Tuesday, January 04, 2011

More Thoughts on the Build

I really wish we could have spent longer with the villagers. It wasn't practical. I suppose we could have brought hammocks and slept under the huts as they do, but camping may have been beyond some people's tolerance level, plus it would have exposed us to malaria during the hours of darkness. There was also no point in that. Beyond our material wealth, we had nothing to share that was of use to them, and having the great mostly-white donors get to know the small brown people as people introduces the risk of interpersonal conflicts and cultural judgements. Pol Pot was wrong: there's nothing inherently good or noble in being an uneducated rice farmer in a rural area. I wonder what they were cautioned to or not to do around us before we came.

We went to Cambodia be participants but I came away still feeling like an observer. We built those homes the way the mayor with the oversized pair of scissors built the new library he's opening. I keep telling myself, as I did in the previous post, that we did the important part. It's true. As we demonstrated, any idiot with a bit of instruction and practice could knock together those homes. We made it happen though. I'm the channel through which your generous donations became homes to improve people's lives. There, that did it for me. I'm the channel through which your generous donations became homes to improve people's lives. Thank you for making it possible for me to be that channel.

No one is pretending that the homes are a quick fix to anyone's problems, either. They are making some aspects of a few people's lives a little better. The roof won't leak. The wind won't blow the walls in. A cow won't knock it in by stumbling against it. They won't need to spend any time cutting, gathering, drying and weaving palm fronds for routine maintenance. Remembering how serious a small ailment can be in a culture with little access to medical care, houses that keep clothes and bedding dry, help people sleep better, and help protect food from vermin will probably save lives over the years.

I've been exposed to cultures and people from all over the world through immigration, movies, books, YouTube, and almost as many years of formal education as I have fingers and toes. But I'm sure visiting Cambodia has had an effect on me. I remember that kids in the city were curious about these pale-coloured, big-nosed people and now I wonder whether a couple of days of exposure to these aliens will have an effect on the people.

History shows that poor, uneducated people with nothing to lose are easily influenced and rallied to a cause. Couldn't we influence them towards the belief that everyone is worth something, and that helping your fellow man just because you can is a good idea? It's not as if they have to go very far for that. Buddhism's sila teaches equality and reciprocity. Perhaps that would have been a comprehensible answer to why we were there.


DeAnn said...

It hurts me to think that a cow can take everything my shelter gives to me away ...

Sue said...

I appreciate your efforts to try to make sense of what might appear to be the "white man's burden" type of charitable enterprise. It is difficult enough to connect with people similar to oneself in terms of nationality, language, race, ethnicity, religion, social class, gender, and educational level. And when all of those are different? Some would say it's impossible. But I think we need to keep trying, even across those divides. Thank you for going to Cambodia, and thank you for sharing your reflections on your experiences there.

nec Timide said...

You did much more than serve as a conduit for donations. You were also the conduit for very informative feedback on the impact those donations had, and almost as important what impact they didn't have. You also introduced ust to Cambodia in a very unique way.

Thank you.

grant said...

"I wonder what they were cautioned to or not to do around us before we came."

Interesting question. It always goes two ways.

Just helping us see one another as fellow beings on a similar journey is important. It helps undermine the power of those who would incite us to war because the first step is always to dehumanize The Enemy and reduce him/her to something scary and evil or less-than-human, isn't it?