Views on Volunteering

I’ve what, volunteered for a little more than a week now? Mind you, I’m no expert so I probably shouldn’t start to ramble on about my own views about volunteering when I’m admittedly just about as ignorant on the subject as I was but a week ago. Have I volunteered in the past? Sure. I plan to do keep doing so. That doesn’t make me an expert on it though. It just makes me a person that likes to spend his time to give back from time to time. But am I doing a disservice to those I’m trying to assist when I do volunteer my time and labor? I sure hope not. Though I’m not so naive to say I haven’t done that. Not intentionally of course. No one intentionally goes into a volunteering project to have the result a waste of time. That’s just how the cookie crumbles. Or can crumbles. My view on volunteering is not that it hinders more than it helps. I don’t think that. I think it has amazing potential to help and service and better the lives of countless humans and their communities. I also believe that is the potential to do more harm than good. Which is why I’m glad that at least after one week here I think I chose a program that intends and actually does manage to do more good than harm. I think a big part of how they manage to do that is that this group works with programs that are already set in place here in Peru. Or here in whatever country you end up volunteering at. I’m not going into a foreign area and telling the people “Look at me, the affluent white man, I will guide you into prosperity like Moses guided the Jews! Throw down your brooms and pick up a Starbucks, I will show you the path to righteousness and the American way. Let us embark on the back of a bald eagle and fly to a faraway land where life without WiFi is unfathomable and people have more TVs than bedrooms.” The point I’m trying to make is that you hear countless tales of a group of volunteers going off to a far away country, building the locals a house for instance, and then not even a week after they’re gone, the inhabitants of the land tear it down and use it for their own shelters, for firewood, for any list of reasons that have nothing to do with what the volunteers intended. I am not going into this area blind, I’m not creating new systems that I’m trying to forcefully incorporate into their local cultures. I’m working with people in the area, I’m working with people from the area, I’m working to assist and better those in the area but I’m doing so on their terms. Of course one needs to create and initiate and develop new ideas and new volunteering strategies. I’m not saying that’s bad, how else do new volunteer or new programs startup without that kind of thought. However, I’m just happy that this program works with organizations that are here to provide a better care and outlook and life for the people involved. I’m glad that I’m a part of established organizations that know what they’re doing and where I know my work here isn’t for naught and that when I leave I won’t have achieved nothing. We’re not here to shove our ideals down someone’s throat. We’re here to assist with things that need help and wouldn’t survive without a constant flow of volunteers. Volunteering is a beautiful thing. To see the joy on children’s faces just when I walk into a classroom is a beautiful thing. To hear from others the joy and exaltation that they provide to those they work with is a beautiful thing. To know they’re actually making a difference, albeit even temporary is a beautiful thing. Not everyone can be saved. Not everyone can be helped. Not every situation can be improved for the better. Some situations that we work with may be entirely hopeless but if we can inspire in them a little bit of hope for a little while then I’m glad that I’m devoted to doing it. So it goes.

Stray Thoughts:

  • Peruvians seem to have very little facial here. I’m not sure if they shave every day or they’re still waiting to hit the final round of puberty like your’s truly. At the very least I finally feel at peace with my baby face since I’m not in a land of faux lumberjacks.
  • I may have been overstating my ability when I said I was beginning to get the hang of three year old Spanish. With one of two teachers out of the class today (the one who speaks some English) and the other volunteer I work with on vacation in the Amazon, I began to feel like an alien earthling dropped onto an entirely new planet. I managed but I may need to amp up my studying just a little bit more.
  • Apparently the original potato can have its origin linked back to Peru. They have 200 types of potatoes/tuber starches here. I feel by the end of this nine weeks I will have tried every type of them. They really enjoy their carbs here.
  • I am still peeved that when I told a random Peruvian market vendor that I was from Alabama, he asked me “Auburn?”. Why would any country care about Auburn? Why does the US care about Auburn? No one cares about Auburn except the people that reluctantly go there because they were brainwashed to think the Crimson Tide is the enemy. They are not. They are the path. The moral of the story: He did not get my service.
  • I have now eaten both guinea pig and piglet. The Last Supper painting that you’ll find in Cuzco has guinea pig/cuy as the main dish in front of Jesus. It’s a delicacy. It’s apparently cheap and plentiful and well, it’s meat. From my limited experiences, it doesn’t taste bad but the person who ate it for an entire meal did say it had a “pungent” flavor. The piglet was pretty tasty, if not on quite the fatty side. Either way, might as well enjoy the local cuisine because if I’m a picky eater then I won’t have any fun.

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