Short-term mission trips often don’t help

By Elise Crosley | Reporter

Hundreds of Baylor Bears go on mission trips every summer, but it’s controversial whether these trips are actually helping communities. While long-term mission work in another country is impactful, short-term mission trips and their influences are questionable.

People often fly overseas for a week to build a well in an “impoverished” country, and most of the time their intentions are in the right place, too. However, even with good intentions, these quick trips may be hurting more than we realize.

I experienced this firsthand when I visited a small community in the Dominican Republic called Chichigua. The missions organization I was with explained how a group of students came over, built a well, then left. While they felt good about the project, the well quickly dried up and was no longer of use to the community. Chichigua was not in a stage of development that was ready for a well because they didn’t have the resources to sustain it.

The next time you go on a mission trip, think about the long-term impact of the physical project the group is doing. Is this a project the community can sustain after you leave?

A good way to work in overseas missions is by establishing a long-term organization that prioritizes relationships above all else in a community. This provides a way for short-term missions to be possible without hurting the community. Local organizations and churches can partner with missions organizations overseas and help with what’s needed. However, this method can hurt if you’re not careful. Those in charge need to think about whether bringing a group in to help is a good idea or if there’s an option to pay local members of the community to complete the work instead. For example, if a building needs to be built, employ local community members instead of flying in a group of 30 college students. This empowers locals and provides them with the funds needed to support themselves and their families.

Another big issue with mission trips, especially short-term missions, is the White Savior Complex. According to Janine Guarino, Mama Hope Global Advocate Fellow who supports sustainability and community-building projects in Uganda, the “White Savior Complex [is] the self-serving assumption among white people from developed nations that they should be saving poor people in Africa. The White Savior Complex in practice looks like this: foreign volunteers doing work that can be done by local people and local leadership, voluntourists exploiting local people by treating them as entertainment and taking photos of them in their day to day life (often without permission)… voluntourists exploiting the lives, stories, faces, and culture of African people through social media (often in the form of selfies with African children — imagine if random tourists posted selfies with your kid?), and storytelling that exoticizes the community they are working in (talking about how ‘poor but happy people are’ — an oversimplification of human emotion).” This form of serving is full of pride and extremely harmful to the community needing aid.

It is detrimental to a society when it is viewed by outsiders as “less than” or “below” another country. Americans tend to view Africa as an impoverished country in desperate need. While there is poverty there, America has much poverty of its own as well. While helping each other with resources and aid is beneficial, intentions in serving are the most important.

Baylor junior Clementina Akpomedaye is from Nigeria and understands the way this affects her country firsthand.

“The idea of a starving nation needs to stop. Yes, we do have poverty, but you can have poverty here too,” Akpomedaye said.

Baylor sophomore Shiro Bachia is from Kenya and shared her insight as well.

“We’re not just a Third World country. There is more to Kenya than people dying of hunger and thirst. I mean, there are people dying of hunger and thirst here in Waco. It kind of annoys me when that’s all people see Kenya as. They don’t bother to see the beauty of it, the culture,” Bachia said.

She said it’s important to think of Kenya as more than a place in need of aid.

“I have people tell me about their mission trips to Kenya, and all they could talk about was how sad it was to see the kids there struggling. They would sit there and tell me about Kenya — my home — all this depressing stuff. I’m thinking, ‘Is that all you took away from your trip to Kenya?’ Obviously, there’s horrible stuff going on, but it’s not just in Kenya. It’s not just in Africa. It goes on everywhere. It just so happens that ours is severely maximized by media. Kenya is not a dump. Kenya is beautiful. Our culture is beautiful,” Bachia said.