Prepare thineself for another cynical outburst!
No really, trust me, things aren’t so bad and I’m more optimistic by the day, but having been up all night sick with one of the plethora of ways Africa forces our intestinal plumbing to be leaky (Tracy as well, wonder what we ate?), I guess I’m feeling a bit grumpus.
(forgive blogs for biasing the negative after all)
Half the night was spent productively all the same. Although the tum tum may be somewhat afflicted, at least thanks to Wikipedia, I now have a fairly broad passing knowledge of the many ways it can so be afflicted here in Africa (as well as various other ailments). Parents, you’ll be pleased to know that it isn’t all half as bad as It sounds in the states. Doctors, don’t tell them if I’m horribly wrong.
The other half of the night is more to my vent though. In times of good internet signal and intermittent boredom I’ve occasionally (well, fairly frequently actually) spent time browsing the blogs of other random volunteers trying to tout the long-haul like we are (Peace Corps volunteers being the obvious majority). Occasionally I read a perspective that I can relate with, but a big portion of what’s there seems… fluffy. And admittedly I find a passing bit of angry ?jealousy? in that.
And so here’s where I belittle the thing I’m probably envious of. Seriously though, I do really believe what I’m saying (I know I’ve already somewhat posted on it before), so it’s not all whining.
The truth about all of that fluff and happy-dandy volunteer experience is that it really can be true for the volunteer, and it certainly does make for some great pictures and lovely stories. After all, who would balk at giving Christmas presents to a handful of underprivileged children? Who would not be impressed at the eco-friendly endeavor of building some useful contraption out of the thousands of plastic bags that liter the ground here? And how could teaching English to a bunch of cute African kids (with abounding photos to prove it) not sound like a great idea?
Despite the things we may deal with down here, getting to do things like that can definitely make it a dern empowering and inspiring experience. The truth also is though (I learn more and more) that such things aren’t necessarily sustainable changes. The plastic hammock or bag you made looks great, but it’s not really changing the culture of insanely overwhelming plastic littering here. That environmental impact is small, but what if a local delivery-to-recycling program could be started? Those kids will seriously seriously appreciate those Christmas gifts, and you’ll see smiles like no other, but that doesn’t change their economic situation or make them much more likely for a brighter future, and when you’re gone any new gifts are too. What about finding sponsors for the kids and a program to manage that, or perhaps empowering the kids with skills and knowledge to give them more of a fighting chance? And teaching English can certainly make a long-lasting difference in individual child’s life. But what about “teaching the teachers”? With so many organizational issues crippling the children’s education systemically as well, imagine how much effect there would be if any of those were solved.
Caveat: That’s not to say any of the “fluffy stuff” is wrong or shouldn’t be done.
You’ll notice that the alternatives, after all, aren’t very easy, and can sometimes be long-shots. They can also be a bit thankless, hard to measure results, are often big gambles, and are hard to convince donors to get on board with (they don’t have as many pretty pictures and quick results). And if you’re perspective is more of everyone doing a little to change the world, then the “fluffy” stuff works fine.
But if efficiency is a thought, if you’re thinking “What is the best thing I can do for these people?,” if the experience just doesn’t hold the whole burden for you (and the level of impact more so carries that weight), then much of the myriads of traditional volunteer photos might give you a little internal gripe. The other way is for you, and I think it’s a little bit dirtier. Indeed it can also be a less fulfilling because, to get that maximum impact, you have to think a little mathematically in a sense, and not always personally.
Example: You’re sponsoring a child who, to maintain his sponsorship, certain agreements must be fulfilled on behalf of both the kid and his parent. The kid is fulfilling his end, but suddenly the mother is lacking. Do you then “punish” the child for the sins of the parent? If not, the sponsored child could well be a money sink without good home support. In the meantime, the money used (potentially wasted) on him might go farther and change more lives sponsoring two more students with strong home support. What do you do?
It’s icky, but I think of things in this way. And that’s why I’m jealous. The experience doesn’t just cut it for me. I do want the maximum impact, and I can’t force myself to think of it otherwise. And since we don’t even have a set umbrella goal (like “HIV education” or “Agricultural development”, however ambiguous they may be, in the Peace Corps), I’m tend to be continuously thinking along these lines and filling my time thus.
Still, there’s something to be said about the “fluffy” experiences. They’re needed, at least some, and even for me more so than I’ve had them so far. Although the sustainable work may be sustaining for the develop-ee, it’s not very sustainable (I’ve found) for the happiness of the develop-er. I may be geared to the net gain, but I’ll admit my need for a big more of the jolly “look at this picture of me with so many freakin cute kids
(who really are posing with you not because they love you so much but because they like cameras and haven’t seen them much before)”! Hopefully my gifted program/class will allow that bit for me.
In the meantime, there’s plenty of stuff to get done for our sponsored kids. I suspect it will be a serious headache, but I think/hope it will allow me to sleep well at night.
And now… back to the bathroom.