This is Professor Pruim blogging from my own account this time.
This week we’re spending afternoons in workgroups at three different locations for NIBC – one of the NGO’s we’re getting to know here in Cambodia. Group 1 is doing English lessons for 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades at the Mustard Seed school. Group 2 is working at the NIBI campus on neighborhood clean-up, weeding, and drainage and water issues. Group 3 is helping at another elementary school, where half the team is digging a drainage ditch and the other half is digging holes and pounding in fence posts. (We’ll be switching out teams to give folks different experiences, but you get the idea of how the work and workers are organized.)
So, after working one day– many of us in blazing sun, sweating buckets and getting blisters –some of our students wondered if it’s really worth it for 29 North Americans to travel half way across the world to do this manual labor for a few January afternoons. It’s a fair question. I certainly had this thought when I arrived at the Kontrac School expecting to do games with the children and found myself digging post holes. I overlooked the question until a group of Korean students on a vision and mission trip showed up at the same school to teach English lessons. I felt the “annoyed and possibly indignant” bug creep up my back. As a native speaker of English with a certificate in ESL and a PhD in applied linguistics, I felt that me digging post holes while a group of young Korean speakers taught English lessons was … an inefficient use of resources … to say the least.
But then I realized once again … that it is not about me. This trip is not about me having my gifts or skills used efficiently. It’s not about efficiency. The trip is NOT about us 29 Americans solving any particular issue in Cambodia in 3 weeks. That’s not a reasonable expectation. The trip IS about gaining an understanding of what good development is in this particular context. We are not here to do development as much as we are to observe, explore and understand.
So, I observed from a front row seat, trying to gain perspective and glimpse a vision.
I am also learning that good development work relies on good relationships between the NGOs, the sponsors, the outside expertise and the local expertise. Calvin College and its professors have long-standing relationships with the NIBC and having us volunteer here this week is a way to say we care and we are still in this relationship, to sweat a little and get a few blisters and to be servants. In long meaningful relationships there are times together when you take lots of pictures and create lots of memories, but there are also times that just sort of are. When students come home from the university for the holidays, it can be fun to organize a family party or a ski outing, but sometimes it’s nice when your student picks up a towel and helps dry the dishes.
So, I picked up my mallet and, using the advice of three cheerful servants who had given me lessons on how to swing that mallet “like a man,” I pounded in fence posts.
Quote: “Can I go back to the same school the whole week? I really want to finish that trench. I don’t want to leave the impression that we just come in and start something and leave it when it’s convenient.”