Lately it seems as if students at the liberal arts college where I teach are always about to head off to build a library in Ghana, have just returned from volunteering at an orphanage in South Africa, or are busy raising money for a water project in Ethiopia. As an anthropologist specializing in African environment and development issues, I have been delighted to see young people interested in a part of the world that means so much to me, but I am also increasingly troubled by the sense that working first-hand on African poverty has become a kind of credential for these (mostly American, mostly privileged) students, a box to be checked off in their preparation for success within the global economy. My lack of generosity toward them perhaps derives from the fact that so few students involved with Africa turn up in my courses on African culture and history. Sometimes volunteering in Africa inspires students to go on to take courses in African studies, but often it does not; and few seem to regard the kind of broad-based, contextual knowledge that I consider crucial to my own understanding of poverty (and everything else) on the continent to be a prerequisite before undertaking work there.

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