Last May, I went on a short-term study abroad trip to Ghana. The trip involved lots of interaction with Ghanaians with visits to schools, villages and cities to see how different groups of Ghanaians lived.
I took pictures every day because I wanted to remember all the incredible moments I experienced and all the things I learned. One picture that I thought would be particularly special is a photo of me with a group of children from the Gomoa Tekyiam village. It was taken after the chief welcomed me in a ceremony and I spent most of my day playing with the kids in the village. I asked for permission from the parents of the village to take the photo. They allowed it, so I thought I was doing everything right.
When I returned to the United States, I suddenly became self-conscious about this photo after I was bombarded with a flood of satire about the typical white American twenty-something who poses with African children for ‘likes’ on Facebook. The most popular satire surrounding this concept was an article in The Onion about a 22-year-old whose “completely transformative” trip to Malawi “has completely changed her profile picture.”
What became problematic for me was that my experience actually was very transformative. During my time in Ghana, I redefined my perception of poverty as I interacted with people who lived in mud huts— but had food security — sent their kids to school and generally lived well. I also learned that — despite some cultural differences — humans are fundamentally the same. We share common needs, concerns and feelings. When I took the picture with the kids, it was meant to serve as a memory of the very people who made me reevaluate my knowledge and understanding of the world. . . .