Sunday, December 7, 2008

Advice for New Volunteers (CCS)

I realize most of you reading this blog are not coming here to volunteer, but if you are curious to know what challenges there are I want to share some Words of Wisdom (WoW).

1. Guilt Trip. For a lot of people, it's really hard to adjust because its really easy to feel bad, guilty about the poverty. I'm writing about this because I've heard a lot of complaining and angsting about this since I've been here. The MAIN THING to remember is that you are here to give people Intellectual Capital (IC) - to bring and share your knowledge and How To..... and not give handouts, free money, or candy. It is hard for a lot of people to say NO, but No is the right thing to do, because otherwise it is not sustainable and feeds the culture of "Gimmie, gimmie" and when the give aways are all used up, there is nothing left and they dont' want to work hard and change their lifestyle because "gimmie gimmie" is so easy. Some people feel that they have nothing to give but if you're from a first world country this is not true. Ask questions. Talk to people. Think. Don't complain. And most importantly, don't be guilted into thinking "oh if I can just save one, or if can just help one" - like the woman in the movie "The Constant Gardener"

Bottom line, Don't. It only serves to feed the wrong attitude and feeds the already vicious cycle that creates a failed state. Unlike physical goods or money, IC is limitless. George Bernard Shaw once said, "If you have an idea and I have an idea, and we trade ideas, then we each have 2 ideas. But if you have an apple and I have an apple, and we trade apples, we still only have 1 apple each. " If the problem is lack of money, then ask where is the money being used, where is it being spent, how is it generated in the first place. And then find ways to generate - key word here --- > sustainable income. Not donations.

2. Thick Skin. Bring a thick skin especially when you come into town - people keep asking for money and will try to talk to you on no end since we're not black. If your regular job involves saying "No" a lot of the time to people, then you have an advantage. My phone rings off the hook with people asking me to buy buy buy, and after a while, it's mean but sorry Christina's not here, i'm transferring you to voicemail. I don't have enough capital to give a grant to every single researcher out there, sorry.

3. Respect other people's space. I am having a bit of a challenge with the other volunteers in the house - I to think about the positive and not the negative. We all have a limit. I can't listen and socialize all the time. Most of all, it is very hard to listen to a lot of complaining when I'm really tired. I have a lot of patience but there is a limit. Especially when my placement is tiring, both physically and mentally. I tend to get quiet when i'm really tired and antisocial, but it doesn't mean i don't like you. I just need quiet time to think and also because I am tired. Some people don't get this and want to force socialization on you. Don't let them.

4. Learn Learn as much Swahili as you can. Talk to staff members and ask questions. They will give you the tools to understand and survive here. Ask a lot of questions. It will not only help you get around but also understand what is going on in the minds of local people and why things are they way they are here in Tanzania.

5. Give everything a lot of time. Give yourself plenty of alone time if you need it to process everything going on around you. Also, things move really slowly here; don't expect anything to get done on time. At ALL. or ever. The electricty is intermittent and can go out at any time. There is only one house computer and people can get really bitchy about how much time you spend on it. The only way I've gotten around it is to go to town and spend time there using the computers.

Above all, I want to emphasize that is the Idea that is powerful, not the goods.

Okay, I will get off my soap box now.  Smile like these two volunteers!

Thanks for reading.


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