Course Blog Assignment #3: Working in the fields
React and reflect on your experiences working for and with NIBC this week. Is it worth it and why or why not?
Hello friends! Mitchell Feria here…
I spent most of my afternoons in Siem Reap last week doing maintenance work at NIBI, the collegiate branch of NIBC schools. We picked up trash from around the neighborhood, dug out a dirty drainage trench, and did some gardening around the school grounds. The work was difficult, and the sun and heat took its toll.
In all honesty, I initially left this work site feeling slightly discouraged. The work we did seems to only have very short term benefits : the streets here are treated like dumpsters, so our efforts here will soon be unnoticeable; the trench we cleared fills with mud and water due to a design flaw and will certainly fill again soon.
As I reflect back now however, I see clearly that our time at NIBI was well spent.
First, many Cambodians (and foreigners in general) see Americans as elitists. By being willing to take on such not-so-glamourous tasks as picking up trash, our team was able to show people that we do not view ourselves as “above” such work. I feel that this difficult work earned us a new level of respect from the NIBI students and supervisors.
Second, after being in Cambodia for a while now, I have come to realize that locals are much less concerned with efficiency and getting things done as we are in America; to them, building relationships is much more important. Understanding this cultural difference has helped me to better accept the tasks we were assigned; it doesn’t matter that the work we did may not have much of a long-term impact – what matters is that we were able to build relationships with the NIBI students we worked alongside. And these relationships have continued to develop through interacting with these same students at the development conference the past few days.
These relationships also open the door for learning. I feel as though I have learned much more about Cambodian culture and societal needs through conversing with these students than through any other way thus far on this trip.
It is these kinds of personal relationships that have the potential for creating positive healthy development in Cambodia in the coming years.
I may have initially questioned the value of the work we did at NIBI, but as time has passed, I have seen through new eyes the importance and relevance of our efforts.