This week has been pretty uneventful as no one showed up to my class on Monday, we did not go to Los Almendros (it was fathers day Tuesday so schools were closed), and the translation work was still not ready for me to start working on. That being said, there is not much to blog about this week so instead I will talk about an article (<- link to article is attached) that a friend sent to me. This article reminded me a lot about “To Hell With Good Intentions” written by Ivan Illich, another article that I have had to read for class a couple times since first studying abroad. This time however, I felt like it related to what I am doing at this exact moment of my life.
When I think about volunteerism, to me I think about being selfless and giving to a community in need without expecting anything in return. Apparently, this is not reality anymore as (not everyone, but) many people go on volunteer trips as a way to feel better about themselves. I am on a volunteer trip and especially this week being as slow as I previously described, I have sort of felt like I am not really helping Peggy as much as I expected. Even if I had every single student show up for every single class, being here for 2 months I really cannot expect them to learn a whole lot. I do think that what the Center offers is what is needed to help further the education of locals so I wish I was able to do more. To outsiders and those that are not normally connected to the center though, I just look like a tourist. For example, on Friday a group of students from a high school in San Salvador came to the center. A couple of girls peeked their heads into the volunteer office where I was sitting and asked if they could come in. I said yes and they come right over to me and start asking questions like what I’m doing here, where I’m from, and finally if they could take a picture with me. After the picture they left but only to return with a bigger group of students all wanting to take pictures with me (I got a few pictures of my own as well). They did not care about what I was doing here, only that I am from the United States.
Instead of solely focusing on what I am and am not doing for the center, I also like to think about what the center is doing for me. Every day here is a day that I learn more and more about myself or meet someone new and interesting. To me, it is a learning experience as well as a volunteer position. The article – written by Rafia Zakaria – almost makes it seem like volunteering for the experience is a bad thing because then the volunteers go home and talk about their experiences in a way that makes them look like a better person. Zakaria also seems to suggest that those who participate in voluntourism programs are wealthy and do not speak the native language of the country they are visiting. Neither of these are the case for me. So I find myself somewhere in limbo, between being a tourist and a temporary member of the Suchitoto community; between giving to the community and learning from this experience. With only two more (full) weeks to go, I am curious to see if I will feel fully apart of either side.