Savior Barbie stands in front of a chalkboard in a run-down classroom somewhere in Africa. “It’s so sad that they don’t have enough trained teachers here. I’m not trained either, but I’m from the West,” the caption on the photo reads. In another, the plastic figurine poses in front shacks made from scrap metal and sticks: “Just taking a slumfie… Feeling so blessed.”
In the satirical Instagram account for Savior Barbie, Barbie is in Africa running an NGO that provides drinking water to locals. “Harnessing broken white hearts to provide water to those in Africa, one tear at a time,” the tagline for her organization reads. The account, started a month ago by two 20-something white women who have worked in East Africa, now has over 18,000 followers.
Who needs a formal education to teach in Africa? Not me! All I need is some chalk and a dose of optimism. It's so sad that they don't have enough trained teachers here. I'm not trained either, but I'm from the West, so it all works out. Good morning, class!! #barbiesaviortheeducator #wildwildwest #theyteachmemorethaniteachthem #whichmakessensecuzicantteach #PhDindelusionalthoughtprocesses #degreesplease #qualifiedisnotafeeling #godstillQUALIFIESthecalled #gettingschooledandoverruled
We take so much for granted in America. Pumpkin spice lattes. Chickfila. Ugg boots. Yoga. I will never view my rights the same way after hauling my own water today. This is the reality of so many poor Africans. I even broke a heel! And also it broke my heart. Now I think I understand what it means to be broken in order to be made whole. I'm not going to lie, I was frustrated. But I got a tan and did even more soul searching. There is ALWAYS a silver lining!! And always an adventure. #africa #brokenheel #tan #tanforlife #whitesavior #inthenameofjesus #inthenameoflove #longwalk #revelation #water #waterislife #adventure #lesson #lessonlearned #silverlining #worthit
The account also takes a dig at Taylor Swift, whose music video for the song “Wildest Dreams” was filmed in a vaguely African landscape with few black characters.
I never knew God would choose me to be such an important part in Africa! I never could have imagined. I never dreamed. Not even in my WILDEST dreams. #ahhAHaaaaaaa #nodisrespecttaylor #weloveyou #wildwildwesterner #againwithmyhandsintheair #isitobviousyethowmuchicare #forafricathatis #yellowbellysavior #hatersgunnahate #imjustgunnashake
Savior Barbie also highlights a point that advocates and experts working on the continent have been observing for years—well-intentioned but naive volunteerism (or “voluntourism“) is at best ineffectual and at worst harmful to the developing countries it’s meant to serve. It drives an industry that sees 1.6 million people do volunteer work while on vacation every year, spending as much as $2 billion in the process. Nigerian-American author Teju Cole once dubbed this impulse the White Savior Industrial Complex.
The damage can be depressingly direct, as Jacob Kushner, a journalist in East Africa, points out in a recent editorial, “The voluntourist’s dilemma.” In South Africa, “AIDS orphan tourism,” where volunteers temporarily care for children who have lost their parents to the virus, has left children with attachment disorders and encouraged orphanages to purposefully keep them in poor conditions to attract more volunteers.
Read this next: The creators of White Savior Barbie are two white women who want to hold volunteers accountable
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