(In case you missed #1, you should click here. Otherwise, you’ll be very confused…)
“Before you sign up for a volunteer trip anywhere in the world this summer, consider whether you possess the skill set necessary for that trip to be successful. If yes, awesome. If not, it might be a good idea to reconsider your trip. Sadly, taking part in international aid where you aren’t particularly helpful is not benign. It’s detrimental. It slows down positive growth and perpetuates the “white savior” complex that, for hundreds of years, has haunted both the countries we are trying to ‘save’ and our (more recently) own psyches.”
Let me tell you about how I got to Honduras.
As a naive 19 year old from small town Ohio, I went to the Philippines with 35 of my closest friends. I went because…it was the thing to do. I probably had a crush on someone who was going. I had never been on a plane. Someone paid for my trip. I’m a good Christian and this is what good Christians do. I was there for some days. We went door to door in the slums of Manila asking people if they would like a special gift from the Bible. While on this trip, I decided that this is what I wanted to do with my life. Upon returning to the States, I was going to quit college and move to the Philippines. I was a changed person.
I came home. Instead of quitting, I switched colleges and then majors. I graduated. Joined Americorps. Moved to Arizona to chase after my boyfriend.
Seven years after my life-changing trip to the Philippines, I seemed like one more middle-class American who went around the world and accomplished nothing. But you see, that trip did change me. It changed me in ways that weren’t visible for nearly a decade. That seed had been planted and it grew. But it wasn’t like bamboo that grows rapidly and visibly. It was more like a potato. A slow growing potato hidden from view. Throughout the years, I tried to shake this desire, thinking that I was too immature or selfish to learn how to be content here in the States. And living in another country seemed so exotic. When Sean and I got married, I had decided that I needed to give up this dream. Until Sean suddenly became all kinds of motivated to go serve somewhere. (Seriously, I’m still so shocked that this happened.) We moved to Honduras for a year, I met the kids and now, well you know the rest.
But if you had revisited my transformation a few years or a few months after that first trip to the Philippines, you would not have seen much. We need to stop judging past volunteers based on the little we can see in the months or year after they’ve returned.
I can’t tell you a single person’s name from my Philippines trip. But the path that trip put me on has brought me to this place where I can name 300 Honduran kids and tell you most of their stories. Does my lack of connection to the Philippines take away from what the Philippines led to? Today, I have no impact on the Philippines. Does this fact make that trip a waste?
(One little story for all of you who will never pack up and move to another country. There’s a man I know who was angry and mean. He went to Honduras with his wife. It opened his eyes to the fact that there is a much bigger world out there, that the things that make him so angry are petty and fairly insignificant. Over a year later and he has maintained his peacefulness and calm. He has no plans to live in Honduras and he may not be supporting any organization financially, but how can we even entertain the thought that this trip was a waste for him? His wife? His children??)
When you go to another country for a week, it should not be expected that you drop everything and move there. But you should go with the expectation that something should change. It could be a shift in perspective. It could be a shift in career. It could be a shift in how you spend your money.
Come to Honduras or Haiti or the Philippines. Come purposefully with this question in the back of your mind: “What am I supposed to do with this experience?”
To some of you, it will mean quitting jobs and moving to other countries.
To most, it will mean working harder and being more frugal with your money so that you can support those who are working in that country.
To all, it should permanently effect the way we view suffering and entitlement. (Mainly our own.)
Come and commit to being unselfish for the week. This trip is not about us. If you find yourself complaining about the work, the heat, the kids, the fact that the schedule has changed once again, take a step back. Regroup.
It is very true that lots of international aid has been unproductive at best, detrimental at worst. This absolutely does need to change. But we can’t place all the blame on the shoulders of those who serve. The shoulders of those who recruit for and lead these teams are the ones who should feel that weight. Those shoulders would be mine.
It is my job to make sure that the work that you will be doing is worthwhile.
It is my job to form open relationships built on trust and mutual goals with the Directors of the homes you will work within so that s/he can communicate when our work is a hinderance instead of a help.
It is my job to find the guts to be honest with you or your team when it is clear that our work or our attitude (the white saviour attitude does creep up at time) is detrimental to the kids.
So please come. It’s hard to truly understand when you only know the kids through pictures and stories. Who am I kidding? It’s hard to truly understand when they’ve been an integral part of your life for four years. But let’s not scratch this whole culture of short term service simply because sometimes (often?) it’s not done well. Instead, let’s ask hard questions and accept hard answers and then make a commitment to do and be better. I believe it’s worth it.