glokal e.V., Chorinerstr. 6, 10119 Berlin, www.glokal.org
ASA Program for the attention of Florin Feldmann Lützowufer 6-9 10785 Berlin
Welthaus Bielefeld e.V. for the attention of Georg Krämer August Bebel Str. 62 33602 Bielefeld
Berlin, April 20, 2012
Subject: Brochure “Where please go to weltwärts?”
Ladies and gentlemen, over the past year we have repeatedly come across your brochure “Where, please, is weltwärts? In this regard, we are writing to them today. This year and last year we offered several trainings for multipliers to reflect on cultural concepts in Global Learning and in the pedagogical accompaniment of weltwärts.
As part of this, common methodological material for this area was also analyzed – including their brochure. Without exception, the respective multipliers assessed this as very problematic and racist and expressed the need for intervention at every seminar. Not only the participants of our trainings, but also other colleagues and clients asked us to write an open letter to ASA and the Welthaus to express this criticism.
In line with our desire for transparency, we will make this correspondence public on our homepage.
When we first looked at the approach and individual exercises of their brochure, we were very surprised and in many places appalled by what weltwärts volunteers are taught about the Global South, the weltwärts program and themselves as volunteers: In the texts and methods of their teaching material, racist stereotypes about people and countries of the Global South are reproduced throughout. While people of the Global South are consistently portrayed as, for example, corrupt, primitive, underdeveloped, ignorant, hoping for financial and spiritual help from volunteers, white German weltwärts volunteers are suggested to be in a position of superiority according to which they should act.
In the following, we present a few aspects as examples and highlights for a better understanding of our criticism: The global South is represented in the brochure as a leitmotif throughout as a “village”. On the one hand, this does not correspond to the facts – since 2007, more than 50% of the world’s population, especially in the Global South, lives in urban areas – on the other hand, it corresponds to the colonial-European practice of describing societies in the Global South as less complex, less modern, traditional, close to nature and backward, and living in huts.
The exercise (M7) “Fantasy Journey” is strongly reminiscent of a colonial novel. Here, participants encounter stereotypical ideas about rural/natural life in the Global South. The dream journey also includes the colonial self-aggrandizing fantasy that “half the village” gathers when a weltwärts volunteer arrives and the “village chief” (this term also suggests that autocratic, patriarchal structures of rule are involved) personally hands over a gift as a farewell gesture of gratitude. So not only are urban realities hidden (and the fact that thousands of weltwärts volunteers do not complete their voluntary service in villages; and if they do, then probably not in such fantasy villages), but the volunteers are also taught that they will be important personalities “in the village” and that one is just waiting for them and their commitment.
The intercultural learning exercises (M20 and M21) are introduced by stating that there are different “cultural groups” and that conflicts “inevitably” arise when they meet. Thus, the basis for Intercultural Learning is a theory that borrows heavily from notions of the “Clash of Civilizations” by right-wing populist author Samuel Huntington. Culture is thereby understood as innate, as rigid and homogenizing, thus replacing the concept of race. Throughout the brochure, it is assumed that cultures are opposed to each other, whereby – as is made implicitly and explicitly clear by the exercises – the German culture is the one from which “the others” have something to learn.
Exercise M20 “How would you choose?” constructs “locals” as the antithesis of weltwärts volunteers. Volunteers should consider how they would behave in each case, given the conflicts that would inevitably come their way. As far as possible, the questions are formulated in such a way that socially desirable answers are given. While the others are described e.g. as uncivilized (“eating monkey meat”), insensitive, unpunctual, liars, violent, contemptuous of women and corrupt, weltwärts volunteers (and thus also Germany) are attributed the opposite.
The exercise is a prime example of the widespread colonial gaze with which people of the Global South are constructed in the North as the negative pole of their own and consistently associated with moral-ethical, social, and political deficits. Weltwärts volunteers are idealized in the same breath as civilized, emancipatory, and morally upright. Along comes the rationale for their raison d’être, for example, as a personified Human Rights Watch.
In the fictitious letter “Stay at home”, a critical view is taken of the weltwärts program at first glance. The author “S.” writes from a southern perspective and questions the purpose of weltwärts. Among other things, he criticizes the paternalistic and omniscient attitude of the volunteers, questions their competence, makes them aware of their privileges and advises them to stay at home, where there are, after all, opportunities to get involved.
The first of the accompanying questions that volunteers are asked to think about after reading the letter is “How do you feel about this provocative text?” The implicit anticipatory assessment that it is a “provocation” also sets the tone of the other accompanying questions. Next, consider what behaviors might be helpful to “rebut these accusations.”
So it is not about a real open discussion of criticism, which is also expressed by partners in the Global South, but about an argumentation training, how this can be delegitimized. An open critical capacity with learning effects for volunteers is already prevented in Germany. The implicit assumption that criticism of weltwärts can be grounded by specific, individual behaviors distracts from the powerful and colonial-racist structures inherent in the program per se and shifts sole responsibility to individual volunteers.
However, not only individual methods are to be problematized, it is rather the entire perspective and theoretical basis of the brochure, which expresses a colonial-racist attitude and cannot be in the sense of the weltwärts program. With this letter, we are responding to the request of numerous trainers, volunteers and commissioners and ask them to stop distributing the brochure with immediate effect.
Furthermore, it was specifically requested that the further use of the teaching material be restricted as far as possible by means of an e-mail or in another form, by at least drawing the attention of the purchasers who have already received copies to the problematic effects: namely, a consolidation and reproduction of stereotypes and racism, as well as the teaching of an allegedly superior white-German “culture” and its values and norms, which stands in the way of an encounter at eye level. We would be pleased to receive a response from you and are available to discuss the issue further.
Yours sincerely, glokal e.V.
on behalf of many multipliers of development education work