“While the world is globalizing, calling itself a global village, and the international development agenda is to be inclusive, targeting the most vulnerable, we still have to face a staggering contrast” writes Omar Agbangba
The Children of the poor, or better the majority of the population of countries now known as “shithole countries” to quote one of the worlds leaders, are indeed excluded from international mobility, and by ricochet from access to modern knowledge and civilizations.
As never before, young people and citizens of the so-called rich or developed countries can travel to all corners of the world without restriction, or insurmountable constraints. In the majority of cases, their visas to poor countries are granted on arrival at the airport. Young westerners, therefore, could just pack and go to discover the world.
Furthermore, in recent decades, international volunteers programs had given them additional opportunities to get first-hand experience in international development, and strengthen their intercultural skills. Millions of young westerners benefited of such programs to build skills through volunteering and benevolence abroad. Various schemes are set up in their home country to facilitate their missions, while poor countries welcome them cheerfully with more facilities.
The main benefit for young westerners, who already had access to better education system in their home countries, is the acquisition of field experience and skills in international development, giving them better chance to be recruited by International NGOs and public organizations.
How can we talk about inclusive development if we start on unequal footing in training and opportunities for young people in the North and South?
International reciprocity volunteering is a response to that issue. It is a tool that restores justice and fairness to young people in the South: if young westerners are to come to Africa unrestricted for volunteering, young Southerners too must have the opportunity to volunteer in the North without hindrances.
For example, Togo, my country, has been welcoming American volunteers from the Peace Corps since the 1960s, however when we recently wanted to send a Togolese volunteer to the US, we were informed that the American law did not provide the same for Togolese people. Attempts made to initiate a reciprocity program through the US embassy in Togo are yet to get any results. Similar initiatives we have taken with a few European countries have experienced legal and consular obstacles. This was the case with Ireland, for example, where the discussions have been confronted with the unfavorable legal framework.
This is the place to congratulate France, which had voted a law to allow French NGOs and public organizations to welcome volunteers from the South, and instructed French embassies in southern countries to facilitate their visa processing. Thus, a few young Togolese are currently volunteering in France. Those who have gone through the reciprocity program came back, happy, better skilled, and with very fruitful and enriching initiatives for themselves and their communities.
There is no better aid than building the capacity of the people. Like a Chinese proverb puts it: “it’s better to teach someone to fish than to give him fish all the time”.
Another benefit of international reciprocity volunteering is the contribution of Southern youth to the cultural enrichment of the West.
Indeed, the majority of Westerners have little knowledge of the South, if not, only negative clichés and stereotypes that isolate them and enclose them in a bubble of prejudice and mistrust. By welcoming young people from the South, they will share their culture, their values, their knowledge and their beings with Westerners, and thus it’s humanity as a whole that grows richer.
As the French writer Antoine de Saint Exupéry would say: “My brother, if you differ from me far from hurting me, you enrich me”.
Furthermore, young people from the South who had gone through international volunteering in the west become ipso facto an ambassador for their host country in their country by helping to demystify the idea of the West as an Eldorado with their peers who would be tempted to cross the Mediterranean.
What is the West afraid of? That the poor from the South would come to plunder their resources?
When a western embassy refuses visa to a southern citizen, the most frequent reason is that he may not return to his country of origin, coupled with the fear that he would eventually steal the job of a Westerner or misuse their welfare system. This line of thought however forgets that all rights come with obligations.
Even with valid visas or residence permits, citizens of the South still face untold discrimination and suspicion. In Western airports their passport and documents, especially those of blacks, are carefully scrutinized and sometimes the traveler is asked to show his credit card or the money he has on him to make his trip to the West before been let to cross the border.
In any case, the West must know that it has a lot to learn from the South on many things, and International reciprocity volunteering remains an opportunity to explore in terms of international relations and fair trade.
Just as young Westerners come to give and receive from the South, so young people from the South have to have the opportunity to give and receive from the West. No development can be inclusive and equitable if the majority of young people in the South are excluded from mobility to the West.
Omar Agbangba is a sociologist, development and volunteerism specialist from Togo.