When volunteers come to work with us, we usually ask them to reflect on their experience by asking them a few questions about their time with us. Morganne was a remarkable 16-year old who came to volunteer for 6 weeks during the summer of 2014. Among other projects, she did a wonderful job leading the “songs” station at Cambia Mis Estrellas Summer Camp. She expertly changed the lyrics of many common American children’s songs to incorporate the theme of the week and the kids had a great time singing and dancing in her station. The following are her thoughtful and mature answers to some of our questions. Perhaps they will inspire you to come and spend some time with us if you haven’t already!
PE: What was your favorite part of your trip?
Morganne: I really enjoyed knowing and working with my housemates. They had a really cool diversity of experience and I feel like I learned a lot. I also thought that camp was a really fun and engaging experience.
PE: What was your least favorite part of your trip?
Morganne: Personally, I missed both wifi and the comforts of home. But I hardly think these even qualify as woes because they were just a part of the adventure. I had a great trip in general.
PE: Had you seen poverty/lack of opportunity to this extent before?
I had not experienced it so personally or for such an extended period of time. I traveled to India a little more than 4 years ago, and briefly saw similar conditions, but it was a glance at best.
PE: How do you feel about returning to the US?
To be perfectly honest, I felt relieved. It took some doing to get here (I had some money troubles trying to navigate Dominican customs), but it was nice to come home. 6 weeks was a long time for me, and while I wouldn’t trade a moment of it, I was happy to see my family.
PE: Do you feel like anything in your mindset/world view will change? What will really stick with you? My mom has worked extensively in the international development field, and I like to think that her values and ideals are a part of my own outlook. So there weren’t any dramatic worldview alterations, but I still feel that I learned a lot. We had some excellent in-house discussions on the ethics of voluntourism and development that helped me to clarify my own views on what we accomplished this summer and also future projects.
PE: Do you feel like those of us from developed countries that have received good education, have job opportunities, etc. have a certain amount of responsibility to the developing world?
Morganne: I heard an excellent anecdote recently that I think is apropos to the work that NGOs do in the developing world (and by extension what we did this summer). There was once a little boy who was drawing a bath, and in doing so he accidentally let the tub overflow. Water soon flooded the bathroom and his father came in. The dad asked his son what on earth had he been thinking, to which the child replied, “There isn’t time to look at the bigger picture, dad! We have to get buckets and bail!” Similarly, the problems that non-profit organizations battle are immediate and pressing. We have a responsibility to help with these needs. There is an issue that is eminently solvable, but equally needs attention in the long term. The educations that we have been fortunate enough to receive in the United States give us the tools we need to help with this, and I think that it’s admirable and necessary to address it. However, these problems stem from a socioeconomic and political system that is fundamentally broken, for whatever reason. There isn’t anything we can do, as foreigners, to foment the change that is necessary. The instigation needs to come from a grassroots level and sweep it’s way through the government. These larger changes have a tendency to go horribly awry when large and powerful countries inflict them upon the developing world. Iraq is the example that springs to mind, though it is extreme. As individuals, it is both satisfying and frustrating to work on the local level with underprivileged communities. On one hand, there is a tangible difference that you can make if your project succeeds. On the other, it feels as though you are bailing with a thimble, to reference the allegory above.
Food for thought on this last question:
-We (from the developed world in general) have a responsibility to our own country built in with taxes but what about responsibility to the developing world?
-In our generation we are not directly responsibility for the development of our home countries. We did not take part in setting it up but we do reap the benefits.