There are a few key ideas I’ve picked up on over the course of the past two weeks:
This was our advice to ourselves from the beginning of the training, and it was frequently echoed by speakers and staff. It’s a fundamental part of immersing yourself in a new culture: a willingness to hear and embrace other’s stories, opinions, and ways of life.
With $5 in our pockets, we set out into the Tenderloin of San Francisco. Our program director’s words rang in my head: “This is a lesson in empathy: see what it’s like to live on $5 a day. Talk to people; collect stories.” I spoke with a girl who must have been 27, who talked about “feedings” and bed bugs in projects like they were a way of life. And we saw a 3-week-old baby who had loving parents but no roof over its head.
Our stories will be told via blogs, emails, photos, and videos. But our stories will become deeply entwined with our communities’ stories: the people we meet, the things we do, the customs and culture we experience. And what’s the point of discovering these amazing things if we don’t share them with others?
Normal people can change the world. It was reassuring to hear Matt Flannery, co-founder of Kiva, tell us, “I’m not really a spokesperson or figurehead; I just write the website.” But that website provides small-time entrepreneurs across the developing world up with loans to grow their businesses. And he’s one man, with a vision and a talent.
…A necessary part of any community project. I’ve come to think of this as working with a community, rather than for them. One has to fully understand a community before trying to bring a new perspective to it, and then allow that community to fully embrace that perspective.
As we make the shift from the theoretical world of the US Training Institute to the culture-shock of our first month in-country, a lot of these will be forced to the back of my mind, but hopefully revisited in the months to come—and beyond.