of all the big non-profits who were doing influencer trips at the time. I know of at least one (not WV) that considered shutting down their influencer program completely, afraid that they were relinquishing too much control of the narrative (which seems so gross). But most of them just black-listed me and we all went on with our lives.
So, a few months ago, when I got an email from World Vision expressing an interest in having me take another influencer trip with them, I assumed someone was trolling me because why would they ever have me back?!It didn’t even make sense.
Anyone who knows me knows that I have big fat feelings about American non-profits setting up shop in foreign lands and the many downfalls that plague the world of humanitarian aid, especially in the Christian realm. I also have humongous feelings about relatively wealthy American suburbanites dropping themselves into the lives of impoverished brown people for a photo-op and a feel good fix of white savior snuff. And World Vision really knows me, so I cannot begin to imagine how I made it on the short list of potential participants when they put this trip on the books.
Honestly? After I got over my shock at being invited on this trip to Uganda, my initial response was no.
But then I started thinking…
…In fact, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, because I found certain elements of the story World Vision had invited me to come see, the story they’ve asked me to share with you over the next week, incredibly compelling. Needless to say, eventually I said yes, and here I am.
I said yes to learning about Child Protection measures.
This week, I’ll see how they’ve created and implemented an Amber Alert system for rural villages to sound the alarm when a child has been abducted to be sacrificed – and how it’s working. Through this trip, I’ll be able to introduce you to vulnerable children whose lives have already been saved by this system, which is pretty damn cool.
I said yes to supporting the education of girls.
I am so here for this. I’ll meet a community that’s making sure their girls can stay in school past the age of puberty by manufacturing and distributing sanitary pads. Now girls whose education would be ended by something as basic as getting their periods have the means to keep learning. A huge YES to this.
I said yes to being a tourist in a developing country.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again:
Going on vacation can be better for the world than going on a mission.
Hear me out! American dollars are well spent in hotels, restaurants, shops, and gas stations that provide legitimate jobs and dignified work to the very same locals we think we’re “blessing” when we go on short term mission trips. As an industry, tourism creates layers and layers of real, sustainable jobs for a country’s workforce. I believe it’s far better to leave a generous tip and a favorable commentfor the woman who cleans my hotel room each day than for me to “love on her” by showing up in her neighborhood with my selfie stick, a soccer ball, and a bag of rice once a year (#blessed, #soblessed #ilearnedmorefromthemthantheylearnedfromme ). As a tourist, I’m contributing to a healthy demand for everything from agriculture and infrastructure to simple goods and services – This means honorable jobs for hard working people who’d like very much to feed their own families at the end of the day. So, while I’ve come on this trip to work as a writer, I’m technically here as a tourist. And I’m happily helping World Vision spend a pile of money in Uganda, because I know that when I travel/vacation in emerging nations where Americans usually only go on missions, I’m engaging the people’s pride and joy without exploiting their shame. And that just feels right to me.
Last but not least, I was impressed by World Vision for inviting me back after our first date fell flat. That takes balls. Especially because they know exactly who they’re dealing with. They know I’m an observant skeptic and that I have very high expectations of those who claim to be making the world a better place. They know how I tend to look for the gaps in global aid work, and that I will not blindly applaud people or programs based on their good intentions alone. They know I’m not going to invite my readers to support a program that isn’t locally led, totally practical, and genuinely fruitful. They know all of these things about me, but they believe so fully in the work they are doing on the ground in Uganda that they bravely invited the snarky, cynical, ex-missionary to come and see it firsthand. That’s ballsy, and I like it.
Of course, I still have complicated feelings about non-profits and global humanitarian aid, and I still have every intention of sharing this experience with World Vision in Uganda with the truth I hope you’ve come to expect from me. But from what I know so far, I’m really hopeful about what’s ahead. I think this will be a remarkable week, and I’m excited to share it with you along the way.