Thursday, September 5, 2013

Reflecting on ´Change´

 To be frank, I came out to Bolivia with the idealised perception that I was going to become the next Mother Theresa.  However, in reality this is never the case. I can honestly say that when I arrived in Bolivia, I thought I was coming out here with some “hand of God” like quality about me, believing that anything I set my mind or hand too, I could “change”. Therefore, one of the toughest life lessons I’ve had to learn whilst being in Bolivia is that it’s not about changing the world, it’s just about offering something new. 

Throughout my early work in the centre, I felt like a glorified teaching assistant, especially as I was placed in a comfortable, well equipped centre in the suburbs of La Paz. I was looking at this centre in such a one-world view; why aren’t there any parts of the centre crumbling down around the children? Why do the children have readily available learning tools? Why are the educators being paid? I was straining to see the reason for my placement in the children’s centre, that is, until I had the chance to look at the finer details of my situation. It’s only until you look at where this centre is situated, in a poorer suburb of La Paz where opportunities and work aren’t exactly in abundance. It took me time to focus on the reason as to why these five and under year olds had to come to this centre 24/7, purely down to the fact that their family had to go and work in order to supply for these amazing, creative children.

I took some time to have a chat with a good friend of mine, and the discussion went as follows... “George, you need to stop believing that you’re going to change the whole world in 12 weeks. Think about each child as an individual. Each day you spend with the educators Is one less day they have to care for 12 children on their own, each day is a chance to make the tiniest impact on someone”. I resorted back to my earlier reservations; reservations as to why I would bother coming out here to “change” one child’s life for the good. It’s only until you realise that you’re offering these children a new experience, an insight into a completely different culture, the opportunity to just laugh, play and jump on the giant “gringo”!

It’s true when I say that all I had done was concentrate on my own experience, and concentrate on how I’d begin to fulfil my own lust for world “peace” (to put it in a very Miss USA scenario). Instead, I needed to really concentrate on these children, the reason as to why I had flown 6,000 miles, the reason as to why I had chosen this project. I had the chance to add something new, something different to these children’s day. You may take from this that I am painting them out to be from a third world country bearing rags, however, this could not be further from the truth. These children are the happiest, most full-of-life children I have ever met. Not only am I offering them something, they are re-defining a part of my understanding of development, volunteering and education. The honest, bare-faced fact about my time here is that you walk out of the front door of my centre, and you’re faced with a world that you could never begin to understand. A world you couldn’t drop yourself into and live happily and easily. These children walk through the door of that centre every day with a smile on their face, and they leave through the same door 8 hours later with that fixed, monumentally expressive smile.

I’ve definitely learnt something; I’ve learnt to embrace the smallest of opportunities. Not the opportunity to necessarily educate, definitely not the opportunity to change  or walk in with the generalised western world-view of being a “volunteer”; because it’s not that simple. These people, children and communities are beautiful, complex, and hugely welcoming. They don’t need or necessarily want change, they just want someone who is willing to walk in through the door with a smile, and leave through that same giant double-door with the same fixed, monumentally offering, expressive smile.

The community doesn’t need to change, neither does the centre, it was just my outlook that needed it. It just took me some time to realise.

Written by George Morgan
Edited by Sarah Cassidy

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  1. Great blog post, George - you capture the reality of the ICS experience so well.
    I hope you enjoy the rest of your placement and we'll see you at your reunion day!

    Stella McKenna
    Alumni Coordinator
    International Service

  2. Great post. After working on the ICS scheme since it started I have often heard of volunteers having similar experiences. We would love to be able to help volunteers to prepare better for this and we do try but on the other hand maybe some things are better learnt the hard way.