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Mission trips should be for service, not social media

white savior complex

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Photo courtesy of Facebook

Story by: Abigail Safago, Columnist

Are our efforts in community service a work of endearment for the less privileged, or for self-benefit? Many people who post to social media show the latter.

We always ask ourselves if it is right to go on a mission trip. In the efforts of building community and joy? Yes. In order to preserve a  white savior complex? Not always intended, but also yes.

Many of us go on trips to communities in need and help clean, build, or refurbish buildings such as schools and houses. However, we destroy the good we have done by doing one thing: Taking photos with underprivileged people and sharing them on social media. Doing this creates what is known as the “savior complex”. This is the idea that people must “save” others at their own “sacrifice”. While this does not seem like a bad thing at the start, it leads to people believing their time is a substantial sacrifice to help someone who is in a community in need.

Not only does this create a better self-image for the one who “rescues” or “saves”, but it can also create a poor image for the community that needed help. By posting these photos, it shows the downside of these communities. It gives the illusion that they needed people of privilege to come in and save them.

Many communities in other countries have to fight to show they are more than an underprivileged entity. The developed communities are rarely shown because they do not show the impact that people who want to do service trips can have. If you’re already developed, you don’t need help.

While many individuals participate in these trips to help people, others do this for their own benefit. The phrases “community service” and “mission trip” look good on resumes. Others participate to boost themselves on social media. Many people who participate in these trips post photos of themselves with children, who unknowingly are used as a story of fulfillment for the people posting.

Though visuals of the area you intend to help create a more attractive highlight, there are many people who choose not to post photos of the area they helped. Rather than post photos of people, it is important to post pictures of the areas rebuilt or the impact made. That would be a positive reinforcement for mission trips.

This can be done in many ways, one of which being before and after pictures. If you show the change that you make in an area, you can demonstrate that hard work was done without the need for attention. You’re not using small children to gain “likes”. Rather, you show that you helped do a great project without putting the focus on yourself.

Some people post heartwarming stories of the things they did at schools with the children in the photos. Others post photos captioning how “sad” people in underprivileged areas are and how “the help” they gave has changed someone’s life. This is a depiction of the savior complex.

Many do not believe that they have this complex. They believe that they are showing their story. However, posting photos of yourself with children of color or underprivileged communities for likes on Facebook and Instagram only serves to make the complex worse.

To avoid this complex skip the photos of you posing to do work. Avoid posting photos of you and small children. Instead, take progress photos of the work you do over the days you help. Remind yourself it is not for you, it is for them.

While coming back from the mission trips and community service you are on, keep the photos to yourself. Hold the moments in your heart, rather than social media. While you do positively impact another person’s life, keep that between the two of you.

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