Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Slingshot Effect

I am packed and ready to go. As per Honduran style, my arrangements to spend the night in San Pedro Sula fell through at the last minute, but being prepared for the (inevitable) eventualities is part of living here. So instead, I have my ticket for the butt-crack-of-dawn bus that will get me to the airport in time for my noon departure. All is settled.

Except my mind. Or my heart. Upon leaving last time, I could see the differences I had made. I had contributed to my kids’ intellects and had found some paths for resolving a few day to day issues in their lives. After 4 months here I felt at home and full of purpose.

The past five weeks have not been the same. We covered one unit of math in my class and when it came time to take the test most of the children failed rather miserably. Five weeks wasn’t enough time for them to intake subtraction with borrowing (2nd grade) or basic multiplication (3rd grade.) Faced with their life obstacles both physical (living far way, being hungry or sick) and mental (low self esteem, poor motivation, and inadequate self-discipline or parental support,) the basics continue to elude them. A child might have a good day, but for the most in need of educational support they are few and far between.

I am not built to be a band-aid. It simply isn’t enough for me. I cannot say with comfort that I did what I could. That is the bandaid I have to put over my own heart, knowing that I will be back, and that I am returning to States to get the education I need to come back and make a real difference. Some may be able to come for a month or two and leave feeling like they have done enough, and that is okay. But I am not one of them.

The time has proved very useful, and my influence has been positive for many other here, I know. For the development workers who are always here, who are faced with the endless stream of problems and tears, we who are here for short times can bring great energy and renewal with us. We bring fresh eyes and minds to the problems. We bring the patience and hope that have begun to dwindle in the face of daily difficulties.

I did help to collect, organize, and compile growth and nutrition data on almost 600 children from the Cuenca Cangrejal for Dr. Black’s malnutrition study. A few children are significantly more advanced in their Spanish, Math, Health and English abilities after my time here. Most interesting was the observation I made that in all my conversations with Hondurans about the development of their own country, they almost unanimously (but independently of each other) described their culture as selfish and unconcerned with helping others. I have been able to network with a number of other people in the world of volunteering and development, as well as continue to uphold the friendships I began over the winter and spring when I was here before. And being here during the “coup” has brought me truly first-hand knowledge of just how little we can understand the world through the pinhole cameras of the mass media. I know this was not a waste of time.

As usual, I am left with more questions than answers, more anecdotes than measurements, and more philosophy than faith.

I find my mind going towards questions of the efficacy of foreign volunteers in the education field. Who are we? Why do we come here? What backgrounds do we bring with us? What impact do we have on the children and their community? Do we really help? If so, how so? What do we do that is harmful? What styles of volunteer programs work best? What kind of training do we need to be most effective? Perhaps there is a Master’s thesis in there somewhere…

As always, my mind and heart are open, looking for the path that is for me. It is here somewhere, the special thing that I can do to make the most good out of my energies and abilities…

And for now I will continue to research and investigate and learn. How do you motivate children to learn? Especially when the family cannot motivate them? How do you awaken that part of the soul in them that wants to engage and face their challenges and responsibilities? How do you help them grow to be giving, caring, responsible adults that can make a positive change in their self-described selfish, self-destructive, corrupt culture?

1 comment:

  1. I think it's great you are going home with questions. That's the beginning of new knowledge. There's definitely a Master's thesis in there. A good one too. The role and impact of foreign volunteers is an issue I am also very interested in, and I'm exploring it a little in my thesis, and am hoping I'll be able to continue to explore is post-doc.

    Feel free to contact me via email, twitter or whatever if you have any questions or ideas to share.
    Happy travels and good luck with your study!