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Change is Hard, Even for Service Organizations

12 Apr, 2008

I recently received the following letter from a reader, "Andrea," who wishes to remain anonymous. Her brother has been volunteering for a well-known U.S. service organization. Here's Andrea:

Hi James,

I was a big fan of your change-diary, and recently I've been getting letters from my little brother who is [...] in [...]. The parallels between what he is dealing with his village and what you (and most of us in corporate it) dealt with are pretty incredible to me. I've forwarded his most recent email with personal/unrelated parts snipped out. Hope you find it an interesting read.

I found this letter fascinating and got Andrea's permission to share it with all of you, under the condition of anonymity. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

*snip*

yeah i got great news from the funding agency, our project has been approved, we are just waiting for the official letter, and final agreements, etc. i am incredibly relieved, but not all that happy. i feel like the village simply assumed that this was gonna happen. they think if u write a proposal, money automatically comes. i think most, if not all of them, have no idea how hard it was to get this approved, and how lucky we are and greatful we should be. to them its like they just expect these handouts. so in a way i dont know if it would be worse to not meet their unrealistic expectations or, as in this case, actually live up to them. now they still have no idea how fortunate we are.

job-wise, things in the village are fine. this project will be coming through soon, and i can keep busy with school things in the mean time. im trying to start a garden, but its tough to do on my own. mainly b.c i cant seem to put enough days together where im not busy, so i can actually do it. some people say they want to help, but its just one of those things that just hasnt materialized yet. theres not really any good land on our property, so going to adjacent properties opens up a whole can of worms with ownership, etc. so i kinda get the run-around when i attempt that. its kinda like people dont want me doing things that are more or less personal projects. they think i should be doing things for the village at all times, what they dont realize though is that there is only so much i can do for the village in a given time, ideas/projects take time to develop. also there is only so much i can do on my own. some help would be nice. for instance i was talking to the preachers son yesterday about my plans to build a canoe (which should happen next week w. the help of a carpenter, which im excited about!) and his reply was "well what about water tanks?" then i explained to him that theres nothing we can do about tanks until the money comes. then he says "well what about the beach house?" this was something that a chief constructed on his land and made no mention of it being for tourists or anything and hasn't approached me about it at all. as if im supposed to magically make tourists appear or something. i dont even think the chief built it for tourists, i think he just built it for his family. its shit like that i have to deal with all the time. people see me doing something positive, maybe more or less personal, but positive nonetheless, and they want to know why im not out curing cancer in the village instead of building my canoe. i should have told him that if his father didnt suck the village dry of all its money, half the problems wouldnt be here.

what ive noticed though, that others may not seem to realize is that i somewhat lead by example. the reason i push for the personal projects is b.c they can blossom into village projects. the past few months ive been making a fuss about there being no fishing boats/canoes in the village and wanting to build one. this has been mostly met with opposition, them thinking the american doesnt know how to swim or fish and will drown at sea, so they just brush it off. that and they arent as simple/cheap to build as u think. but then last week a member of my village committee bought a canoe, this week my neighbor is building one, and after he is done, i should get my chance to build mine with the carpenter. these havent been around for years, and now they are coming back, i think in large part because i have shown determination to build one. the same thing has kinda happened with gardening. even though mine still doesnt exist, ive been talking about gardens and fruits n veggies since day one, and ive seen more gardens spring up around the village since ive been here. see, even my personal ideas still have a village purpose. it kinda gives people the push they need to go out and do it.

socially im a bit more removed from the village ever since the drama from last month. i dont really hang out as much in the evenings, and i dont try as hard to get to know people. i kinda just stay inside and read more where i used to try to make conversation, visit people at their houses, etc. the closer ive gotten to these people, the more they try to hit me up for money and free shit, and being that we are closer now, its much harder to say no. my girlfriends step father is probably the worst one. so its kinda caused me to be a little more removed. not totally, i still socialize and get along fine w. people, but im just not going the extra mile anymore. i got burned once by that and im not doing it again. that and comments about not seeing any water tanks in the village yet or other tangible results are becoming more frequent. its hard to ignore, but i try my best. i wish everyone there knew how much i bust my ass for their village. ive thrown out a ton of smaller project ideas that somehow or another dont materialize. like a talent show for the youth, the vet coming out to desex dogs, another volunteer that desexes cows, the red cross visiting to deliver medical supplies and give health talks, pen pals through my old schools, establishing a pre-school in the inland part of village, and other things that i cant name off the top of my head. some of these ideas might still happen, but all have already been attempted or discussed, but for one reason or another never come to fruition. like the womens committee wants the red cross, but they say they are always too busy with other things like mat weaving, holiday/social event prepartations, giving their money away to the pastor. things like that. oh well, we do have another proposal pending for a school fence that would enable the school to plant fruit trees within the school compound and improve the play area. (u have to keep the pigs out to do any of this). and i have talked to the member of parliament in our district and the dept. of fisheries in the city about deepening the channel off our shore so we can get a fishing boat in and out. thats as far as i can take that issue. now its up to the member of parliament to talk with the head of the port authority to put things into action. i cant do any more about that right now, but i still get asked by villagers "when am i gonna dig out the channel?" its questions like that i get a lot that sometimes make me want to smack people.

*snip*

so one more thing. could u get dad to send some fish hooks and maybe some fishing line. the basic eagle claw hooks would be good, but if he can send some heavier duty hooks and line that would be great too. i should be out to sea with the big boys next month. fishing is actually one thing ive really enjoyed here, although its mainly only spear fishing, and i dont do it nearly as often as i like, the men i go fishing with are good guys. i like them. i even gave my broken fins (fins i bough brand new in richmond from a dive shop and they broke the first day) to one of the guys and hes thrilled. im sure hell find a way to patch them up and use em.

well hope this updates u pretty well. love u all. miss u. hows cali?