Tuesday, February 21, 2012

It's Better to Give Than To Receive They Say

Before coming to India, so many had told me: Remember, you will get a lot more from this experience and the community you work with, than you may be able to give.

And I thought I understood what this meant.  And even though I had ambitions of bringing real change and positive development (definitions pending) to the community, I thought I had appropriately tempered my expectations with the humble advice I received that India may have more to give me, than I it.

However, as with most things, inside I still stuck to my idealistic guns to change the world one step at a time.  Ok, maybe not the world.  But perhaps this small community.  Or even just 1 family within it.

And now, after 3 months of living in this village I am forced to face some hard truths.

At the end of the day, I had thought of success here based on seeing instant, visible benefits of my work.  And so I've poured myself into every detail.  I have to invest myself fully in the project to see real results - this is exactly the kind of experience I was searching for.  Right?

But as I pour myself into the daily details, I slowly find myself losing my vision for the long-term possibilities.  I busy myself trying to solve whatever issue or frustration has come up that day, to keep Bhavana's motivation and energy up, and somewhere in that process I begin to lose my own.

Take for example, an inicident that occurred a couple weeks ago when a bottle of shampoo worth Rs 60 (a little over $1 USD) went missing.  Bhavana called me frantically as soon as she realized, anxious over how she would makeup for the lost revenue, and fearful after her husband's furious outburst of a reaction.  And after everyone got the chance to cool off, what followed was a series of repetitive conversations about the inevitability of loss/theft, coaching on how to keep a watchful eye, and even the spreading of some rumors across the village of who was pointing the finger at whom.  Ultimately, this one seemingly small episode consumed an inordinate amount of time and energy, and put quite a damper on Bhavana's confidence and outlook for a while after.

I guess it's natural that after 3 months of working together, I've built a connection with her and her family.  But I find the line becoming even more blurred, as I begin to adopt their burdens and anxieties as my own.  And as the sales go up and down and doubts are cast on the viability of this business, I too question my role, my value, and ultimately, my ability to bring "true change" to the community.

Reflecting on this, I remembered something my older brother used to say when I was younger.  I can't remember the exact phrasing, but it goes something like: when you're in the fire, it's hard to see how far and wide the full impact is until you come outside of it.

And so after much reflection and many conversations with family and friends (my on-call personal support team!), I've been trying to take a more dissociated view to think beyond this one shop.  To focus and put forth all my energy on  the larger vision of this model to build a micro-enterprise system focused on empowering women.  And perhaps selfishly, soak up as much learning as I can along the way so that I can build the stuff that change-makers are made of.

Slowly but surely, I am learning to accept the possibility that I may not see the physical fruits of this while I am here.  I may not see this family's income double by the time my volunteership is over.  But the journey towards progress is a long one.  And I have to start somewhere.

1 comment:

  1. very soon i will in the same boat as you i guess :)

    and i have been trying to prep myself up, telling myself all sorts of things at various times.

    a picture that went about my mind as i read your post - that of an operating theater. a surgeon bent over a patient laid open. and the surgeon was only concerned with that specific procedure she was focusing on. not on the nurses' job, not on the anesthetist's, not whether the post-op care will do their's. certainly not on what will happen to the patient's family if things were to go wrong.

    she was just focused on that specific and complex procedure she was executing on the patient, and that she excelled at. that's why she was at the table. that's why she *chose* to be at the table.

    easier said than done, but don't they say - keep calm and carry on :)

    - prashant