Let me first start by introducing myself. I am Shakilah Ancho, a 32 year old single mother of 1, living in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). I would say it all started when a group of Canadians came to my area to start a project to help raped women. I was taken in as a translator (by the way this is what I do to make a living), because I can speak and write in English due to my education in Kenyan schools.
I would say at first I took translating as a job but also deep inside me I had the passion to help my people though I did not really know where to start nor how to do it. So when I was called to interpret, pham! there came an opportunity. I can say I have had really lots of good things and experiences working with foreign volunteers. Imagine I have been living in DRC for about 8 years (after moving back to DRC from Kenya) but actually I had never gone to to another province. The first time I travelled out of Goma (that’s the town I live in) was with the foreign volunteers. I got to tour my own country because I was hired as an interpreter, and this is because the foreign volunteers paid for my transport, food, and hotels. Something that I could not do by myself due to the small salary that I was getting (touring would be considered a luxury that I could not afford).
I really got lots of other opportunities from this experience, for example, getting to meet new people to make friends, and even find new business opportunities. I also am getting to know my people better and my culture through visiting different people and places.
I also got challenges with working with foreign volunteers. I had this one small sad experience when we got to visit one of the refugee camps somewhere in the DRC. There was this small boy who was sick and very weak from malnutrition. So one foreign volunteer took a picture and posted it and someone offered a pig for this little boy. After one month, I was sent money to buy him a pig but when we went back to the refugee camp this boy was dead. From this experience we realised that the pig was good, but we should have first helped the boy with food and medicine, then give him the pig after.
Another challenge is whenever the poor people see me with a white person, they always think that I have lots of money. So most of them run to me asking for money and when I tell them I don’t have any, they don’t believe me.
The last challenge is that most foreign volunteers come with good ideas and they want to bring these things to the people which is not bad. But what they miss is that we are people from very different cultures and sometimes we have had projects that were good but failed simply because the foreign volunteers did not take time to study the place and the people, and what would really suit us.
What I would suggest is anyone who wants to volunteer to help communities in Africa or somewhere else, ultimately please take time to study the place, country and it’s people. Learn their culture that way you will not be surprised when you see things that are different from what you see in your own culture. Always build relationships with people especially from where you will be visiting. Also if you are doing projects, please do things that would be self-sustaining in the future so that the people you are helping will not always depend on aid.
Editor’s note: We thank Shakilah for her open and honest insights.