I just wanted to make a quick post about the inspiration one of my friends and co-Peace Corps Volunteers has found in his service. Like me, he is extending for a third-year of service here in The Gambia. I have not been able to thoroughly express why I want to stay for another year, but I feel like he hit the nail on the head and I wanted to share his outlook on volunteering.
To my fellow third year volunteers,
"Only a crisis --- actual or perceived --- produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around."
In my time in The Gambia, I have lamented about its people more than I have helped them. I have said many times that these people are lazy and unwilling to change. I have attributed my failures here to both sides lacking in understanding of one another. But, if i had spent half as much time trying to be a better volunteer as I did lamenting, I would have been a hell of a lot more useful in my first two years. I wanted you all, my good friends, to know why I'm staying on for a third year here, and why I believe in our work.
I arrived here and saw nothing but crisis --- some of it actual, some perceived. I saw malnourished children, unequipped hospitals, and schools without order or even chalk --- what I know understand to be 'actual' crisis. Then I saw men sitting under trees all day adding nothing to the progress of their country, families spending more money on cigarettes, sugar and fancy clothes than on vegetables, medical care, small enterprise development or education --- what I now understand to be 'perceived' crisis.
It may be awful to regard such things as 'perceived' crisis, yet it bears truth. It is not the truth because of how I see it, it is the truth because of how they see it. The Gambian people do not identify my 'perceived' crisis to be a crisis at all. Their reasoning is complex in its history, yet very simple in cause:
Where there has been 'actual' crisis --- food shortages, need for medical supplies, renovations of essential facilities, etc. --- foreign aid has time and again been there to keep the country from feeling the actuality of their crisis. If foreign aid remains their safety net, they will never fall. The trickle down and corruption of foreign aid money keeps everyone fed, medicated and educated just enough to let none of the people want to develop those systems for themselves. They perceive no crisis they have never felt one.
This said, let me clarify two points: One, I am against foreign aid --- that is, foreign monetary aid. Second, I am in full support of aid in the form of skill-sharing, capacity building and education. This is Peace Corps' stronghold in the foreign aid world. No one else is working with the people and for the people like us. We bring ideas, we bring solutions --- whether those ideas or solutions are utilized in our time here depends on the Gambian people's understanding of their crisis.
"When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around." We, my friends, lay ideas. We lay them everywhere. That is our service. When these people finally recognize their crisis, we will have left them with their greatest asset: the idea. While all the other foreign aid money dwindles, and the heaping projects of foreign titans fall, only ideas will be left. That is what we do.