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Feb. 3, 2014By Dianne TolentinoNurse, Providence Little Company of Mary Hospital
Today our team of 10 members left the States. Nine out of 10 are first-timers, including me.
Late last year was when I checked my email and saw the message, which contained the application for volunteer work in Guatemala for February 2014. I have always looked into volunteering locally and had actually called a couple of places, however none of their needs fit my availability. Just a shot in the air, I applied, not even thinking about an upcoming trip to the Philippines with my family.
Yes! I got accepted after applying twice. I had just gotten back from the Philippines on January 18. Going back to work was a struggle, but somewhat anxious and excited, I thought about my first service trip. I could not believe it would be in two weeks!
And now the day is here. I am typing this as I am sitting on seat 34A with two empty seats beside me. I just read the article that was emailed to us prior to our trip titled Doing Short-Term MISSIONS Without Doing Long-Term HARM. The article discussed how the impact of a short-term mission trip on the missionaries is widely talked about, but only few acknowledge the effects on the communities that are being helped.
I reflected about why I wanted to go on this service trip. Of course, a part of me wants to be a superhero helping people in need. I signed up for this trip before typhoon Yolanda hit my home country – how I wished I could leave my life in California and fly immediately there but I could not. Helping people in need would be my happiness, I thought. And that was my primary goal in Guatemala until I read the article.
The article talked about an African Christian telling a story about a mouse and an elephant being best friends. One day they were dancing and nobody was partying harder than Elephant. Elephant asked how Mouse was but he did not answer. When he looked down, he unknowingly stepped on Mouse. He compared American missionaries to the dancing elephant. Although the missionaries’ intention was good, it harmed their communities anyway.
Different factors that contribute to harmful effects on the communities are belief and cultural differences. Most Americans are individualistic and their view of time is different than the materially poor communities. And since missionaries go for one to two weeks at a time, the article stated that the emphasis on “helping” is higher. Missionaries want to see difference and bring in change immediately which causes the community to stumble. Few effects are the locals loose their independence and the trust to local organizations decreases. The article goes more in depth about this issue.
It definitely changed my view on what my purpose is within this trip. Maybe instead of me helping them, they will be helping me; helping me learn about their culture and see the world in their eyes. I will keep an open mind.
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