So, what now?

“In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.” – Abraham Maslow

I returned from my International Service Immersion trip and it was a hard transition. On one hand, I was mad at my family and friends for caring about such trivial things like what happened last Thursday night or training the new family dog, but on the other hand, it was too easy to slip back into the routine of home. I don’t want to forget, but at the same time, I can’t perpetually live in the moments of that trip – that’s not living. So where do I go from here? Do I sit and constantly relive the suffering of those people so I don’t forget? But then, that makes me want to push it all away and return to my happy sunny home. So I can’t do either of those. I have to live in a limbo between the two: remembering enough so I don’t forget, but not too much so I want to forget everything. It’s a thin line of remembering to motivate enough to make a change. Not just a change in a foreign country, but a change here, in the US too. It’s easy to go to a foreign country, see suffering and poverty, and forget about it when you go home. And think that home doesn’t have those problems. But home does have those problems. Here in the US, people suffer in poverty. They worry where their next meal is coming from. They struggle with not making enough money or not providing enough for their children. There are issues like teenage pregnancy, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and not sufficient access to education in the US just like in other countries. The magnitude of these problems is different for each country, but we all suffer with the same afflictions. This isn’t just a foreign problem for a foreign country. It’s easy to go on an immersion trip and think that these problems only affect the occupants of that country. It’s hard to come home and realize that the perfect bubble you live in is not so perfect – people are struggling a hard battle, we just don’t always want to recognize it because that means acknowledging that our world isn’t perfect.

 

At the beginning of our trip, I wrote in my journal, “I felt uncomfortable almost the entire day. I was uncomfortable with how clearly out of place we were, but how the people were used to seeing “poverty tourists” come thought the area many times before. I was uncomfortable with how little Spanish I knew and how I have the privilege to come to a country, not know the language and be perfectly ok. I was uncomfortable with their living conditions – and rightly so – but more uncomfortable knowing there was nothing I could do about it. I was uncomfortable not knowing how much food they actually got in a day. I just felt terrible imposing myself on their lives and even more so knowing that hundreds of people had come before me doing the same thing – witnessing their poverty or as I like to call it “poverty tourism”. How does that make them feel? It’s not like I’m staying for a couple of years and helping start a grassroots movement to help lift them out of poverty – not even donating money can do that. But instead, I came for a couple of hours to witness the suffering of others. And that makes me sick. As Americans, we have these lofty ideals that we’re doing this to help people and lift them out of poverty, but we can’t do that. They have to do it themselves. “If you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime.” We need to stop putting these people on display. A week in a foreign country does not change you or anyone else. Yes, it puts things into perspective, but at what cost? The humanity of another person?” As the trip went on, we saw that there were organization in place that were teaching the people money management and other important life skills. The skills helped the people change their situations and better their lives. But the questions I posed in my journal still lingered.

 

Another thing I noticed was that the upper class blamed these people for being lazy and not wanting to change their situation. That made me think even more, so now I challenge you to think. Everyone does things for a reason. We can’t just attribute things to a race or gender. Think about what made you who you are. Think about all the people who helped you. Think about all the opportunities you had. Now think about if you didn’t have those things. Think about if you were born in the Dominican Republic. Your mom was fourteen years old and your dad was fifteen. Your dad was a sugar cane worker and the closest school was five miles down the road, but you didn’t have a car, let alone a pair of shoes without holes in them. You want to go to school, but it’s hard to focus because you’re always hungry and it’s such a long walk everyday. You have to help your mom at home because you have five younger siblings. Not to mention, you dad has an alcohol problem and spends a lot of your very thin resources on alcohol. And he’s abusive. Think about your life at fifteen. How easy is it to keep going to school? What happens if you or your girlfriend gets pregnant? Should I blame you for working in the sugar cane fields just like the rest of your family and friends? Should I call you lazy and say you lack ambition? Why can’t you pull yourself up by your bootstraps?

 

The harder struggle is what now? Now I know all these things and have seen all these things. It’s way too easy to forget everything and move on with my life, but I know in my heart that I can’t do that. There are people that need help now.

 

So, I ask you, what now?