When I tell people about my trip they are often curious about how I am getting there or who I will be working with and my explanation is often not what they expect. The vast majority assume that it is a missionary trip and that I am going with a church, some ask about the Peace Corps and a few ask if I am with a specific international organization. When I tell people that I am not doing any of these I am often meet with puzzled looks; for on this trip I am simply going over and helping a community that I made contact with on my first trip and helping them with what they need help with.
The community that I will be working with has set up a cultural tourism organization to raise money for community projects; last year they built a new elementary school. My class and other tourists pay the community and in turn receive a tour, learn how to make the local pottery, and witness and partake in traditional dancing—you also witness and are told about the community’s struggles such as their lack of clean water.
The most remarkable thing about this was that even though the traditional dancing was taking place because we had paid for it it did not feel like that, rather it felt completely natural—like the community was just getting together and that we were unnecessary observers. And while this day provided several powerful examples of the cruelty of life in this area of the world the defining experience that I took away from the tour was hope; this was a community that was working hard to provide a better future for its children through development but it was still able to hold on to its roots—there were both young and old members of the dancing team.
This also highlights an important idea within the development community: for development to be sustainable or long lasting it needs to have community ownership, which is the community that is receiving the aid needs to feel some ownership in the project. In this case the community has undertaken the whole project on their own. This will result in true progress because this community is not simply being given a well or a school it is working to raise the money and then building it themselves—they understand how it came to be and also have an intricate understanding of how it works.
While I want to make an impact on this community it is my wish that when I leave my absence will not have a profound effect on the community. Everything that I do will be done to ensure its continuance after I leave. That way real progress will be made, the community will be better off than before and hopefully there will be little chance of back sliding.