As we near the end of our time abroad, thoughts of the future have begun to creep into our minds. When we arrived, we knew little of what was actually going on and we had doubts that we could leave any impact at all. Now that we are leaving, we are seeing glimpses of our impacts here after all. However, we are still left to wonder how these impacts will carry on after we leave. What legacy will we leave behind us when we go?
Reflecting on this semester’s themes of impact and value has taught us much about ourselves, both as Americans and as individuals. Our journeys in Tanzania and Bolivia have been filled with new lessons and new perspectives. As Lindsay said, “We have been able to learn lessons abroad that we could never have learned in our home country.” One thing that has not changed is the hope that we all will leave a lasting, positive effect at our service sites. In Tanzania, we have heard stories about past volunteers’ beneficial impacts here, and we hope that one day those stories may involve us as well. If we would leave a bad impression in our host countries, future volunteers would certainly be negatively affected from our actions. This is one of the many reasons why we have all tried to be as positive as possible.
In the past (as well as the present), international development from the United States has worn an ugly mask. Capitalist ideology has pushed its way into NGO’s plans and a lot of international aid has become a means of benefiting the developer. In a way, as Sarah said, our volunteer work abroad is playing into a development system that is accomplishing the opposite of what we are aiming for. It is true that we have impacted both Tanzanian and Bolivian culture in some way. The amount of cultural exchange that has occurred in the past two months cannot be overlooked. But it is the manner in which we have impacted these cultures that stands out as different. We have not only been volunteering under good intentions, but also with critical reflection on those intentions, as well as with the goals of the community (and not ourselves) in mind.
Our legacies stand out differently from those of national corporations or NGO’s. In both Tanzania and Bolivia, we have all left a personal mark. Below are overviews of how we feel about these personal legacies that are being left behind…
Views of Tanzania:
Lindsay & Kelsey feel positive that if nothing else, their legacies will live on ecologically through the plants that they have nurtured. These plants will continue to grow in the tree nursery for the community to use. Some of these plants may be used for wood to foster the building of new homes for the poor, while others will be used to provide food sources to families. Other than this ecological legacy, social impacts of their service will also be left. Stereotypes of Americans have been altered and brought down during their time working with local people.
Sarah’s time at APROFI Kindergarten has helped her to learn about the impacts that previous volunteers have left. It seems that the cycling of volunteers is common in this classroom. Before long, the teacher will probably be telling the next volunteer about Sarah‘s impact–enhancing her legacy over time. The biggest legacy that she hopes to leave, is the thought that she cared enough about the people of Tanzania to travel halfway across the world in an effort to help them.
Elizabeth’s involvement at WOMEDA has also added to the long line of volunteer work that has been done there before. She has grown close with her coworkers and has adopted WOMEDA’s goals as her own. Her legacy will live on not only through the visible work that she has completed, but also through the new perceptions that her friends carry. Because of her presence, views on Americans, Western women, and white people in general have been altered. Elizabeth has also seen an impact on her own family back home. Interest has sparked up not only about Tanzania, but of WOMEDA and the great services that they provide. Because of her time here, other people clear across the world have become involved in WOMEDA’s quests and may continue to stay involved.
At the hospital, Sara feels that she will leave a legacy most through the memories of the employees that work there. Volunteers in the future will be able to fill the gap that she is leaving behind at the registration desk, but they will not be able to fill in the memories that she has made. All of the paperwork and files that bear her handwriting will serve as a reminder of her time in the clinic as well. Stereotypes have also been altered from her presence, so future volunteers will not have to face as many false generalizations. Her final hope is that she has left the impression that she was thrilled to be here, and that she was here to both learn from and to help local Tanzanians in Karagwe.
As we tell our stories to others back home about our time in Tanzania, more interest will be sparked and more students may decide to participate in this study-abroad program through Amizade. The future of each of our service sites holds its own possibilities, for both locals and new study-abroad volunteers to fill in where we left off.
Views from Bolivia:
Justin believes that his impact will be telling his story and that of the children’s when he is back in the United States. Although, he is not convinced he is leaving a legacy he does hope that his interaction at the orphanage will prove to be helpful to the organization.
Shawnna, after taking this trip, wants to assist other volunteers from the United States to make their way to Cochabamba. In giving friends and acquaintances an outlet to a reputable orphanage she believes she can continue the cycle of volunteers working with these children we have come to care about so much. For Shawnna, who was unsure about working with kids in the beginning of the trip, the orphanage has become a positive atmosphere where she would like to encourage future volunteers to contribute. Also, the girls’ home has made Shawnna feel that she is giving a worldly view to these children and at the same time benefiting from their insight into Bolivian culture.
Nora is happy that she has become part of the big family of children, workers, and volunteers at the orphanage. She is excited to keep updated on the future projects of the orphanage. Nora believes that this is an atmosphere that is good for these children to grow up. She hopes that she has added some happiness to their lives, because she knows she has received joy and learned so much about herself from these children.
In Bolivia we believe that we can encourage others to volunteer here despite the political atmosphere. Each one of us has grown from the experience at the orphanage. We all think that continuing the flow of volunteers to Bolivia and especially Cochabamba is important when we return home. We have come to love the places where we volunteer and have heard too many stories about the exit of American volunteers and funding because of relations between the U.S. and Bolivia. The group hopes that we can make a difference by retelling the positive experiences from our time in Cochabamba.
Both in Tanzania and in Bolivia we have been aware of the images that we present to the people we surround in two very different cultures. These views of ourselves individually compared those workers in the past or what the views of our work compared to people’s views of us coming from the U.S. Due to the history of the United States government and NGOs in both countries, we were definitely concience of our reputation. It seems important that most of us tried to prove that we were good workers and made an effort to replace any previous negative views. In addition, we all have intentions of spreading our stories when we return to encourage study-abroad and service-learning trips.
“Our deeds still travel with us from afar, and what we have been makes us what we are.” – George Eliot
Image: Dia de Los Ninos celebration at the orphanage.