Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I'm not the help you want

“Nothing that I can do will change the structure of the universe. But maybe, by raising my voice I can help the greatest of all causes - goodwill among men and peace on earth.” ~Albert Einstein

Living in a community that has several different aid agencies and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) has some unique challenges as well as benefits. For instance, one benefit is that there are a lot of projects going on that I can partake in or assist with. Unfortunately, there is always a potential risk that there are multiple NGOs or other organizations such as Community Based Organizations (CBOs) that are doing the exact same projects and that they may not be aware of that. In such cases, the wheel is reinvented in many ways: sometimes a wooden wheel; sometimes a metallic wheel, sometimes a small wheel; other times a large wheel.
At any rate, it's definitely nice to be able to provide some assistance, to the best of my ability, to the projects.

One of the downsides of living in an NGO community, as a volunteer, however is the preconceived notion that all foreigners work for NGOs and therefore have lots of money and are here (wherever here is) to provide funding for projects or other similar support. In my case, it did not take too long for the community to understand that I am not an NGO worker and that I am merely a volunteer teaching at the local technical school.

It seems to me, however, that although we (we being used as a general term for people all over and not just volunteers in this context) try to help in various ways (volunteering, providing funding for projects, etc.) the more we help, the more the people become dependent on the help causing a self-perpetuating problem. This problem is depending on the aid.

When the community becomes too dependent on aid the foreigners become being seen as the bringers of the solution. This in turn, leads to the community members not making the projects their own. So what happens when you show up with a project that is yours and not the community's? Well it's likely that once you leave your project ends up leaving with you.
The downside, or at least in my experience, is that the more people rely on foreign aid the less and less that a project becomes the communty's. The people begin to expect the NGOs to come in with their hand outs and continue to hand out food, jobs, etc.

What is not typically expected is a volunteer (or in some cases several volunteers) in a given community that don't come with money and funding and instead come with knowledge, ideas, and experiences to share.

Which one am I? I am the volunteer that comes with ideas and knowledge to share with the community. I plant seeds and water them in hopes that the community (or community members) will take the initiative and take the seedlings and help the tree grow by providing water as needed so that one day birds may make their nests there.
Of course, not all seedlings will bear fruit, but it is my hope, as a volunteer that if I plant enough seeds at least a few will bear fruit and bring a positive change to the community.

It is also important to note that no matter how much I am able to accomplish - however many seeds that will one day bear fruit, volunteering is not a one-way street. In fact, on this two-way street I have come to many a realization. But that will be a topic for another blog (continuation from a previous blog also on how I've changed).

Let's just suffice it to say, I'm not the help you want or are used to; I'm not here to give you hand outs.

I am here to help in a new way.

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