As BC students, service immersion programs are no stranger to our education. In fact, they often times coincide with our education, if not formally conducted in a classroom setting they do manage to provide learning experiences that coincide with our Jesuit values… you know, “men and women for others.” If BC hasn’t so gently pushed this value down your throat yet then you are lying.
There is a special importance to service trips for both selfless and selfish reasons. For example, service trips genuinely can make a positive difference for a community and individuals. Rebuilding a park for a community that was affected by Hurricane Katrina can restore hope for the community while also providing a child with an after school activity, a privilege many of us may take for granted. Service trips can also provide an opportunity to appreciate diversity, allowing people to experience a community other than their own, facing their similarities and differences. Furthermore, service trips allow people to develop connections with others they most likely would have never met. These connections can be made from people with completely different backgrounds and cultures through appreciating the fact we are all humans and we all have rights.
While these factors can lead to beautiful personal development, there is an issue when the selfish reasons people go on service trips begin to outweigh the selfless, and social media seems to play a leading role in this imbalance.
Correct me if I am wrong, but I’m going to assume we all have witnessed an Instagram post illustrating the connections people have built on service trips. The posts usually show a service-goer surrounded by the people of the community in which they helped.
And while social media was created as a way to share and connect, in some instances it can create barriers and hatred. For example, a young woman named Jossa Johansson posted an Instagram hugging a young girl she formed a friendship while on a service trip to Kibera, Kenya. While it was a touching photo, her caption earned her some serious heat.
In breaking down this post there are a few things worth noting. The caption is addressing the girl seen in the photo, but logically speaking, we can guess that by no likely means will this girl ever see this “heartfelt” message. Maybe a less serious example is when you see a friend post a picture of their parent for their birthday, but if the parent doesn’t have an Instagram or Facebook, what is really the point? Are you just sharing a picture to portray yourself and relationships with others in good light? The Johansson post above provokes similar questions. Did Johansson post to share her experience and open the eyes of her followers to the mistreatment many young girls like the child in her post endure during their lifetime? Or did she post to perhaps let her users know what a great person she is dedicating time to those who need help?
In my opinion, posts about service trips can be done tastefully, sharing the experience without exploiting those one served. While I am not a fan of Johansson’s caption, I am not sure I believe that Johansson’s caption comes from a pompous place. Instead, I like to believe that her caption is rooted in pure ignorance.
While I am still developing my own opinion regarding sharing service trip experiences, I would love to hear classmate’s opinions. In general, how do you feel about the topic? More specifically, what is your opinion in regards to Johansson’s posts and others like her? Have you seen similar postings before?
As previously mentioned, Johansson is not the only social media user I have encountered publicizing a service experience. While most posts are less ignorant than Johansson’s, I believe the massive uproar her posts caused (one tweet calling her out went viral receiving more than 37,500 retweets and 82,100 likes in four days) speaks volumes about importance of sharing experiences in an appropriate way. The appropriate way may take pausing even before capturing the moment being that, “the selfie takers may not realize that their posts, from the photo to the caption to the hashtags, can perpetuate stereotypes and rob the subject of dignity or privacy.” (NPR).
Especially in regards to the essence of a service trips, to serve and walk with others, I find it important to not use social media for a personal agenda, but to use it as an extension of one’s immersion trip. To share and not show. To inform and not act in vain.