I owe you all a huge apology for missing Two Hands Tuesday this past week, but it was indeed for a glorious reason. I spent the past week in the Dominican Republic working out logistics for the Coloring Countries program. My trip was wonderful, I even had the opportunity to squeeze in some beach time for a bit of peace of mind. I want to share a bit about what I learned on this trip because as always, international adventures are extremely educational. I learned much about myself as well about working with others.
I have always viewed myself as a person who emphasizes equality in this world, but I found a hidden obstacle to this belief on my trip (I’m not perfect, who knew?!). I have spent infinite hours and countless days working to develop a strong Coloring Countries program outline and program description for the U.S. students, teachers, and parents who participate in the pen-pal system (to learn more about the program, click on the Coloring Countries tab at the top). I have outlined the topics to write about, possible problems with the program, topics the students should refrain from writing about, and much more. While I spent time developing these documents it did not even cross my mind to translate the documents to Spanish to give to the principal of El Mango or to the parents of the Dominican Republic students. As a person who considers myself a humanitarian who emphasizes equality and peace, I have found myself displaying double standards. Subconsciously I did not view the people connected with the program in the Dominican Republic on the same basis as I viewed the participants in the U.S. This was very embarrassing for me to discover about myself. From this experience I have learned to look at each situation I enter through the eyes of the individuals who might be impacted. The teachers, principals, students and parents at the school in El Mango are just as deserving to have the resources that I provide for the individuals involved with the program in the U.S. A little self discovery for Annie on this trip!
In previous blogs I have spoken about asking communities we enter about their needs before attempting to provide resources or financial assistance. It is easy to enter an impoverished community and see the countless needs that are not being met. What we do not think about after seeing these needs, is asking the community what THEY think their immediate needs are, or even IF they would like financial assistance. Peripherally off topic: when I visited the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation a few months ago, I discovered that even though it seemed they needed assistance with basic living necessities it was disrespectful in their culture to simply “hand over” used goods (makes sense, right?). Anyway, when I was visiting with Dionicio, the principal of the El Mango school, I made a point to ask him how he thought the school could benefit from the Coloring Countries program. He listed countless needs that had not even crossed my mind! I asked him to write down the school’s needs so I could remember them when I returned to the U.S. I also made a point to ask if he thought the pen-pal program was beneficial for the school, and I saw him smile after this question, which was an extremely rare occurrence! He reassured me that the objectives which I had embarrassingly scribbled on a yellow legal pad (see above paragraph) would be extremely beneficial for the students of El Mango.
Here’s my third lesson, are you ready? It’s a doosy. I brought down 20 pairs of shoes with me for the students of El Mango because when I met with Dionicio in August he told me this was one of the main needs of the students. I anticipated a feeling of volunteer euphoria that I have experienced previously when I give my time away; but this is not what I felt. I brought with me as many pairs of shoes as I could stuff into my two suitcases, but they were simply not enough. I found that I did not have the sizes to fit most of the children who greatly needed a new pair of shoes. It was heart breaking to shrug my shoulders and turn these children away. My lesson here is to not expect anything when living for others, it is contradictory to have expectations of reward, even a reward as small as a good feeling. I am not living to make myself happy, although much of the time that is a side benefit, I am living to make others happy.
My recommendation for myself and everyone who wants to work in international development- remove yourself from the situation completely and place your eyes and heart in the body of the community. Giving is an infinitely complicated occurrence.
As for the smuggled guanabana mentioned in the title of this post… I may or may not have smuggled a guanabana across U.S. borders; but that was pretty much just to get you to read my blog =).
Photo blog soon to come- Keep your eyes peeled!