At the risk of discouraging anyone from getting involved, the integrity of these projects requires honest disclosure of the challenges of doing this kind of work. This is not some romantic fantasy where all prayers are answered and the good guys always win. This is hard, humbling, and often frustrating… with plenty of obstacles and risks… many that reveal themselves at that vulnerable moment when you think everything is coming together nicely.
Facts of Life for the People we Serve
Starting with an infant mortality rate of 8%, life is tenuous here… and never stops being so. Most of the people we are serving subsist on the land and less than $1 a day in a place where there are no doctors, no medicines, no running water, no sanitation, no electricity… and where the food supply is at the constant mercy of the weather. In a place that is dark half the time, the children do not have big dreams. Their focus is on day to day survival… and people routinely die from preventable diseases.
These are just some of the sobering facts of life in a place where poverty, hunger, disease, and under-education are all both causes and effects of each other in so many vicious cycles. By the way, life is hard here not just for those we are serving. Even those who are helping face the everyday challenge of meeting their own needs at the same time they are trying to help others. And all this just scratches the surface of the reality there. You will learn much more in the context of each project.
What is it like to work here?
Doing even the simplest things here… the kinds of things we take for granted in the developed world… is often harder than one can image. Success here requires uncommon patience, persistence, flexibility, humility, a sense of humor, and the willingness to leave all first-world expectations for ease and comfort at home.
Here is a partial list of inconveniences:
- Prophylaxis and behavioral precautions against serious diseases (yellow fever, hepatitis, malaria, yellow fever, etc) are essential.
- Even if you are careful about what you eat, you can count on having some kind of intestinal distress.
- Even in the cities, frequent electric power outages (usually daily and for hours at a time) shut down everything… the lights, the kitchen, the internet, the bank.
- Internet service is spotty, unstable, and sometimes non-existent.
- Water outages are not uncommon, and the water supply is of questionable safety, not just for visitors, but also for the locals.
- In the absence of electronic communication, contact with the villages occurs only as fast as one can drive a vehicle. It is sometimes the case that the villagers do not know we are coming until we arrive
- In the villages, utilities are totally non-existent and it is totally dark half the time.
Having risked giving the false impression that this is a horrible and undesirable place to work, realize that the unpredictable nature of working here is the very thing that makes it fun for anyone with an adventurous spirit. In fact, this is where some of the best stories of perseverance, redemption, and serendipity are born… but we will save those for another time.
We are Always Learning
So, filled with the love of adventure and desire to do some good, you are ready to begin the real work. But one cannot simply show up here and start helping. It takes time to learn that things are never as simple as they seem from a safe distance… and time to connect and build trust as friends and partners. And even with the most honorable intentions, one must be ever-sensitive to the unintended consequences of our actions… such as creating dependency or of the temptation to impose “western” values.
This is all part of the process in a place where one always feels like a beginner, where learning by doing is the only way, where there are no rules and no guarantees, where the unexpected is commonplace, and where chicken and egg problems are the norm.
We still have much to learn… about the harsh realities of life for those who live here, about the practical challenges of getting things done, but also about the resilience, warmth, generosity of the people… in a place where loyalty and trust, not dollars, are the main currency.
The seemingly bottomless pit of needs and the list of challenges can feel overwhelming and insurmountable at times. But the reasons for quitting are the very same reasons why we have to keep trying. That said, we hope the takeaway is this: In a place where people have nothing, something is everything. Every gesture… every measure of time, treasure, and talent… no matter how humble… is infinitely precious here. You never know what act of kindness or generosity is going to start an epidemic of joy, freedom, and hope.