It had been an especially rough day in Honduras. One in which I had been less than patient and kind with all children who pulled my arms, shirt, purse and hair in twenty-seven directions at the same time. One in which I had a meeting with the Director of a home that showed just how much more work I have to do to gain her trust and was forced to take a few dozen steps back in order to regroup. In those low points of days when I haven’t been the very best me, when I haven’t progressed as far down this path of running a non-profit as I think I should, there’s this little voice that creeps in and says “What are you doing here?” Sensing an impending wave of dejectedness, I hustled over to Dunkin Donuts to journal through the events of the day. But before journaling, I did what all people do when they should be doing something important, but want to avoid this important task. I checked Facebook. Just real quick.
And I saw a link to this post.
The Problem with Little White Girls and Boys: Why I Stopped Being a Voluntourist.
Don’t click on it, Jenny.
This is not going to be the uplifting and recentering piece of writing you need right now.
Don’t do it! Don’tdon’tdon’tdon
I clicked. I read. As expected, I felt discouraged.
Please read it. (2 million people have read this, yep 6 zeros, so you probably already have.) For those who haven’t, she talks about her trips to various countries and how she’s not going to do it anymore. That white people going to serve in other countries for a week cause more harm than good. And then she lists what is done wrong.
The reality is that these articles and these books are so necessary. They can be discouraging, but they call us to be better. They call us to look in the dark corners of our actions to find our hidden motives. They call us to do what is necessary instead of what feels good. So read this. And read Toxic Charity or When Helping Hurts or The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster. (I can’t actually speak for the last one. But it’s currently in my purse waiting to be read…)
I’ve read her post a few times and after each paragraph I say yes, but…
The ‘yes, buts’ are what I want to bring you today. And next week. And that’s probably it. But I reserve the right to revisit this topic for a third week if necessary.
My first ‘yes, but’ comes from this paragraph:
“I don’t want a little girl in Ghana, or Sri Lanka, or Indonesia to think of me when she wakes up each morning. I don’t want her to thank me for her education or medical care or new clothes. Even if I am providing the funds to get the ball rolling, I want her to think about her teacher, community leader, or mother. I want her to have a hero who she can relate to – who looks like her, is part of her culture, speaks her language, and who she might bump into on the way to school one morning.”
Let’s go back to that afternoon in Dunkin.
I journaled about the day. I journaled and prayed about what she wrote. Still feeling slightly dejected, I packed up my stuff and headed to Pisos, where five of the oldest Proniño boys live. My car door closed and Adonay poked his head out the front door.
“Jenny! I just started making dinner and was wondering if I should make enough for you as well!”
Some of the hard things from the day rolled off my shoulders.
That day Adonay was a bike messenger.
Upon arrival in the cramped kitchen, I start helping Adonay and Cristian flip tajadas and shred cabbage. Adonay tells stories from his school day. Stories about all the ways he’s excelling in class, helping students that don’t understand and receiving public praise from his teachers. Cristian talks about the car he fixed at his internship. And as I listen to their happy chatter, I realize something.
I am part of their lives.
We are bonded by something that is good and healthy and encouraging.
It has very little to do with the color of our skin or the amount of money or resources I have brought with me.
It has everything to do with time spent getting to know each other. Time spent laughing, listening, cutting cabbage.
And the fact that I, a white person, am adamant that education is important or that they should be honest with their girlfriends doesn’t minimize their cultural pride or identity when they agree with me.
These boys are growing, maturing and learning and even though I am a gringa in their kitchen, they know that THEY are the ones that have accomplished this. And they’re proud of it. Even if it’s a gringa encouraging or funding it, it’s a Honduran accomplishing it. And these kids are well aware of that fact.
There is no single person, influence or donation that brought these boys to where they’re at today. It has been a number of Hondurans, North Americans and Dutch(ians?) that have worked together to provide discipline, structure, encouragement, opportunities, food, a place to sleep, too many three liters of Big Cola to count and direction that have brought them to this point.
“Even if I am providing the funds to get the ball rolling, I want her to think about her teacher, community leader, or mother. I want her to have a hero who she can relate to – who looks like her, is part of her culture, speaks her language.”
Me too. But.
Should all North Americans and Dutch-ians pull out of their lives because it may skew their idea which skin color = good. Heck no! I can reiterate your sense of worth even if your culture is different than mine. Can we boil this down to relationship over skin color or culture? If a Honduran child watches TV shows in which all Hondurans are bad, lazy or stupid and all Americans are good, kind and smart they may develop a negative idea of their culture. If a Honduran child has a strong, positive and encouraging friendship with an American who encourages him to reach his full potential as a human being, I’m pretty sure his cultural identity will remain intact.
“OK, but what about the people that come for just a week? I think she’s writing more about them.” Great question! Don’t you worry, that’s next weeks ‘yes, but’. Stay tuned!