Since it is something that I am in constant battle with, I thought that I should set out to explain my thoughts and reasoning for being in Malava for a year. Having done one year of service with NDMV in New Haven, I made the choice to come here for a few reasons. As the end draws closer, yet still remains a bit away, now seems the best time to explain. I must also admit that I am influenced by what I have read and heard from other people who have done or are doing similar things to myself. As always, I may say things that will not agree with some. It is what I do best.
To begin, I will say a little about what I am not trying to do. I have always found it easier to begin with what I do not want to accomplish in order to better determine what it is that I want to do. First and most important of all, I am not here to save _________(insert anything: Kenya, Malava, disabled children, myself, etc.). I find it problematic when people set out to save someone else. That is not to be confused with the lifeguard/doctor sense of saving. The idea that an individual (like myself) needs to go to a place (Kenya) to save some people (disabled children and their families). I believe it impossible to be anything but condescending when taking on this mentality. I have worked hard to prevent myself from sliding into it. I am not this great gift to the SJC that is going to transform it and its clients. I will continue to work to the best of my abilities to provide the necessary support and work that is needed for it to run and grow. However, I recognize that my greatest contributions will not be via my work.
I am not here to travel and have fun. That does not mean that I have not and will not accomplish both, but travel is the least important thing I will do this year. It does provide plenty of good photos and relaxation, but remains the lowest on my priorities. I do not look forward to weekends because I get to do (insert activity here). Staying here for a year is a conscious decision to become as much a part of the community as I can. People here do not go away every weekend to travel around Kenya. How can I understand what it really is like if I spend every weekend away? I have enjoyed every part of this year because I love where I work, the people I work with, the friends I have made, the people in town, and the ways that I have had to struggle to do a simple task like drink water. In no way has this been a year off from my life or a vacation. I see it more as the first year I have not been on vacation.
I am not here for that warm feeling of self fulfillment when I am the reason for a child being happy. It is a powerful thing to bring joy but an equally addictive feeling. I find it to be counterproductive as well. Too often, I hear people express the wonderful feeling that it gives them to provide a service. Something along the lines of, “Feeding those poor people at the soup kitchen made me feel to happy.” Maybe taking a few liberties, but I have heard variants on that said before. What it means is, “It made me feel good to provide something to those helpless people who would not have eaten anything if it was not for my generous time and service.” Volunteerism is vital, but viewing it in that manner can only give the volunteer cause to place him or herself above the people who they are ‘serving.’ I do not wish to be unhappy or disconnected this year or at any point. For me, my happiness, really joy, can not be predicated upon other people. It must lie within living a way that I believe to be truly just.
I am here to do just that. Live in the way that I believe to be just and virtuous. Headed into philosophical territory, I will pull back. I know too little to make a more complete argument for this, so I will not bother. I am here, and have stayed for nine months, because I felt the need to remove myself from what I am accustomed to further learn what a just existence means. My joy in working with children also accounted for my decision to join this program and work at the SJC. For me, much of my experience is in order to learn. Not to be selfish, I was aware that I would gain far more than I could ever give going into this year. It was the most important thing I learned last year. In the long term, I hope to use my experiences to determine the way I live and find a way to distill and share what I have learned. At the end of the year I will move forward to use it positively.
Being politically and socially minded, I knew that leaving the United States was vital to this learning. Looking down from the top is always the best view of the bottom. It obscures what is below, forcing it to meld together as if it were meant to be. I needed a different view. Of course that plays into why I named my blog as such. I wanted to see and live where the majority of the people live. I saw it from an internal standpoint in New Haven and now externally in Malava. There is still much more left out there, but this year has provided the chance to reflect from a new view point.
As always, I have rambled. I hope that I have done an adequate job at explaining why I am here. Surely there are things I neglected to mention or explain. Comments remain a way to ask for clarification or just plain disagree.