Blog Post No. 1

I suppose I’ll consider the questions in the order in which they were received.

2a- Who am I?

I am Russell Scott. I am a student. I am a student of History, even, though one might argue that all people are. More specifically, I am a student, studying Business Administration with hopes of becoming an accountant.

2b- Why am I Here?

I seek the Holy Grail. But seriously, that requires a definition. What is “here”? If “here” is UMW, then I am here to learn how to be an accountant. If “here” refers to this class, then that question will be answered next. If “here” refers to my purpose on this earth, then I would be inclined to say that I am here to learn as much as I can and to use that knowledge for the improvement of the station of myself and others.

2c- Why am I enrolled in a course that undertakes research and projects in a developing country?

In all honesty, I was initially enticed by the Accounting opportunity. That’s my goal for post-UMW, to be a CPA, so this is fantastic experience. I’m sure Illich would be thrown for a loop by how selfish that sounds. But that was the initial carrot-on-a-stick, otherwise I wouldn’t have known about the course. Now that I know more about how things work, and why its done, I can see a bigger picture. In the short term, it means a few Hondurans will have a few more Lempira’s to rub together. Moderately long term, it means a community will be able to afford more infrastructural development, and build (literally and figuratively) a stronger society. In the VERY long term, we are changing the fundamentals of Honduras from the ground up. Extrapolating our success very far into the future, we’re turning Honduras into a stable, financially sound First world power in the middle of Central America. In other words, if we are successful, it is not difficult to see how, through our actions, the world could be changed—is changing, even. That is why I’m taking this course.

2d- I hope to achieve the practical goals that are associated with my role within the class—that is, a practical accounting method that can be easily used between generations of student passing through this course. On a slightly bigger scale, I hope to help turn La Ceiba into a successful, viable, micro financing machine.

As for the non-question parts of this blogpost…

1- Review Illich “To Hell with Good Intentions”

I’ll be honest, I’m not sure whether that means to give it 5 stars or to post a response/opinion. So I’ll do the latter and hope for the best.

The fundamental question that Illich seems to be exploring is “Why do people want to help?” He does not believe they help because it makes Latin America better, but he believes it is because it makes the individual feel better. His general stance seems to be that Volunteering for the sake of Volunteering is offensive and hypocritical, and that people would be more productive by letting the “help” come from within, and everyone else just go there and appreciate what it has to offer. I wont explain further what he said because anyone else has probably read this too. So in my opinion, I like what Illich is saying, but I disagree on some nitpicky terms.

I agree in that I also dislike it when self-serving volunteers get haughty because they are assisting a higher cause. I disagree in that even those self serving volunteers might be helping a little.

Taken now in the context of the third quote, the Aboriginal Elder, they are saying the same basic thing but with a different quantity of words. As was discussed in class, it truly is a “teach a man to fish vs. give a man to fish” scenario. If I desperately needed fish, I would not turn down either, personally. But I would also ask whoever gives me the fish how it came to be in their possession. The point is there are two sides to the coin. On the one, the volunteers who come to help for whatever reasons they may have. They seek to improve the station of their fellow man somehow. On the other side of the coin, there are the people in need. If they lack the capability to improve their station, I believe they should accept assistance in whatever form it comes, and whether that means learning to fish or accepting a fish, they have a certain amount of responsibility to ensure that they take away from that experience as much as they can. They need to ensure that “help” does not become a free seminar where they give you a fish at the end, or a nice man who smiles and has a large bag of fish. They need to ensure that “help” means finding out how to make a fishing pole, or how to choose fish to buy, or how to get money to buy the fish.

In other words, accepting assistance has a certain responsibility with it too. I like La Ceiba because its straightforward in that regard—we come with money, and tools and other forms of assistance, and in return they need to make that money grow, USE those tools. It is a mutually beneficial relationship.


(PS- Forgive ramble-y-ness and excessive commas, wherever they might be found)

4 Responses to “Blog Post No. 1

  • I agree with your interpretation here. However, I think the article and the quote are both looking at the incentives of the volunteers. A volunteer should realize that if they are going to make any type of long-lasting impact, they cannot just assist people or provide aid for a short amount of time (i.e. a summer trip). A volunteer must have a true passion to see change and therefore, must become involved in the community they are trying to help. Otherwise they will never truly be able to teach the people how to support themselves, but will just be providing short term help that usually causes more harm than good.

  • Let me start by saying that this has turned into a really helpful exercise in getting to know everyone, and doing so at more than a superficial level.

    But what I’d like to address is your point about Lila Watson’s quote that Dr. Humphrey attached. For my own ease in referencing, here it is again:
    “If you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” (p. 106, In Safe Hands)

    Like Illich, she doesn’t want volunteers to come in full of good intentions hoping to change everything to “make her life better” if you will. I agree with you there. But unlike Illich, she recognizes the possibility of a partnership: she’s not as categorical in her denial of Western “volunteers”. But she makes a very important point: it’s about relationships. This is not a one-sided process, and it can’t be just about what we can do for them. As she says, we need to work together rather than just come in to help. Your point about the responsibility involved in accepting help is driving at exactly the same thing (I think), and you do a good job of reminding us that not only are we not the only ones benefiting, but we’re not the only ones working here either.

  • I like how we both used fishing metaphors.
    “mutually beneficial relationship” < I think that's the key. Since you have to pay back the loan, you have to make yourself more productive and once the loan is payed back, you still have those means to support yourself.

  • I agree with your analogy of the fish, and I think that it is something that is often ignored. While certainly teaching an individual to fish is a superior gift, giving a single fish is still a huge benefit to those that have nothing. I agree that it would be most helpful if anyone who wanted to make a difference could complete assimilate into a foreign society and help from within, but because that is hardly ever an option we are forced to help from an external vantage point or choose to not help at all. Social workers do not need to live with the children they work with in order to know when a potentially dangerous situation arises, just as students in this class do not have to have lived among the people of Siete to understand that they need some financial help.
    A few things make this society unique as well, and not necessarily applicable to Illich’s speech. Illich claims that it would be better for a figure from within to come forward and take a role in pushing the community towards growth. The individuals we are dealing with however, have not been together since birth, they were displaced by a hurricane. The lack of a tight community can be seen through the failure of group loans. The chances of a central figure emerging as a leader is unlikely in the near future. So, if all we are doing is providing them with small sums of fish until they are able to grow independently as a community and develop their own strategies for survival, I am content with that.
    The second difference is that we hope to remain in the picture for a longer time. The volunteers that Illich was speaking to and of seemed to be the type that went to a community and built the foundation for a school house, then when their two weeks is up they return home without ever putting up any walls. La ceiba has proven time and time again that they will return and try to do better next time. I think it is the short and long run scope of la ceiba that sets it apart.

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