The ethics of communication for a first time international volunteer

Updated: Feb 15, 2021

Katie Lyons took part in the Nurture Africa Volunteer Programme this summer. Nurture Africa moved its programme to the online space as a result of COVID-19. Katie was tasked with exploring the world of communication.... Specifically, the flow of information that comes from the Global South and is consumed by people in the Global North.

As a starting point, we asked Katie to research the Dochas Code of Conduct on Images and Messages (link below) and to complete "E-TICK" which is an e-learning course focused upon ethical communication (link below). Over to you Katie...

Before embarking on the virtual volunteering project I definitely had a vague and generalised understanding of life in the Global South. I had never given much thought to the specific details that life in Uganda may entail as my perception was generally shaped by the ’third world country’/poverty narrative. I didn't really consider just how much this ’single-story’ of poverty and hardship had influenced my own views. This started to change when we begun this programme; when I started to think critically about these views. Whilst engaging in the zoom sessions with the Nurture Africa team, we ‘de-bunked’ many myths about Africa. The Etick course on ethical communication was very effective in supporting me to think more critically. It contains lots of great video links and blog posts sharing the voices of people from all over the Global South. 

Comhlámh's online Learning Course focusing on Ethical Coomunication was a great support

Generalisation is not always a negative thing. Our brains use it constantly to help us process

information and work more efficiently. This causes us to create an unconscious bias based

on our upbringing, education, the media we consume and the people that we are

surrounded by and interact with. However, in order to prevent these generalisations developing into potentially harmful stereotypes, prejudices or discriminatory actions, it is important to recognise them and acknowledge the multitude of external factors that influence and potentially may limit our understanding. An example in this case would be use of the term third world country. When I sat down to think about, the term itself is very

vague to me. Some research led me to understand that it actually originated post-WW2 and was used to denote countries that were neither pro-Western capitalism (first world) nor pro-Soviet socialism (second world) during the Cold War. There is strong arguement that it uncomfortably perpetuates a hierarchal categorisation of the world’s countries and generalises the global South as all poor, which is simply not true.

Although it may be a bit early for Christmas songs, the infamous Band aid 1984 hit of ‘Do they Know it’s Christmas?’ is awash with generalisations.

It was created as a charity appeal for the Ethiopian Famine that occurred from 1983-1985. The money raised from the single combined with the efforts of the ‘Live Aid’ concerts raised over £150million. What could possibly be uncomfortable about that? Maybe take another look at the video and listen closely to the lyrics, I’m sure you’ll hear some things you never noticed before.

Although the campaign raised so much money, I can’t help but wonder about the negative stereotypes that are reinforced every Christmas season by the lyrics of the song.

Lets take a closer look at those lyrics….

1) “There won’t be snow in Africa.....”

Giraffes in the snow in the Karoo region of South Africa. Photograph: Kitty Viljoen

2) "Where nothing ever grows, no rain nor rivers flow"

The River Nile at Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda

The Nile River is the longest river in the world, flowing through or along the border of 11 other African countries. Approximately 20 countries on the continent have a tropical climate which includes an abundance of greenery, rainfall and are rich in bio-diversity.

These generalisations about ‘Africa’, describing it as ‘a world o