Something to hold on to
I wrote my first blog of the program comparing one part of the world to another. As this comparison is tying into part of my honors project and into a fellowship application I wrote, I figured I wanted to conclude my series of blog posts in a similar way.
In April 2014, after many flights and long plane rides, I stepped out of the vehicle into Bellefield, Jamaica. It was my first time abroad. I had a heart for global development and humanitarian causes. My inexperienced passion to do good was projected onto the trip and I thought that the hard sports court I helped build there would transform the community.
What I didn’t learn in my time there was about the massive struggles the community has with gender inequity, waste management, lack of government support, and quality of education. But hey, I was 17 and the kids had a court to play on, so my mission was accomplished. I got to leave with a sense of pride in my work and joy towards experiencing new cultures. Only looking back and learning more from people I kept in touch with do I see the larger scale challenges at work in this rural village and the need for long-term sustainable solutions.
A few summers during college, I have gone down to a home for children with disabilities in Mexico. I went with my friend who previously worked there as a physical therapist so that she could visit the kids that she cares deeply about. We dropped into the orphanage for a week or two at a time trying to spend quality time with the kids and give them the attention that they were desperately lacking.
On the other hand, our trips were unable to prevent the mis-distribution of funds from donations to the orphanage to the owner’s drug habits. Our presence was not able to give the children consistent medical support or the necessary physical therapy they need daily. Over the past three years, I have watched the kids that I love wither away from malnutrition and lack of care. From my involvement, I am now able to be on a committee to assist in starting a new orphanage for the children and getting them moved into homes that can support their disabilities. However, the misappropriation of funds has damaged my trust in matters close to me and has caused children I love to pass away.
Since being at the University of Washington, I started running an international development project working on water and sanitation through Engineers without Borders. By assessing the needs of the community, my team was able to work on getting clean water to many homes in one section of the village. The partnership with this rural community was strong and everything was on track to be finished. This community, Tortuga, had big dreams for the future of their town, especially around pursuing becoming an ecotourism attraction, with the assistance of our EWB chapter.
Unfortunately, a tragedy in the form of Hurricane Nate struck Tortuga. Complete livelihoods, homes, and lives were taken by the disaster. In the words of the community, their development was pushed back at least a decade as they now need to rebuild what was lost. Similarly, as we tried to continue the partnership and help them rebuild, the political uprising beginning in April 2018 has prevented any additional projects being implemented there until the situation deescalates, with no implication that the situation will resolve soon. This situation further taught me the unpredictability of development work and has spurred an interest in me to explore sources of hope in our broken world.
It is easy to say that I came to India with a stale taste for international development in my mouth, despite my excitement about Peace Corps. In my group, I can be called too negative for perspectives that to me just reflective the futility of our actions in creating long term change. However, in some ways this has pushed us further, challenging us to think about the actual impact we are making beyond our hypothetical social innovations. When searching for hope, it is heartening to learn about what drives our partner organizations forward: Biome’s lengthy plan for the future of Bangalore’s water, APSA’s loving focus on the academic and emotional transformation of the girls at Dream School, Selco’s busy schedule installing home after home with sustainable materials, and the trust Hasiru Dala has created between them, waste pickers, and their clients.
I find hope in other parts of India too. Personally, my hope typically stems from feminism, religion, and progressive political action. A scene of progressive political action that has overtaken my social media platforms today from my new friends is the call for equal political power of women in the government, especially important as later this week is National Women’s Day in India. Furthermore, as mothers living in slums entrust their children to the education system, hoping for the children to have a better future than themselves, I have seen that education is a major source of hope.
Overall, while our world is broken and filled with problems too big for the solutions I can come up with, there is a hope radiating out from every crack and corner. That is something we should hold on to.