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That it was, Bob - a life-changing event.  

I went along to set up and run their communication system both in-country and between Honduras/el Salvador/Guatemala and Houston but ended up doing a lot of regular medicine and community outreach work, too.  Most of our volunteers were in places without phones (me, too - closest telephone was in the post office in a town about 90 minutes away) so we had regular truck routes we ran to keep everything moving and I ran a route with Bill (the guy standing on top of the truck above).  Staff members (I was staff) stayed for the entire Summer.  The volunteers would be in country for 2 or 3 weeks and ranged in ages from 16 years old and up.  Lots of high school kids from all over America and Toronto/Ottawa as well as a number of med school students and recent grads.

Living in the outback of a third-world country taught me that:

1.  Everyone, everywhere thinks that their government should just leave them alone.
2.  Everyone, everywhere just wants to have a good job to provide for their family.
3.  Everyone, everywhere is suspicious of Americans.
4.  It is really easy to blend in with the locals - Just make friends with them and hang out with them and speak their language.  Lots of the world doesn't speak English.  They are always patient with you trying to speak their language and always appreciate the effort - Wouldn't you?
6.  The people we were helping had nothing or less than nothing but they had happiness in their lives and shared that with us.  All volunteers were living with host families in-country, sometimes in dirt-floored houses, sharing meals and so forth.  You don't need wealth to be happy.  Sometimes Polymagma helped us Americans, though.

 

 Living in the outback of a third-world country taught me that:

1.  Everyone, everywhere thinks that their government should just leave them alone.
2.  Everyone, everywhere just wants to have a good job to provide for their family.
3.  Everyone, everywhere is suspicious of Americans.
4.  It is really easy to blend in with the locals - Just make friends with them and hang out with them and speak their language.  Lots of the world doesn't speak English.  They are always patient with you trying to speak their language and always appreciate the effort - Wouldn't you?
6.  The people we were helping had nothing or less than nothing but they had happiness in their lives and shared that with us.  All volunteers were living with host families in-country, sometimes in dirt-floored houses, sharing meals and so forth.  You don't need wealth to be happy.  Sometimes Polymagma helped us Americans, though.

I volunteered for 3 months in the Amazon basin in Brazil (Santarem) as a 20 y/o, and in Papua New Guniea for 3 years (with my young family) in the middle 80s. I regret that I have but one "like" to give Gordon's comment.

Points 1- 3 (in my experience) are without argument. US citizens would do well to remember point 3 before we engage in "nation building".

Point 4: "blending in" is easier some places than others, and less important than I imagined it would be. I was at least 6" ft taller and blonde in the extreme in Brazil. In PNG, I may as well have been from another planet-- at least 60 lbs beefier and a foot taller than anybody there (to say nothing of the aforementioned "whiteness"). In either place, being accepted as a member of the community wasn't necessarily a matter of looking like a native, or adopting local customs, or even speaking the local language. Fitting in was a matter of respecting people, no matter what. People know when you are looking down on them, and when you are trying to respectfully help. Nobody likes to be talked down to, especially by somebody in their 20s. I came to see the local church leaders as my elders, gifted in different ways than I was, but worthy of my submission and respect. I've also found when traveling internationally that saying, "I'm so sorry I don't speak the language of your beautiful country, but can you help me?" is a pretty effective way to get around. Humility tends to blunt the negative effect of Point 3.

Point 5 seems to be missing, but as to Point 6-- I've found that everybody, everywhere wants the same things, and thatwe have very little to offer unless we possess what people are looking for and a willingness to share what we have. Everybody wants significance and purpose. Safety. Community. Peace. Health. ... and yes, enough money to cover the expenses involved in obtaining those things. I've never seen generosity like I did in 3rd world places, and I've never been more humbled than I was by the people I came to help.

Still... the way a lot of first nation white people justify not being generous with poor people is to inflate the happiness of 3rd world poverty, to say, "see, they're poor but SO happy". Happiness is not the well 3rd world people draw from when being generous-- because generosity has nothing to do with how much or how little one has (please refer to the parable of the widow and the mite). Happiness is something else altogether, and it's tied to those other things (safety, community, health, peace, enough money, etc.). We all want to be prosperous, however we define that.

There's nobody, anywhere, who wouldn't like a clean, dry house, good schools for their kids, and for their own toil to be a little less like Sisyphus'. 

Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

To whom much is given, much is required.

Last edited by Stan Galat

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