What People Think I Do
If I had a dollar for every time someone back home said to me, “you are so lucky”, “I’m so jealous of your life”, “I wish I could do what you do”, or “I can’t travel, I don’t have money like you”, I would probably be able to buy my own airplane. I’m going to very briefly explain why this is is a problem:
- I am not “lucky” for living this way. Please don’t imply that this fell into my lap, like someone handed me a credit card and told me to get on a plane. Please don’t imply that I have some great luck that put me here. I work extremely hard to have gone where I have, to be where I am, and to go where I’m going. Expressing your “jealousy” negates my hard work, which I’m very proud of. I have every right to be proud of my accomplishments, the stamps in my passport, and the work I’ve done abroad.
- If you, or anyone you know, expresses “jealousy” to me or anyone else traveling extensively – you’re hiding behind your fear. People who want to travel, do it. They find a way. If you are able-bodied, from a developed country, and have the desire, you too can be like me. Don’t tell me you’re jealous or wish you could be like me, when you could do it too.
- We have different priorities. Do I ask you how you afford to pay for your house or your car? No, because that would be rude. I travel so much because I make it my priority. Implying that I have more money than you or anyone else is wildly offensive. We live different lifestyles, and you have no right to ask me how I afford to travel. People seem to think that I’m on extended vacation over here, meanwhile I work 6 days a week and my job is not without its stress and anxieties.
What I Think I Do
When you travel, you meet people, and the small talk is different. At home, we get to know people by asking what they do for a living, where they went to school, etc. But small talk in other countries includes sharing where you’re from, where you’ve been, what you’re doing here, and where you’re going. You sit at a bar in a hostel and speak with people from all over the world, filled with incredible stories and tips. My little autobiography of an introduction has changed drastically over the years, but now it sounds something like:
- I’m from Long Island, but I spent most of last year in Tanzania. I then backpacked for a few months around Africa, India, and parts of Southeast Asia, and then I ended up here (in Peru). I do international development work for various nonprofits, and keep taking short-term aid contracts. I’m hoping to get an advanced degree in the field in the next few years, and hope to be back in East Africa long term after that.
I’ve somehow made myself sound impressive. Sometimes I get caught up with myself and the things I’ve done, but then I meet people and look around me and realize how much left there still is for me to do in this world. Meeting new people and hearing their stories is humbling, and inspiring.
What I Actually Do
I make a point to get involved with locally run organizations. There are too many foreign aid projects in developing countries that are doing more harm than good, too many Americans and Europeans on the ground in these places more worried about their reputations and salaries than they are about what the local community actually needs. Last year in Tanzania, I was working for an American-run NGO. For the most part, this is one of the good ones. There are a few out there – you just have to do your research. But it wasn’t without its hiccups, and that is why this time I was determined to only work with local communities. Sonco Wasi is run entirely by the same few people who started it, the director being my (Peruvian) boss and friend who bends over backwards to do the best she can and address as many needs as possible. While the kids we work with meet a lot of volunteers and people who fill my position, the same core group of people are there for them month after month, year after year. It is sustainable, local, and without the bureaucracy of an international organization.
It has been a huge adjustment for me to work in Peru, where there is of course poverty and hardships, but in my work, it doesn’t quite compare to some of the things I witnessed in East Africa. I came in thinking I knew a lot about poverty and need, but I was wrong. Need depends on what community you’re working in, and what they need, not what I think that they need. It has been an extremely rewarding challenge to adjust my thoughts and knowledge to focus on what this community needs, rather than what previous villages I’ve spent time in have needed. These kids come to our program day after day, and if a day goes by where we can’t go or have to cancel, they really hold it against us! These children are living in poverty that you and I have not experienced, and while there are still people worse off in the world, these kids can’t see a life beyond their small town without our help. They don’t receive gifts, celebrate holidays, travel, get advanced educations, live their dreams… but we are trying to change all of that.
I know I have fundraised for other organizations before, and everyone in my life has gone above and beyond to help.. but I’m asking again. All of my projects, past and present, have been extremely important to me. These kids need hope, they need something to remind them how important they are and that they make a difference in this world.. any small amount helps! And check out the video in my fundraiser here to get a sense of what it actually is that I do. I know a lot of NGOs and charities ask for your donations, but I can assure you that 100% of these funds raised are going directly to the children in Taray, to make their lives a little more special. Thanks for reading, keeping up with my life, and donating to a great cause.