In the VPV house, there are a lot international people that stay here, from the US, Canada, France, Iceland, Belgium, etc. But, we are all placed at different projects / organizations. Some of them teach English. Others work with kids and some, like me, work with NGOs. None of the people here works with me specifically though. But, I think that this component of my experience makes mine a little more unique because we all come back to the house and talk about our work.
This week, I am constantly reminded of how “hard” development work and engaging in poverty action is. One of my coworkers, Linh, is currently in the process of applying for Fulbright Fellowship and asked me to help her prepare for her interview (with English pronunciation, use of stronger vocabulary, mock interviews, etc). But, the most important thing is that she wants to come to the US to study sustainable development / development practice, so I have been able to share with her some thing I have learned from my GPP classes.
Linh went to school for business, but didn’t want to work in the corporate world. After working for CECAD for a while, she realized that she wants to pursue development work, but without a strong foundation in development theory / practices, she is not at her full potential.
Through this interview prep process, I am completely impressed by her how much she already, intuitively and through experience, knows / notices / realizes about development work. There are definitely some common themes that have appeared in my own studies and classes with Prof. Clare Talwalker and Prof. Ananya Roy. These are some things that she has said to me during our interview prep times:
- Development work is not easy.
- There is not a one-size-fit-all solution to the end of poverty, not even the end of ONE single symptom of poverty.
- There are unequal dynamics between authority figures and the people that prevents effective socioeconomic development.
- Gender inequality is an issue; life is still very patriarchal and women are afraid to voice their opinions.
- The poor and marginalized are often excluded from the decision making process.
- Results can be slow. There may not be positive results from a project.
- The role of NGOs might be diminished in the future because of lack of funding and lack of investment.
- The commodity value chain is negatively skewed against local producers.
- There are “structural” problems that perpetuate poverty.
Some of these are my works because she still has trouble explaining / expressing herself, but I am amazed at what she already understands. I really hope that she is able to study in the US next year.
This is in contrast with what I deduce from other international volunteers at the VPV house, and I believe that their mindset comes from their lack of experience / education in development.
I am not saying that I know enough about this kind of work (development, poverty action, NGOs, practice experiences) to say the rest of this, but I am going to try to express myself as modestly as possible.
There is another volunteer in this house that is working for a sustainable development NGO as well. He was asking me about what exactly I do for my NGO because he feels like he’s wasting his time. He says that he sits in meetings all day and feels like the NGO is just wasting resources. I’m not going to defend him or his NGO, but I got the feeling that he believes in his time that he’s been here (about 2 weeks), he hasn’t seen any positive results. This is probably true because he hasn’t been here that long. I tried to explain that I felt the same way when I first arrived and I wasn’t sure how I could contribute to my NGO. But, I’ve seen that sometimes it just takes time.
He countered that at his NGO, there are lot of volunteers and they’re all wasting their time. Nothing gets decided and people sit in meetings the whole day. I suggested that if he feels that way, it might be a good idea to be more proactive in meetings and contribute his ideas. From this conversation, I got the feeling like he didn’t believe in the work that his NGO was doing because he couldn’t really describe to me the activities that it was implementing. From what I understood, he was doing something with development, but all he does all day is sit in meetings.
I don’t know how I feel about this really, but I understand that development work can take a lot of time before you see any results. Two weeks is definitely not long enough. Even nine weeks, the time I am here, working 10 hours a day is not long enough. I am still a novice when it comes to engaging with development and poverty, so I can’t really say much.
What I do wish is, I wish I could stay here longer. I’m almost done and I’m so sad. Some of the projects that I have been helping plan doesn’t begin until after I leave. I would love to see those come into fruition. Sigh.
Maybe because I’ve been here, but I’ve been considering of coming back to work for CECAD next summer or even after I graduate. But, in the back of my head, I’m always thinking, “You don’t have money to go next summer” or, “What about America (because there are lot of issues in the US that I would like to address there too)?” I don’t know, but I definitely feel like I’ve started to slowing integrate into my work here and the people here and I’m going to leave very soon. I haven’t been here long enough, and I don’t even know how much longer is long enough. Never, really.
If I could, I would want to stay my entire fall semester here, so I could at least see one of my projects come to life, be implemented.
Over and out.