Two years ago, Alaso Olivia and Sharon Nyanjura started sharing their experiences working as a social worker and at an NGO in Uganda, respectively, on social media. They noticed a double standard compared to white people in the industry and tagged each post #NoWhiteSaviors.
It was an organic collection of their frustrations; they weren’t expecting people to follow them. Now, the Instagram account @NoWhiteSaviors has more than 690,000 followers, and it's helping the women raise money to build a library in Uganda dedicated to Black and Ugandan literature.
Olivia and Nyanjura both grew up in Jinja, a city in Eastern Uganda. When Nyanjura founded her own NGO, white outsiders made her feel as though she weren't doing her job correctly.
“They literally were saying that a Ugandan Black girl had no permission to do NGO work, that it was for the white people,” Olivia told Global Citizen.
What Olivia and Nyanjura saw happening in their industries, they say, was a result of the "white savior complex," a term often used to describe white people who provide support to non-white communities for self-serving reasons. It's often associated with charity work throughout Africa.
Wanting to disrupt this narrative, the women founded No White Saviors (NWS) to advocate for a better understanding of development in African communities. Now, the majority-African, majority-female team is operating in Kampala, Uganda, and working to create a new normal where African people are the heroes of the story.
ARE YOU READY? We are excited to announce the #DecoloniseYourMind challenge for August! We had been brainstorming as a team how we could bring in the remaining $59,000 for the libratory library and cafe we are opening here in Uganda (please check out the link in our bio for more info). . For more information on this challenge & to see what we will be covering, you can scroll through the slides —> the goal is to cover a wide range of topics , broadening your knowledge about the Continent & DECOLONISING your view of Africa. . The knowledge & information we will share during this challenge is FREE for all. The only thing we ask is that as you are learning, you donate what you can toward the library & cafe. A space where more people in Uganda will have access to this information and these conversations on a daily basis. . Drop a comment bellow letting us know if you’re in! & what topic(s) you’re most looking forward to digging into. . #nowhitesaviors #decoloniseyourmind
In August, the team launched #DecoloniseYourMind, a month-long online challenge addressing topics ranging from tribalism to African literature and European colonialism. Each day, the team posts information on a new topic.
“We know that the education we get either enslaves us or liberates us, so we dedicate our time to providing a decolonized education,” Wendy Namatovu, a team member at NWS, told Global Citizen.
The 31 topics are not exhaustive, but Namatovu explained that the list reflects “the experiences of people in the African continent have lived.”
Everyone on the team helped to brainstorm the topics. But Namatovu and Olivia, two Black women, had the final say on what topics to include.
“We wanted to give the view of our history, and the things that people need to know about Africa and Black people around the world,” Olivia said.
To make NWS accessible to anyone, the content is free, but the challenge is a part of a fundraiser for the library, called Revolutionary Library and Cafe. NWS asks participants to donate if they can.
“We need a library where people can come and borrow books where we can promote African literature where we can talk about Black experiences,” Namatovu said. The library will include books and resources from Black and Ugandan authors.
Kelsey Nielsen, a team member at NWS, said the library will offer “books and resources that people can use to unlearn and relearn history and identity and reality.”
The team says the challenge is not unrelated to recent world events. The murder of George Floyd in the United States led to a global surge in conversations confronting racism and anti-Blackness, and many turned to NWS as a resource to support their learning, Neilsen explained. The organization gained nearly 2,000 followers in the last three months — an unprecedented increase.
However, the team members say they have always had these types of conversations and that plans for the library and cafe were in the works long before their work received global attention.
“Obviously, more people are engaging in this conversation, which is awesome, but people really [need to] take action,” said Nielsen.
While delivering campaigns online has allowed NWS to reach a broad, international audience, Nielsen said it does not come without its own difficulties.
NWS’ content can be controversial, and the team explained how people who do not want to engage in anti-racism work feel uncomfortable or even threatened by what NWS is doing. Their accounts have been reported and censored, and they’ve had to start back-up accounts in case the original ones get shut down.
The organization’s ability to develop their frustrations into an online movement speaks to the evolving landscape to advocate and organize online.
“We didn’t have a special plan for this; this came as a shock to us,” Olivia explained. “Really, these were just conversations and topics people needed to talk about.”