Who are we?

Blog Post 1. Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Who are you?
I am an American, middle-class, white male who has nearly completed his college education.  This is exactly the type of person Illich implores not to attempt to help impoverished people in foreign countries.  I agree with many of his points that privileged people who attempt to help in these circumstances are so ignorant of the culture and problems that their work is insulting at best and quite damaging at worst.  However, I also believe I have some experiences and education that give me a better perspective and hopefully more intelligent intentions than the typical white American “do-gooder”.  Illich argues that we have nothing in common with these impoverished people we are striving to help. It certainly will be difficult to overcome the barriers of language and culture (large ones indeed!) but I still believe that we can find some common ground on which to interact in a mutually beneficial way.  In the increasingly globalized and interconnected world we find ourselves in today, people of the developed world have a larger interest than most are willingly to realize or accept in the futures of developing countries.  Somewhere down the road their problems will become our problems if they are not already.  Many people have begun to recognize this and realize that the ways we have been trying to aid developing countries in the past have largely been ineffective and harmful.  Economists seem to have an ideal skill set for recognizing problems, finding for solutions, and applying what they know in an efficient and effective method.  Instead of throwing money at corrupt governments and businesses, recent work has found local economic development one of the few ways to help people help themselves, and in doing so help their community, country, region, and ultimately our entire planet.
I grew up on an island, a very isolated community, with a large disparity of money, lifestyle, and attitudes between the year-round island residents (fisherman, laborers) and the extremely wealthy “summer people” (CEO’s, movie stars).  This divide is accentuated by the confines and repeated interactions of an island community.  I have grown up in this environment and worked every summer on these country club members’ gardens and grounds.  I believe that these experiences give me some insight into the disdain that poorer people feel for those with more money and a more extravagant lifestyle.  When interacting with the poverty we will face in Honduras I need to keep these perspectives in mind as I now will be the wealthy outsider attempting to make connections in this poor rural community.
I have also had the opportunity of living in a small village in rural South Africa for half a year when I was 16.  My family lived in a small town where we were the only white people and the only Americans’ anyone had ever seen.  I constantly had to deal with the assumptions people made due to the color of my skin as well as where I came from.  Many people around us dealt with the problems of hunger, disease, and shelter on a regular basis and it was difficult sometimes to see people in such desperate circumstances.  When humans are pushed to survive things such as politeness and morals are often given up and who can say that it is not “right” if life or death hangs in the balance?  Despite the immense poverty we witnessed in South Africa the most consistent behavior of people was happiness and kindness even for strangers.  It was amazing for me to see how little these people had and yet how easily they warmly greeted and welcomed you.  Through my travels in South Africa, Jamaica, and Belize, as well as throughout the United States, I have come to learn the realities of what desperate people may do but also the joy of life that all people share even in the most difficult conditions.
I hope that with the experiences I have had in my life that I may be better suited to take the perspective of the people La Ceiba is trying to aid and use compassion and intelligence when doing so.  Economics is all about understanding the actions and choices of other people.  Therefore, the more interactions you have with people from different backgrounds, races, cultures, and communities than your own, the better equipped you will be to step into their shoes and understand the problems they face.  By better understanding the problems the people of Honduras face we can design our programs to fit their needs so they can use us to help themselves.  In this way we can strive not to be a foreign group of ignorant Americans with money to give away but a tool for the community to use as individuals attempt to pull themselves out of poverty.

2 Responses to “Who are we?

  • One of the main reasons that I wanted to be a part of this organization is that I get to actually use what I have studied in a real life situation. The experience of the class will truly help me throughout my life in and out of school. I agree that it is essential for everyone to meet as many people as possible and to get to know them. Only by knowing and understanding different cultures can one truly hope to help a situation in which you are not accustomed.

  • I agree that Illich has assumed too much in “To Hell With Good Intentions.” Though our experiences are vastly different from the people we will work with in Honduras, all people, and certainly all people that are working together on a common project for a common goal will have a similar sense of purpose. I think your experiences and interactions in S.Africa and elsewhere will help you better adapt and communicate in Honduras.

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